Advent begins this year on Sunday, December 1st. The word Advent means “coming” and so, throughout the 24 days of Advent, Christians are invited to prepare for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas. It is a time of hopeful waiting and joyful anticipation.
When my children, and some of my grandchildren, were younger it was a tradition that I’d buy an Advent Calendar for each of them. These were the cardboard kind, colorfully decorated with pictures of a manger scene, Christmas carolers, or even a country church shining with colorful lights for the holiday. There were 24 little numbered doors on each Advent Calendar for a child to push open. Behind each door was a chocolate candy. Some of Advent Calendar’s doors even had a Bible verse printed on them. I thought it was a nice way for the kids to mark the Advent time and to anticipate Christmas coming.
The history of the Advent calendar, according to “The Cottage Journal”, is that “In the 19th century, the tradition of marking the days until Christmas with chalk or lighting candles was a common practice. The first printed Advent calendar originated in Germany in the early 20th century with Gerhard Lang. When Gerhard was a little boy his mother made him a calendar with 24 small candies attached to cardboard, one for each day before Christmas. Lang grew up to operate the Reichhold & Lang printing company where he printed the first Advent cardboard calendar with 24 little pictures. A few years later, the company printed the first calendar with the little doors that everyone loves to open.
Paper calendars are still popular, bur versions created from an endless variety of materials such as fabric, wood, and string are also widely available. Some offer a surprise behind the door or in a pouch pocket like a piece of candy, a decoration, or a Bible verse.”
This year I was rather horrified to see that the Advent Calendar tradition has been co-opted by the secular world and turned into something that has nothing to do with watching and waiting for the birth of the Prince of Peace. Commercialization has extended its tentacles into the realm of the Advent Calendar as advertised in the Aldi grocery store’s November mailing. The add touts, “Advent calendars for everyone are here!” There is the Wine Advent Calendar with its 24 187-ml bottles, the Beer Advent Calendar with 24 11.2 oz. bottles, the Barbie or Toy Story 4 Advent Calendar, and even the Omega-Snax Dog Advent Calendar! In addition, there’s the Mattel Hot Wheels or Cars Advent Calendar (with toy cars behind the doors) and the Disney Storybook Collection Advent Calendar (with a book for each day).
I probably shouldn’t be surprised, considering what’s happened to Christmas by retailers emphasizing buying gifts and celebrating, but it feels as if there is a constant chipping away at meaningful things of faith. It’s not even limited to Christianity, for I’ve noticed a similar commercial spin put on Hanukah.
And so…I encourage each of you to remember what the season of Advent is all about and to take steps to claim it once again as a time of preparation for Christ’s coming. Join your church family in worship. Read an Advent devotional daily and pray. Come to Bible study on Mondays at 6 p.m. Look around you and find ways to make the Kingdom of God present in the here and now to those in need.
Enjoy an Advent Calendar if you wish, but as you open each door to whatever is behind it, remember to open the door to Christ in your heart and your life.
Pastor Candy Thomas
Christ Congregational United Church of Christ