Advent calendars have become luxury vending machines. Are you OK ?

IF I LIVE being a very old woman and curled up in bed in front of a crackling fire, holding a childhood memory, I expect the last word I mumble to be “Sellmer.”

This will no doubt send my biographers scrambling to decode the meaning, which they will rightly assume has given me so much happiness in life.


What’s hiding behind the windows of your advent calendar? Join the conversation below.

I’ll save them some time. Sellmer Verlag was the name of a publisher of Advent calendars that my grandmother gave me when I was a child. My favorite was a glittering scene of a snowy European village. None of my boring brothers lived in this small town, just a few red-cheeked farmers. The cottages had 24 numbered windows to open, revealing holiday-themed images to count down the days until Christmas. I lost myself for hours imagining life in this whimsical winter town.

Today’s Advent calendars leave nothing to the imagination. Decades after abandoning their original Christian purpose of marking the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus, many have transformed into a showy form of holiday decor. Or worse. They’re like vending machines that overflow with everything from expensive beauty products to pork cracker flavors, in the case of Tiffany’s $150,000 4-foot wardrobe, 24 packed boxes of jewelry and trinkets.

In 1954, President Eisenhower’s three grandchildren joined in a call for the sale of “The Little Town” Advent calendars to benefit an epilepsy organization.


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I’m compelled to face the issue this year because my husband suggested that we purchase a marijuana-themed Advent Calendar from Douglasdale Cannabis of pre-rolled joints to “give you and all your homies, laughs and smiles instead of another Silent Night!”

“No,” I explained.

“OK, and the beer? »

Oh good? Is this the best holiday decor to show off on the fireplace? I prefer the humble fun of old-fashioned Advent calendars no thicker than a sheet of cardboard, which you could place discreetly on the kitchen counter.

“How did Advent calendars get out of control? I asked Joe Perry, an associate professor of history at Georgia State University who studies holiday traditions.

“Advent calendars have always been a mobile tradition,” said Professor Perry, author of “Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History” (University of North Carolina Press, 2010). “They started with a German named Gerhard Lang, who claimed to be the inventor of the Advent calendar.”

In 1903, Lang published the first mass-produced paper Advent calendar: 24 cut-and-paste holiday scenes on a grid of 24 numbered Christmas verses. In the 1920s, Lang’s designs had perforated doors and windows to open to reveal religious images, as well as a version with 20 chocolate pieces.

Advent calendars briefly took a dark turn with the rise of the Third Reich, which in 1943 published a cartoon featuring images of German torpedoes sinking Allied ships and Germans blowing up Russian tanks.

After World War II, the battle pictures disappeared, and another German publisher named Richard Sellmer began exporting advent calendars to the United States with scenes of bucolic landscapes, including those that my grandmother m had given. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandchildren were photographed in the 1950s with a Sellmer design called “The Little Town,” Advent calendars grew in popularity.

The 1970s saw the release of Cadbury’s first chocolate Advent calendar and the blessed reign of Holly Hobbie’s Advent calendars. This opened the floodgates for later releases which handed out tiny Christmas decorations. And cheese in foil. And sex toys.

“Don’t forget the dog treats. I wonder who invented that one,’ Prof Perry mused. “I can just see people sitting around a table, saying, ‘That’s a good idea. “”

“I’m okay with foil-wrapped chocolates,” I said. “I’m no freak. But do we really need to celebrate the Advent season with two dozen little bottles of hot sauces or lip-plumping moisturizers?”

“Hmm, Christmas brings forth the Scrooge, doesn’t it?” observed Professor Perry. “Even though it is a marketed product, it can also be full of memories and tradition.”

One way to create a more meaningful tradition is to create a DIY version that you put in place year after year, interior designers say.

“Two years ago I used silver birch branches to create an Advent calendar in the shape of a Christmas tree,” said Megan Ace, interior designer in Worcester, UK. Ms. Ace has tied graduated lengths of branches together to form a triangular shape that mimics a Christmas tree. She decorates her Advent tree with twinkling white lights and tiny brown or white paper bags filled with chocolates or handmade soaps. “From a sustainable perspective, it makes more sense,” she said.

But when Ms. Ace helps clients decorate their homes for the holidays, she doesn’t pass judgment on their Advent calendars.

“Some people like the ones filled with gin,” she said. “Of course you have to make sure it doesn’t look clunky on the side table, but it’s important to personalize a home so it doesn’t look stylish for Instagram.”

Maybe she was right. After all, Christmas traditions have always been commercial.

“The oldest trace of Santa Claus in the United States? It’s in a baker’s account book from 1675,” said Ruth McClelland-Nugent, associate professor of history at Augusta University in Georgia. Maria van Rensselaer bought “goods from Sinterklaas”, according to the report. “Santa’s first record was a receipt,” the professor said.

In fact, the inventor of the Advent calendar, Gerhard Lang, was a businessman who sold a product. “Initially, Advent calendars were aimed at children, but now many are aimed at adults,” Professor McClelland-Nugent said. “Today a lot of people don’t have kids or want something to treat themselves to during what has become a very stressful season.”

As adults, we yearn for a Christmas that evokes nostalgia, even if the so-called traditions date back to our only childhood home.

“I am a historian and I see traditions come and go. But one thing that’s fascinating about Christmas is that there’s one constant when it comes to fighting over it and how it should be celebrated – we all want the old merry thing. we remember,” Professor McClelland-Nugent said. “But we each have a different ghost from Christmas past.”

In other words, some people on their deathbed will mutter the phrase “pre-rolled marijuana joints.”

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