I really love the holiday season. Sure, it’s tacky, it’s cheesy, and there’s too much glitter, but who doesn’t love a little bit of holiday cheer? As soon as December rolls around, I get excited for the Christmas music on the radio, the rows of chocolate-covered sweets lining the aisles of grocery stores, and the coffee shops selling gingerbread and peppermint lattes. Still, there is one Christmas tradition that has been my favorite for as long as I can remember: the Advent calendar.
Advent calendars come in all shapes and sizes—as stockings, cardboard cutouts, or painted wooden containers. Most commonly, though, they are sold as beautifully decorated boxes with 24 doors—one for each December day in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Behind each door is a small compartment filled with Christmas treats. On December 1, the first calendar window is opened to commemorate the Advent and the start of the holiday season. This continues daily until all 24 doors are emptied in time for Christmas Eve.
The origins of the Advent calendar have been traced back to the early 19th century. Two centuries later, the Advent calendar has retained its popularity. Although traditional Advent calendars featured notes, prayers, or chocolate, modern calendars now contain tea bags, Legos, hand creams, liquor, and scented candles. There’s something for everyone; that’s part of the reason why the calendars are so successful.
In fact, waiting to open a new door each morning was one of my favorite traditions of the days preceding Christmas. I would wake up extra-early to tiptoe into the living room, carefully prying the sweets out of their little compartments. It was exciting, and I would be delighted by the chocolate angels, marzipan-covered piglets, and candy canes I would find.
Even my parents enjoyed the childlike tradition of opening their calendars. My family and I would often congregate in the kitchen after unwrapping the treats, trading those we didn’t like. We didn’t get to spend much time together in the mornings because our schedules were busy, but these short moments at 7:30 a.m.—as a family—were the ones I always cherished most.
My sister and I would regularly have to take exams or finish up projects for school in the weeks before winter break. Amidst the stress, it would always make me smile to come home after a long, cold, winter day and find a leftover piece of Advent calendar candy. My sister and I would sit cross-legged on the living room floor, enjoying the chocolate we had found, talking about the day.
Apart from them being a cherished tradition in our family, I had Advent calendars in school, too. My classrooms in first grade were decorated with homemade calendars stuck to lockers or strung up on the walls. My teacher made sure that everyone had the chance to open the class calendar at least once, and I would be so excited when it was my turn to unwrap one of the presents.
I also made Advent calendars for my friends—filling small Christmas goodie bags with sweets and little letters. Giving Advent calendars to loved ones is a popular tradition. It’s meant to show appreciation for those close to you, a way to express gratitude during the holiday season. My mom even sent off four Advent calendars to New Haven—one for me and one for each of my suitemates.
Despite my love for Advent calendars, they are often criticized—and rightfully so—for being unsustainable, the epitome of Christmas overspending and wasteful consumer culture. There are ways around that, though: making reusable calendars, writing personalized notes, and staying away from store-bought items. Perhaps Advent calendars have lost parts of their original meaning amidst the Christmas commercialization, but that doesn’t mean we have to forget what they’re really about.
I am still a big fan of the Advent calendar. I like the idea of slowing down, taking deliberate time to count down the days until the holiday season, and sharing those moments with the people around you. I know that I can’t wait to gather around the Advent calendars with my suitemates in the mornings, opening the little doors in anticipation of the sweets that lie behind the cardboard doors.
Despite being away from my family for most of the Christmas season, it’ll feel like I have brought some of home with me to New Haven, opening the doors to an inviting holiday tradition.