Tag Archives: advent calendar

Advent Traditions

Context: The informant is my mother, identified as L.M., who was raised as a Catholic, and grew up with many traditions for each of the Christian holidays, some religious and some not. This is her description of the season of Advent and two of the traditions she followed with her family during her childhood.

Main Piece: I remember the coming of the Advent season each year, which begins on the Sunday closest to the beginning of December, and is viewed by the Catholic Church and many other Christian churches as a time to prepare and reflect on the religious meaning of Christmas. The Advent period includes the four Sundays before Christmas, plus all of the days in between and up to Christmas Day. Our church sermons during this season all focused on readings from the Bible about the preparation for the arrival of Jesus, and we also would sing special hymns during this period. The one I remember in particular is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Catholics, including our family, would fast and not eat meat on Fridays during this period, we used to have a lot of tuna fish sandwiches or fish sticks for dinner on those Fridays, which I wasn’t a fan of. As a child, I remember there being a huge Advent Wreath in our church up by the altar throughout the Advent season. The Advent Wreath was made of various types of evergreen branches, and had four large candles set in its branches, three of them were purple and one was pink. The wreath symbolizes life, and the circular shape of the wreath symbolizes eternity and the everlasting life of the soul. One of the four candles is lit on the first Sunday, and then on every other Sunday during Advent, one more of the candles is lit, so by the fourth Sunday before Christmas, all four are lit. The purple color for three of the candles represents the liturgical color of violet, which signifies a time for prayer and sacrifice, and the pink color for the other candle represents joy, as rose is the liturgical color for joy. The first candle lit is purple and represents hope. The second candle lit is also purple and represents faith. The third candle lit is the pink one which represents joy. And, the last purple candle lit symbolizes peace. We also used to make our own Advent Wreath for our home. My mother would make the wreath out of fresh evergreen branches and wire them into a circular shape, and then place the candles, three purple and one pink, into the wreath. We would keep it on our dinner table all throughout Advent, following the tradition of lighting each new candle on the appropriate Sunday. And, every night of the week, not just Sundays, the one, two, three, or four candles, depending on which week it was, would be lit before dinner and we’d have our dinner meal around the table with our candlelit Advent Wreath. The other Advent tradition I remember is that we would have an Advent calendar every December. This was basically a large free-standing form made out of heavy card stock paper and decorated with some overall Christmas motif, religious or non-religious, with doors numbered one through twenty-five. Every day in December, we would open the numbered door with the proper date, and inside each door there was a holiday scene of some sort, for example, a star, or a decorated Christmas tree, or an ornament, or a shepherd, or an angel, or Santa Claus, or holly, or a gingerbread boy, and on the 25th, we’d open the last door, which always had a traditional religious Nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Now, I still have something similar to an Advent calendar that I bring out every December, but it isn’t religious. It’s a small red table-top cabinet of drawers, and each is numbered 1-25. The number one drawer has a collapsible little artificial Christmas tree that I set up on the kitchen counter, the number two drawer has a garland of tiny red ornaments to string on the tree, and the remaining drawers up to twenty five have a variety of small and whimsical ornaments to hang on the tiny tree- a candy cane, holly and berries, a snowman face, a santa head, a red mitten, a tiny gift, a santa suit, all made from things like beads and felt, bells and tiny white styrofoam balls. I love opening each drawer day by day and decorating the tiny whimsical Christmas tree. It brings me back to all of the childhood memories of anticipating Christmas and the joy and magic of the holiday.”

Analysis: “Advent” is defined as the awaiting of the arrival of a notable person, event, or thing. Originally, advent calendars were created to count down the days until the arrival of Jesus Christ, as Christmas is his day of birth. However, it seems as if the religious importance of both advent calendars and Christmas has been somewhat lost. Christmas is now much more commercialized and seen as a time to eat sweets and receive and give gifts in American culture. Santa Claus is a much more prominent figure during Christmas than Jesus is now.


