The countdown to Christmas has begun, and with 24 whole days to wait until Father Christmas arrives, what better way to start the celebrations than with a glorious Advent Calendar… 

Time is a tricksy concept for young children, especially when patience is not among their natural attributes. At this festive time of year, the evidence of a forthcoming celebration is all around – from the twinkling lights and decorations that adorn the streets to Nativity play rehearsals at school. No wonder children are whipped up into a state of excitement as they pen their wishlists to Santa and try their best to exhibit exemplary behaviour at all times, lest good old St Nick hears tales of naughtiness that might diminish the stuffing in their Christmas stockings when the big day finally arrives.

An advent calendar is a fun way to help children understand a little about the concept of time passing (or “sleeps till Christmas”) as well as giving them a daily treat by opening a magical little door to discover a cute picture or a yummy chocolate, or, as a more tooth-friendly alternative, a small toy

The German Lutherans began the ritual of the Advent countdown, often by simply drawing a chalk line on the door each day, beginning on December 1 up to Christmas Eve on December 24. Some families introduced more elaborate means of marking the days, such as lighting a new candle.

It was Gerhard Lang, a Swabian parishioner and printer, who produced the first printed calendar in 1908, featuring 24 coloured pictures that could be affixed to a piece of cardboard. Several years later, he introduced a calendar with two dozen little doors – pretty much along the lines of the lift-the-flap formats that are stock-in-trade for countless novelty picture books these days – and the modern Advent calendar was born.

After production was halted during the Second World War due to paper shortages, another German named Richard Sellmer resurrected the commercial Advent calendar, and it is Sellmer who is today credited with the widespread popularity of the Advent calendar as we know it today. Indeed, his company still produce over 1,000,000 traditional calendars for worldwide sale.

These days, Advent calendars come in a variety of designs, featuring everything from more traditional Nativity or snow scenes, to Art-inspired creations. To create a fun family tradition, a bit like the tangled spaghetti mess of Christmas lights that comes out every year in preparation to decorate the tree, it’s a nice idea to invest in an Advent calendar that you use every year, whether a wooden or felt one, or you can make one together as a craft project, like I did with my children one year.

Having to find two dozen dinky lidded boxes definitely proved a labour of love (let’s just say that there were a lot of loose Oxo cubes in the cupboard!) but we filled it with teensy pocket-money toys, like a wind-up music box or mini fall-down Santa puppets and a cracker joke for each day. Lately, I’m afraid we’ve resorted to a new tradition that requires less crafty dexterity where my son, Joe, does daily battle between two toy giant greats: Lego versus Playmobil. A tad extravagant to have two, I know, but we do it all in the name of a good seasonal showdown! And it requires a solid month of good behaviour and happy homework in anticipation.

Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar If you have a Star Wars aficionado in your home, this really is the way to set the scene for Christmas. The intergalactic countdown contains an exclusive Jango Fett figure, plus Boba Fett, Geonosian, Endor Rebel Trooper, Scout Trooper and R5-F7, as well as teensy versions of iconic spaceships (star fighters, cruisers, shuttles and freighters) to build yourself. May the festive force be with you!

Lego City Advent Calendar Crazy cosmopolitan shenanigans where a miscellany of misfits (a police officer, a robber, an astronaut… and Santa) gather in the snowy city.

Lego Friends Advent Calendar A wintry scene starring mini-doll figures Stephanie and Lily with buildable gifts including a sled, snowman, ice skates and a Christmas tree.

Playmobil Advent Calendar Police Night at the Museum meets Playmobil Police in this Advent Calendar where a thief is stealing precious artefacts. Get ready for a daring police raid with a police quad car, bicycle, mummy, pharaoh’s bust, treasure chest and a snake.

Playmobil Advent Calendar Princess Wedding As each box opens, it sets the scene for the Prince and Princesses Wedding complete with cake, flower girl and a King welcoming guests.

Playmobil Advent Calendar Winter Wonderland Father Christmas is out and about feeding the larger animals in the forest, helped by an angel who feeds the smaller animals. Foxes, raccoons, deer and even hedgehogs come out to feed every day in the lead up to Christmas.

Note: Not suitable for under-threes due to small pieces.

Photography Credit: Shutterstock