Where did your advent calendar come from?

As Christians we know the reason for the season, but are we as well acquainted with the reason behind Advent? It’s something that has become, for most, a chocolate countdown to Christmas. But is there more to it?

Then and now

The word Advent means ‘coming’ in Latin. So we celebrate advent in the lead up to Christmas, to mark the coming of Jesus. Advent calendars were first popularised in Germany in the early 1900s. However the first calendar with chocolate wasn’t made until 1958 and became popular from the 1980s. So while Christians historically marked advent with a fast for centuries, we’ve only been starting each day of December with chocolate for the last 40 years! 

However during that short amount of time we’ve gone from simple cardboard calendars displaying the nativity, to the huge range of novelty calendars on the shelves today. You can now get everything behind your advent doors, from miniature toiletries, to wine, whisky, lego and tea… alongside the usual chocolate based suspects. The options are so endless now prices range from £3.99 to £100! This week a video was even trending on Youtube: ‘HUGE Christmas advent calendar unboxing’. At this point I find myself asking – have we perhaps gone too far? Are we forgetting the reason for the season while we get caught up in new consumerist traditions? Do we take time while opening our calendars to think about the coming of Jesus?

Alongside that, is there a way we can engage with this tradition without disregarding the potential harm it has on our environment or the people behind these products? We’ve scoured the web and rounded up some of the best alternative advent ideas we’ve come across.

1. The reverse advent calendar

This has been circling around social media for the last few years. The idea is that you start December with an empty box and each day place an item of food in it. By Christmas you have a full box that can be donated to a local food bank, which are often busiest in Christmas and January. You could also mix it up and do your own Marie Kondo version – find an item each day that you no longer need and at the end give it away or donate it to a charity shop. You’ll have hopefully blessed someone else and taken a step towards minimalism. 

2. The reusable advent calendar

Another issue with calendars are the single use plastic element. So why not replace this throwaway option for a reusable one? There are loads of options from independent makers online from platforms like Etsy, ranging from houses to sock bunting that you can hang up and refill with whatever you want each year.

3. The charity advent calendar

This year Waitrose brought out the ‘Advent of Change’ calendar. Behind each door is information about a different charity and it represents a donation to that charity with 70% of the sale price split between the 24 causes. It supports all sorts of charities, from a children’s cancer charity to the Marine Conservation Society. Behind each door you will find which charity you have supported that day, and how your donation is helping them to make a difference.

4. The ethical Christmas calendar

If you’re still tempted by a chocolate calendar, consider a Fairtrade option that ensures your daily treat supports sustainable farming. For example, Divine’s advent calendars feature a beautiful nativity illustration and includes a bean to chocolate game on the back so you can learn more about where your Fairtrade chocolate comes from.

Wrapping up

Considering more ethical and sustainable purchasing habits doesn’t have to turn you into scrooge or mean you throw out all Christmas traditions out the window. But hopefully this article is a reminder that some traditions are worth changing. Where we can, let’s support God’s planet and his people through environmentally friendly and exploitation free options. Hopefully it will even prompt you to remember the reason behind Advent in the first place.

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