Growing up, Milly Rawlings awakened every December morning to open a square door on her Advent calendar, anticipating what wonders lay behind each door. She still remembers the scenes — a snowy night in Germany, a sled, a Christmas tree in the Bavarian woods, a nutcracker, lighted windows, a lighted wreath — a different one for each day.
Rawlings says her grandparents brought the calendar back from Germany, where this ritual of the season — counting down 24 days to Christmas — originated in the 19th century.
"It was a multiple-panel calendar of a mountain village at Christmas, and I remember they'd spread it out across the sideboard in their dining room," she recalls. "We had Advent calendars every year and loved opening the daily window."
According to GermanSteins.com, which sells German beers and gifts, the earliest Advent calendars consisted of 24 candles, 24 small pictures hung up on the wall, 24 painted chalk strokes on the door or wreaths with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from them, used to count down the days until Christmas.
Rawlings says her childhood calendars are such fond memories that she has continued the tradition with her children and grandchildren.
"Our calendars always came from Germany when we were small, but then they became more widely available," she says. "My kids had some great ones. My sister even sent one to them that had Christmas scenes from Cape Cod."
Even though her daughters are grown, Robin Miller says she and her husband, Bob Bires, set out their wooden Advent calendar every Christmas. Miller remembers the girls "loved opening the little door every day" when they were young.
Birgit Worth also remembers the candy-filled calendars of her childhood. "It was always a great pleasure to see different pictures each morning — and enjoy different pieces of chocolate," she says.
While felt designs, often consisting of flat panels with a pocket to explore each day, have been popular for decades, and candy has long been the go-to filler, Advent calendars have gotten far more elaborate. Some are meant for a single season. Others are heirloom-quality, meant to be refilled and reused each year.
Their intended audience also has expanded. These days, you can find them filled with candy or toys for kids, and wine or whiskey for adults. There are even calendars for the four-legged members of the family. Many are marketed to particular interests, such as cosmetics or coin collecting, or favorite franchises, such as Harry Potter, Barbie or Legos, to name a few.
"They're a fun way to get a present every day," says Bridgette Frank, customer service manager at Adagio Teas, a company that's offered its teas in Advent calendars for the past three holiday seasons.
If you give them as gifts, the recipient will be reminded of your friendship every day for 24 days, she says, and they're practically guaranteed "to lift your mood at the beginning or end of each day."
From a business perspective, Frank says the Adagio calendars have helped introduce their teas to a wider audience.
"They're a good way for people to try out a new company and get a sense of the quality and make sure they're aligned to your taste and expectation," she says. "It's like a giant sampler box, and likely to show off some of the best the companies have to offer."
Aldi released its annual selection of Advent calendars on Wednesday. Troy Marshall, vice president for the Mount Juliet, Tennessee, division, says the grocery chain is offering more than 20 calendars this year, including its most-popular wine, beer and cheese countdowns, along with two new calendars featuring Vista Bay Hard Seltzer and Irish Country Cream. They go quickly, however, so he advises buying early. Just resist the temptation to open them until Dec. 1.
Someone should have told that to Sally Tucker Stroud's mom. "I took my diabetic, chocolate-loving mom an Advent calendar at the nursing home [one year]," Stroud says, "and she opened the windows and ate every single one in one day!"
Here's a sampling of what could be waiting for you on the 24 days before Christmas. Some you'll need to order, so don't delay. You won't want to miss getting the first treasure on Dec. 1.
* Godiva's Advent calendar is a mouthwatering delight. Filled with the company's luxury chocolates, it's wake-up calls feature classics from its Gold Ballotin boxes as well as seasonal pieces such as Dark Chocolate Embrace, Milk Chocolate Snowman, White Ganache Bliss and Dark Mint Medallion. $39.95
Order online: Godiva.com
* Aldi has more than 20 Advent calendars for foodies. Among the favorites is its Wine Advent Calendar: The 2020 Collection. Oenophiles can wine down at the end of the day with a daily toast to the season — one of 24 mini bottles hiding behind little cardboard windows. There's a mix of red and white, so you never know what you'll get until you open the window. $69.99
Order online: aldi.us
* Tea lovers will appreciate the 24 varieties in the Adagio Teas Advent calendar. It holds such best-sellers as Earl Grey, Masala, chai, citrus green and peppermint. What a nice gift to give yourself or the person in your life who loves tea. A delightful surprise each day. $29
Order online: www.adagio.com
* Dogs will be doggone happy every day in December with Dreambone's Advent calendar. They'll lick their chops for the company's mini bone with sweet potato, the mint candy cane with chicken or the mini stick wrapped with chicken, among other daily treats. All you'll need to do is open the window for them — they'll take care of the rest with no problem. Good dog! $14.99
Order online: amazon.com
* Cheese lovers will love a daily dose of cheese with Ilchester's Advent cheese calendar. Its assortment includes Red Leicester cheese, Wensleydale cheese with cranberries and the company's delicious sharp cheddar. The cheese is from Ilchester, a village in southwestern England, an area known for making quality cheeses. And what you'll find inside each window is just the bite you need to pair with your favorite afternoon wine. $24.99
Buy at Target stores or order online: target.com
Email Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.