The start of December means one thing to me, chocolate. Every day until Christmas.
I’ve had the doors or draws of an advent calendar to open each year of my life since I can remember which is around 1,500 mini-sweets.
There’s something strangely satisfying about the discipline of slowly consuming something that I’d normally eat in one 10 minute sitting.
I don’t recall what form these daily treats comprised when I was a boy though I know for sure it’s the sort of thing my mum would have organised.
Until the last decade or so, advent calendars used to consist of super slim boxes with the tiniest sliver of chocolate for each day. All style and very little substance, it was the most expensive way of selling chocolate ever devised.
Now they’re generally bigger, different shapes with such a range of confectionary brands to choose from. There’s vegan ones and other sorts, no doubt, catering for different intolerances.
Outrageously they’re not just chocolate either with other mini treats on offer including toys, cosmetics and alcohol.
Like so many others aspects of our Christmas, the advent calendar is of German origin. From the early nineteenth century, at the latest, German Protestants began to mark the days of Advent either by burning a candle for the day or, more simply, marking walls or doors with a line of chalk each day.
A new practice of hanging a devotional image every day ultimately led to the creation of the first known handmade, wooden, advent calendar in 1851.
Sometime in the early twentieth century (either 1902 or 1908 depending on who you believe) the first printed calendars appeared, followed by Gerhard Lang’s innovation of adding small doors in the 1920s; he is thus often seen as the creator of the modern calendar.
Others added short bible verses behind the doors alongside the traditional picture from the 1930s. Lang’s business closed shortly before the outbreak of war; subsequently cardboard was rationed and with a Nazi ban on the printing of calendars with images, the calendars disappeared and might have done for ever.
But after the war ended Richard Sellmar of Stuttgart almost miraculously (considering the paper shortages) obtained a permit from the US officials to begin printing and selling them again.
Calendars filled with chocolate began to appear from the late 1950s around the time that they also began to spread around the world. Eisenhower is sometimes credited with the American popularisation of them having been photographed while President opening them with his grandchildren.
Today they are a global phenomenon, even seeing a boost in popularity in recent years but at their heart they retain the essence of counting down the days to Weihnachten that began with those simple chalk scratches.
This year, even though I’m a fully grown 60 years-old man, I’ll be tucking into a full size Heroes chocolate which will give me a bit of extra cheer from now until Christmas Eve.
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