  • Context: The following informant, S, is a 59 yr. old man with three kids and a wife. Though the family does not identify as Christian, they celebrate Christmas and participate in the Christian tradition of Advent. This conversation took place when the informant was asked about any specific family traditions surrounding holidays. 
  • Text:

S: “So… for those who don’t know… Advent is a Christian celebration… uh… I think it’s tied in to the Twelve Days of Christmas too when you add it up, but I could be wrong… I don’t know about that… but, basically it’s the entire month of December it starts on December 1st and the day is December 25th… where you actually don’t get an advent… oh and each day you get a little… a little gift… sort of leading up to Christmas. But on Christmas day, you don’t get a little gift for Advent, you get your Christmas gifts. Um… and that… for me at least, started when I was… well as long as I can remember with my mom. And she would have an Advent calendar and we would open that up and… I think she had clues for us, if I’m not mistaken… and we would go find the little gift. It was was usually like a piece of chocolate for each of the three of us, I had two brothers… uh… nothing big… and maybe on the weekend a toy… but you know, nothing massive.

And that carried over when I first had, at least for me, I don’t know about my brothers, I’m sure it did, knowing my mom… but when I had my first kids, I started to get a box in November… from my mom… around Thanksgiving time… with all of the gifts and clues to go with them for the 24 days leading up to Christmas. So all I had to do was put the clues in the Advent calendar and run the process, and all my kids loved it… well of course my mom passes away a few years ago and… a couple years before that, I think actually, I started doing the clues myself and getting the gifts and what not.

Me: “What are the clues like?”

S: “Well, it’s a shame, I don’t remember what they were like as a kid. But what I do now… um… I either do a little sort of rhyming scheme sort of couplet thing… or I do a riddle… or I do something to do with the number of the day… umm or some combination of that stuff. Plays on words all the time ‘cus that’s sort of riddling. As [my kids] have gotten older I’ve tried to make it a little more challenging to figure out what it is and hidden them a little bit more… they used to be in plain sight way more often than they are now.”

Me: “And is it like each kid gets a clue or…?”

S: “One clue for the three [kids]. And [my kids] actually rotate, [they] decided to go youngest to oldest… uh [the youngest] does the first, [the middle] does the second, [the oldest] does the third and then [they] rotate through. Uhh…”

Me: “Reading the clues?”

S: “Reading the clues out loud. And then everybody… well it depends what kind of mood people are in… some days [my kids] decide to sit and not participate and sulk, but most days all three of [my kids] go and look, and of course mom, when she figures out the clue, can’t hold herself back and has to yell out where it is ‘cus she’s so proud of herself for figuring it out.”

  • Analysis: This version of Advent is similar to other versions I have heard of. Mainly, I have heard of pre-made Advent calendars with chocolates or small gifts inside each day. The main difference between this version of Advent and others is the addition of clues and hiding the presents. This type of Advent is more of a game, that includes riddles and rhyme schemes that lead to the hidden presents. This is the Advent I grew up knowing, and until I began to go over to my friends houses around the holidays I was unaware that Advent was not a game in all other households as well.

German Advent Calendar

Context: The informant was talking about differences in American and German culture. This is one of the major differences she saw with American Christmas and German Christmas


Piece: Another thing Germans do is the called an advent calendar so like you can buy one with chocolates from um like Trader Joe’s like 25 to 1 and it like counts down to Christmas, but what my family did is like they had this really big one actually like that was just like a bunch of pouches so it was like reusable. And so my grandparents would ship a package like 2 months before Christmas and we fill it up and like they’d putting numbers like little napkins wrap candy with it and we’d like fill it and like every day unwrap one. Sometimes they’d have an ornament, sometimes it’d have like five bucks in it, sometimes it’d have like a couple candies And it was like a family thing so there’d always be stuff in the pouches and we’d open it together and even now I buy the chocolate ones even though it’s not the same, but it’s like such a big part of the countdown.


Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent. Her family practices this tradition every year.

Analysis: This piece demonstrates how German culture created the advent calendar and how it has morphed in American culture. The German tradition is a personalized set of gifts for a family in order to count down for Christmas. There is an element of surprise that creates anticipation and helps preserve the tradition. But in America, the usual advent calendar sold is a chocolate calendar where each chocolate that counts down to Christmas has a different shape or flavor. American culture has commercialized and mass produced this tradition that originated in the individualized German version. It shows how American ideals have shifted the tradition and created a new version. The personalized version in German tradition creates more of a sense of community and gift giving, in the spirit of Christmas ideals, rather than the manufactured American version.

For another version of the German advent calendar, see: Haring, Carol. “Christmas Activity: Create an Advent Calendar.” Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German, vol. 25, no. 2, 1992, pp. 191–192. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3531917.