German Christmas gifts: Advent calendars

German Christmas gifts: Advent calendars

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

With their fiddly little windows opening up to reveal a treat for each December day in the run-up to Christmas, Advent calendars are a gift that keeps on giving, at least for 24 days.

In a country like Germany, where so many traditions and festivals trace back centuries, it may surprise you to learn the Advent calendar tradition is, relatively speaking, not all that old. According to the website of Advent calendar pioneer Richard-Sellmer-Verlag, its origins trace back to the 19th century, when families in Protestant areas would erase a chalk-drawn line for every day in December leading up until Christmas Eve. The oldest known calendar as such dates back to 1851. A Christian bookshop in Hamburg published a Christmas clock forerunner in 1902, and in 1904, the “Neues Tagblatt Stuttgart” newspaper offered an Advent calendar insert as a gift for their readers.

Fast-forward to the post World War II period, and we can find a U.S. military connection to the calendars. The aforementioned Richard-Sellmer-Verlag, a publishing house in Stuttgart, received a permit for the printing of an Advent calendar from the U.S. occupying forces in December of 1945. The following year, Sellmer brought his calendar to a trade fair in Frankfurt in hopes of securing American buyers. Soldiers returning to the U.S. from Germany popularized them in their homeland, and after a photo of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandchildren with an Advent calendar appeared in Newsweek in December of 1953, demand for the calendars soared. For more on the publishing company’s relationship with its U.S. customers, see

A welcome twist on tradition occurred in the late 1950s, when the first calendars with chocolate candies were produced.

Chocolate Advent calendars appear in German supermarkets, drug stores and specialty shops across all price points, the cheapest of which go for a mere two or three euros—our item of choice to kick off this list of fabulous stocking stuffers that say Germany ringing up at ten euros or less.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, today’s Advent calendars open up to reveal much more than chocolate. Department stores sell them laden with cosmetics and perfumes. A drugstore version offers tea lovers the chance to sample a new kind of tea each day. Beer lovers would no doubt appreciate finding the “KALEA Bier Adventskalender” next to their stockings. You don’t even need to be human to enjoy one, as several versions for dogs are on the market too.

Another reason to rush out and buy an Advent calendar this very day? Once December arrives, unsold articles are often marked down to sell fast.

Travel tip: Several German cities use the pretty facades of their buildings to create gigantic Advent calendar-inspired displays. At a set time each day, a new window is opened to reveal a new tableau. The one in Gengenbach, a charming village in the Black Forest, is widely considered the world's largest, and Quedlinberg is home to what’s termed the biggest “living calendar.”

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