Advent, which this year begins Dec. 3, is in the faith community a time of anticipation, which makes sense, since the word’s root is Latin for “coming.”
It’s believed that Advent goes back to the fifth or sixth century, when Christians prepared to baptize the newly converted during the January Feast of the Epiphany. A century later, the story shifted to anticipate the arrival of Christ — but his second coming as a judge, rather than as a baby swaddled in a Bethlehem manger.
Advent as a way to welcome the Christ child came in the Middle Ages, when Christians began to associate Advent with his birth. For many faithful Christians, that association remains.
As the University of Portland Garaventa Center explains, the length of Advent varies, but it always starts four Sundays before Christmas, which can occur on any day of the week since it’s always Dec. 25. This year, the Dec. 3 start means Advent is the shortest length possible, though you wouldn’t know it from the calendars, which typically plan on a Dec. 1 start and a big finish on Dec. 24.
Modern adults are not the first to use a calendar as a countdown tool. WhyChristmas.com reports that German Protestant Christians in the 1800s counted down the days to Christmas by making 24 chalk lines on a door, erasing one a day until Christmas arrived.
While Advent within the Christian faith still has a deep religious meaning — the four successive themes each Sunday this Advent are Hope, Peace, Joy and Love — the annual Advent calendar has largely shifted outside religious tradition to serve as a more playful countdown to Christmas. Some suggest it’s a way to stop children from nagging for the gifts and day they know is coming. But adults seem to like the toys and treats just as much.
Socks and hot sauce and pretty rocks are as common as calendars with religious themes, since commercial Advent calendars may — or may not — embrace faith. While there are certainly scripture calendars and the many nativity versions remain among the most popular, cosmetic companies like Lancôme put samples and full-size beauty products in their calendar slots, introducing them to customers in season-friendly fashion. You can get calendars with a new pair of socks via an Advent calendar, though some just go 12 days.
There are reusable calendars that you can stuff over and over with little baubles and treats, tree ornament calendars and superhero versions — Lego has a Marvel Avengers Advent Calendar. Williams Sonoma has a popcorn calendar, while localeclectic.com will happily sell you a 12-piece jewelry Advent calendar. Google hot sauce, beverages, sunglasses, hair bows, dolls or pretty much any noun and someone’s stuffing it in an Advent calendar.
You can pay a lot — Dior has a $4,200 cologne Advent calendar — or buy a little milk chocolate calendar for under $3.
Here are a few we saw while browsing, but trust us — there are literally thousands.
The Immanuel Wreath, $49.99, is a names of Christ Advent calendar. The wooden candle holder has 25 names of Christ engraved on it. Each day in December, you light one candle and read the scripture associated with that name.
Wicklein Gingerbread Cookie Advent Calendar, $59.99. The 24th opening is waiting for you to slip a personal message in.
The Thames & Kosmos Science Advent Calendar, $39.95, offers something new and amazing as children open a new box daily to find equipment or materials and instructions for a science experiment. Age 8+.
Jacquie Lawson Edwardian advent calendar, $7.99. An animated, interactive eCalendar, it features a “treasure trove of delightful surprises,” including a scavenger hunt, daily gifts, stories, music, books, games, puzzles and activities. Family can enjoy it together.
Laser Cut Wood Snowy Houses LED Light Up Advent Calendar, $49.99. This World Market exclusive can be hung up or placed on a shelf. The homes are backlit, creating sparkle in this little community, each home able to hide a tiny treat.
Countdown to Christmas felt craft Advent calendar, $39.99. Features 25 different felt ornament sticker craft kits, no sewing or glue required. Picture instructions. Ages 4+.
Advent Dice Calendar, $49.99. Includes an exclusive set of holiday-themed inclusion dice, two full sets of assorted dice, an exclusive mini set and an exclusive metal 20-sided dice in a FanRoll dice bag. Ages 3+.
Cookie Advent Cookbook, $16.99, featuring 24 cookie recipes by Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt. From Dec. 1 to Christmas Eve, peek under the cover flaps to find a different cookie, then open it to the recipe and start baking,
Moo Free Choccy Advent vegan calendar, $14.99. This playful advent calendar from the U.K. says that it’s “for dairy-dodging Christmas choccy chompers.” Dairy-free.
EXIT: Advent Calendar - The Silent Storm, $49.99. You’re a hard-working toymaker preparing for Christmas when the ground shakes and the doors lock. You need Santa, but first you need out. This is an EXIT game and adventure story. Solve each day’s riddle to save Christmas! Age 10+.
Plus Plus Advent Calendar, $39.99. Do a daily unique build that will eventually be a festive scene made from 600 pieces. Day 25 has extra builds. Age 5+.