Christmas Traditions: Advent Calendars (1800s)

This is the advent calendar-type graphic we made to advertise Tangled Lights and Silent Nights.

This is eleventh in a series of 12 posts on historical Christmas traditions. I didn’t note my sources, but please trust I did verify the information.

Believe it or not, Advent didn’t always exist in the Christian church.

It slowly evolved as the Church took shape and Christianity became legal. The earliest echoes are from fourth century Francem when the Church began to use the period before Epiphany as a time of preparation for Baptism. It was called “St. Martin’s Lent” for the 40 days that started on November 11, feast of St. Martin of Tours. Advent as we know it today began about 300 years later in Rome. Pope Gregory I composed many of the prayers, antiphons, and psalm responses.

Advent calendars began as a simple way to countdown to Christmas. In the 1800s, German Protestant families would count down the days until Christmas by making a mark with chalk each day in December on their front doors. In some locations, candles were used instead to mark the passage of time.

The first the use of chocolate as a gift each day of Advent seems to date to at least the 1880s when it was pinned on a board. The first printed calendar with doors that open dates to 1903 in Austria, but commercially available ones that combined chocolate and doors only date to the 1950s.

Do you have an advent calendar?

I haven’t for years. I tried to get the Aldi wine advent calendar this year, but they sold out in 10 minutes!  

Christmas Traditions: Yule Log

This is my advent wreath. It’s not exactly log shaped, but I feel like it has the spirit.

This is fourth in a series of 12 posts on historical Christmas traditions. I didn’t note my sources, but please trust I did verify the information.

Many people burn a Yule log (or at least watch one burning on TV while listening to Christmas music) without knowing its origins. It has its beginnings in Germanic paganism practiced in areas like Scandinavia and Germany. It ties in with the pagan origins of the Christmas tree, which we’ll discuss later. The tradition began using a whole tree, which was ritually cut and brought indoors with great ceremony. The end would be placed in the hearth fire with the rest of the tree in the room. The remnants of last year’s log would be used to light the tree and would be added to the fire each day.

Different kinds of wood are used in different countries. Pine is traditional in Germany, while the English like their oak (which is plentiful there and ties back to Druid belief that oak is sacred). In Scotland, they use birch and in France they use cherry wood sprinkled with wine before it is burned so that it smells good when it is lit.

In the 1600s, the Yule log even transformed into a type of rolled cake that was made popular by Parisian bakers in the 1800s. They may taste good, but take it from me, they are difficult to bake.

Yule log cake. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.

Have you ever lit a Yule log? How about baked the eponymous cake?

I’m scared of fire (plus I have cats and cats like to try to light themselves on fire) so I have an advent wreath that kind of resembles a Yule log. I also try every few years to bake a Yule log cake, but always end up with a cake that falls apart rather than rolls.