We have Germany to thank for all those Power Rangers and Teenage Turtles advent calendars -- with their woeful plastic-tasting 'chocolates' -- that litter dollar store shelves from the end of August onwards.
But let's backtrack a little first.
Religious-types have been marking the four winter Sundays from the end of November for at least 1,000 years, typically lighting candles once-a-week. But more than a century ago, printed advent calendars started appearing in Germany that formalized the idea for the masses. Religious images (often the nativity) were the staple of these early advents, but they soon evolved into snow-draped festive scenes with warm-windowed homes and Christmas tree-studded streetscapes.
After a few years, little doors were cleverly incorporated, behind which traditional symbols from wreaths to holly and from candles to angels awaited. The countdown to Christmas Day was now on, and every home added an advent to their seasonal shenanigans. (It's worth remembering here that "proper" advents run from December 1 to December 24 -- those with December 25 included are a relatively recent phenomenon).
Growing up relatively frugally, I recall we had the same advent calendar for many years in my childhood home; a 3D nativity scene that my Dad would carefully fold the doors back on at the end of the season and slide back into its stiff white envelope. We pulled it out excitedly every year and never felt cheated at having the same one to use.
I still love these more traditional advents -- and I hate the ones with chocolate.
It's not just because the usually-cheap confectionery tastes worse than an old wooden Christmas ornament left behind in the attic. The choc-free advents are simply far more nostalgically evocative for me and I'd much rather gaze at a Victorian street scene of holly-covered houses and taverns (preferably with a steam train in the background) than a lazily-drawn sketch of a cross-eyed Santa zipping through the sky. And when it comes to what's behind the the doors, give me a detailed drawing of a steaming figgy pudding over a waxy choccie shaped like a soccer ball any day.
And for the record, I often keep my advent calendars (including the one above) from year-to-year...at least until the doors fall off. Which helps explain why I have three of them ready to go this year.