Good Life

Art & Antiques: Advent calendars have evolved but are still used as a Christmas countdown

Today, advent calendars include small toys, money or candy.
Today, advent calendars include small toys, money or candy. TNS

From the Latin term adventus, Advent means “the arrival.” For centuries, Advent has been a time of spiritual reflection for Christians in anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ.

It is believed that the period of Advent has been observed since about the 4th century A.D. In the early days of observing Advent, the time frame lasted from the feast day of St. Martin, held on Nov. 11, until Christmas Day, Dec. 25. Similar to the springtime season of Lent, Advent once included a six-week fast for believers, but that has since been discontinued. By the 6th century, Advent no longer had a fasting ritual like Lent, and the Advent season was reduced from six weeks to four weeks. Today, the season of Advent remains a time of devotional prayer and anticipation of the Christmas holiday.

Like many holiday collectibles, objects relating to Advent, such as Advent wreaths and Advent candles, mark the days leading up to Christmas. Advent wreaths, a circle of evergreens symbolizing eternal life, are widely used. The four red candles represent the four Sundays of the Advent period and a fifth white candle in the wreath’s center is called the Christ candle. The Christ candle is the last one to be lit, and it is lit only on Christmas Day.

Quite possibly the most recognized of the season’s traditions is the use of the popular Advent calendar. For many collectors, the chronological countdown to Christmas Day comes in the form of an antique or vintage paper, lithographed, felt, painting on canvas or mixed media Advent calendar. The Advent calendar is particularly popular with children, many of whom spend the greater part of the month of December patiently awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus and counting down the days by opening doors of an Advent calendar in order.

According to legend, the first known Advent calendar was handmade in 1851. By the 1880s, the Germanic tradition of the Advent calendar began to spread across Europe to North America. Typically made of printed images on paper or cardboard, Advent calendars boast 24 small numbered doors to be opened daily in anticipation of Christmas. Snow covered houses, holiday scenes and winter wonderlands were common imagery used as the backdrop for the 24 miniature doors on Advent calendars. Each Advent calendar door is opened to reveal a holiday image, a Bible passage, a piece of candy or a small gift starting on Dec. 1 and continuing until Christmas Eve, Dec. 24.

The “father” of the modern Advent calendar was a German printer named Gerhard Lang. While working from his Munich, Germany, printing office, Lang produced small, colorful, religious images on paper and cardboard. Each image corresponded to one day in the month of December up to Dec. 24. Circa 1908, Lang produced the first Advent calendar that had cardboard doors that opened to reveal the image inside. Throughout much of the early 20th century, Advent calendars were exchanged as gifts around the Thanksgiving holiday in anticipation of Christmas.

When it comes to value of Advent calendars, the characteristics you should look for are good condition (no rips, tears, or stains), intricate patterns or images of a winter scene or holiday events in bright colors, and famous printmakers like Lang, Sankt Johannis, etc.

Today, Advent calendars have evolved from lithograph printed images on cardboard to free-standing dollhouse-style collectible calendars with hinged doors to hide small gifts, money, or candy. Some of these contemporary holiday collectibles are made of pressed board, masonite and even wood. For collectors, expect to pay $50 to $500 for some of the traditional paper Advent calendars and several thousands of dollars for hand made or hand crafted Advent calendars.

Lori Verderame is an antiques appraiser, nationally syndicated columnist and author, and award-winning TV personality with a doctorate in the field. She presents antique appraisal events, keynote speeches and lectures to worldwide audiences. Visit Follow her on or call 888-431-1010.