The origin of the Advent Calendar can be traced back to the 19th. Century. The first styles came from the protestant area. So religious families made a chalk line for every day in December until Christmas Eve. The first known Advent Calendar which was made by handwork is from the year 1851.
Other early styles were the Adventclock or the Adventcandle - a candle for each of the 24 days until Christmas, like todays Advent wreath. So in religious families little pictures were hung up on the wall - one for each day in December. An other tradition was to paint chalk strokes on the door, one per day until Christmas Eve.
In 1902 a Christian Bookshop in Hamburg published a Christmas Clock which was very similar to that published 1922 by the St. Johannis printing company. (Dominik Wunderlin, lic.phil. Swizzerland). The Austrian (NÖ) Landesmuseum mentions the year 1903 as the year of the first printed Advent Calendar. In 1904 an Advent Calendar was inserted in the newspaper "Neues Tagblatt Stuttgart" as a gift for their readers.
In contrast to the above Esther Gajek says that the first printed specimen was made in 1908 by a Swabian parishioner son, Gerhard Lang (born 1881 in Maulbronn, Germany -died in 1974).
When he was a child his mother made him an Advent Calendar with 24 "Wibbele" (little candies) which were stuck on a cardboard. Later Lang was a participator of the printing office Reichhold & Lang. He produced little colored pictures which could be affixed on a cardboard at every day in December. This was the first printed Advent Calendar, although without windows to open, published in 1908.
This Calendar was named "Christmas-Calendar" or "Munich Christmas-Calendar". At the beginning of the 20th Lang produced the first Advent Calendars with little doors to open.
At this time as well the Sankt Johannis Printing Company started producing religious Advent Calendars, with Bible Verses instead of pictures behind the doors.
The Advent Calendar`s popularity started to spread round the globe. But Lang had to close his company in the thirties. Until that time he had produced about 30 different designs.
(on the right Scripture Advent Calendar from Richard Sellmer). Sellmer has many religious Advent Calendar available.
The first printed specimen after the war were printed by Richard Sellmer in 1946. This was the Advent Calendar "The Little Town" an item which still is today available. Since that days Advent Calendars from Sellmer Verlag are available for old and young.
Advent Calendars filled with Chocolate were already available in 1958.
Nowadays the Advent Calendar - filled with chocolate or without filling - is very common as a promotional item. In this segment modern designs dominate mainly. Chocolate Advent Calendars are mainly produced by Confectionery manufacturers. Richard Sellmer offers 6 different traditional designs every year.
In the meantime, the so-called "living Advent Calendar" has also become popular. With this form of Advent Calendar, people meet every day in Advent in front of a different window which has been decorated christmassy. At the respective station songs are sung, Christmas stories are told and culinary delights are offered. This form is especially popular with church communities.
Another modern form of the Advent Calendar is the "virtual Advent Calendar". This can only be used interactively on the Internet. On the respective day of December the user activates the corresponding number and receives online e.g. videos, short pieces of music, raffles or vouchers.
Some other recources about Advent Calendars on the web: