The Lutheran Connection to Advent Calendars

The Lutheran Connection to Advent Calendars December 27, 2023

I know it’s not Advent anymore and that we’re still in the 12 Days of Christmas.  Those who object to singing Christmas carols during Advent will surely not appreciate my intrusion of an Advent observance into Christmas.  But please bear with me and hear me out just this once.

I came across a description of the invention of the Advent Calendar from my fellow Patheos blogger Tosha Lamdin Williams.   In a moving post about how ordinary Christians doing ordinary things with their families can have an impact far beyond what they realize, she writes,

As a child in Germany, a young Gerhard Lang had a creative or, at least, thoughtful mom. By this point in history, Advent was a fairly well-known religious tradition, especially in Europe. Yet, Gerhard’s mom took the burgeoning Advent tradition one step further. She created an Advent calendar marking each day of December with tasty treats. Whether these were cookies, meringues or German wibele, Gerhard got to enjoy one each December day leading up to Christmas. . . .

Her son Gerhard Lang grew up to publish the world‘s first commercially printed Advent calendar. And here’s the thing:  his original calendar was not focussed on elves or Santa, Christmas trees or secular traditions. Gerhard Lang’s Advent calendar was about the biblical Christmas story.

Seems that what Frau Lang had spoken into her child’s life as they celebrated Christmas when he was young became what he spoke into others’ lives as an adult. Ultimately, their family Christmas tradition ended up impacting the whole world.

Williams goes on to write about how when the Nazis took power in Germany, they destroyed the Christian Advent Calendars and replaced them with calendars that opened up to pictures of guns, tanks, and Nazi symbols.  They gave them freely to mothers, recognizing the influence mothers have in shaping their children.  She then turns to the Advent Calendars of today, many of which open up to consumer goods like chocolate, make-up, and alcohol, once again effacing the true meaning of Advent.

This got me interested in the subject, so I delved a little deeper.  At the history site Doing History in Public, Alex Wakelam wrote a post entitled The History of Advent Calendars.  Gerhard Lang, who is responsible for the innovation of calendars with opening doors, published his in the 1920s.  But his creative mother who gave him the idea was drawing on an earlier tradition.  Wakelam writes,

Like many others aspects of modern Christmas practices, the Advent calendar is of German origin. From the early nineteenth century, at the latest, German Protestants began to mark the days of Advent either by burning a candle for the day or, more simply, marking walls or doors with a line of chalk each day. A new practice of hanging a devotional image every day ultimately led to the creation of the first known handmade, wooden, Advent calendar in 1851.

Those German Protestants must have been Lutherans.  How do we know that?  There were many other kinds of Protestants in Germany–Reformed, United, Baptists, Anabaptists, and multiple sects of Pietists–so why credit this practice to the Lutherans?

Well, if any of these other Protestants celebrated Advent, as the Lutherans did, they surely would not hang a “devotional image” every day, something Lutherans would feel free enough in the Gospel to do.

P.S.:  Another post on the subject at Doing History in Public, a project of Cambridge graduate students in history confirms my deduction.


Illustration:  A Gerhard Lang Advent Calendar via PICRYL, Public Domain.  An accompanying description in German says that the windows when opened displayed a Christmas verse.  They could then be pasted over with pictures from a cutout sheet.  This copy is covered with the pictures. 

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