Track progress towards Christmas with advent calendars
In the Christian church, "Advent" marks the four-week liturgical period leading up to the celebration of Christmas. The Advent calendar has traditionally been used to mark this period, counting down the weeks and days until the birth of Christ. While Advent calendars were initially used solely for religious purposes, secular versions have become popular, and today, most Advent calendars are made for children, helping build anticipation as Christmas approaches with a variety of fun activities and themes.
Religious Advent Calendars
German Lutherans are credit with creating the first religious Advent calendars to be widely used by lay people. Their observances varied from using chalk to mark each passing day in the Advent season to lighting Advent candles for each of the season's 24 days. Over time, customs became more elaborate and included hanging a picture, psalm or religious image on the wall for each day in the Advent season.
In the Catholic Church, Advent wreaths are used during weekly masses leading up to Christmas Day. A wreath houses four Advent candles, three of which are typically purple and one of which is pink (though sometimes three pink and one purple candle are used). Each Sunday, a priest will light one of the candles, leaving the lone purple or pink candle until the last week before Christmas.
Secular and Children's Advent Calendars
Most Advent calendars in use today are secular, and the vast majority of them are made for children. Many of them consist of closed paper doors, one of which can be opened each day leading up to Christmas to reveal an anecdote or unfolding story. Some children's Advent calendars have surprises behind each door, such as coins or small pieces of candy.
You can also make your own Advent calendars, if you're looking for unique ideas for Christmas crafts. Downloadable kits are widely available on the Internet, or you can just rely on your own creativity to guide you as you create a calendar for you and your children to enjoy. They are excellent for teaching children about the true meaning of Christmas and preventing them from becoming solely focused on the material aspects of what is, ultimately, an important religious holiday.