Advent calendars originated in Germany, produced by Gerhard Lang. When he was a little boy, his mother used to attach candies to pieces of cardboard, and each day Gerhard would take one off to find his surprise. His first printed calendar was made up of miniature colored pictures, attached to a piece of cardboard for each day in December. Later, these little doors opened, and then came to hold a religious verse or small piece of candy or chocolate.
These German Advent calendars were sold up until World War II, when war shortages forced production to stop. Production resumed in 1946, by a man named Richard Selmer, who also credited President Eisenhower with helping the tradition grow in the US. A newspaper article had shown his grandchildren with an Advent calendar, which greatly increased their popularity within the United States. The Little Town Advent calendars Richard Selmer created are still available today, and you can view the original designs online.
It's now common to see Advent calendars today with 25 days. While it was tradition for the old calendars to only have 24 days, with Christmas Eve being the last door to open, many US calendars now include a door for the 25th, Christmas Day. Often, the 24th or 25th door contains a larger piece of chocolate or candy, to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Or, if the calendar contains religious verses or Biblical pictures, the 24th or 25th passage or picture.
You can create your own Advent calendars by using two pieces of fabric, felt or old towel. Simply trace the shape of a small Christmas stocking or tree on a piece of paper, cut out the pattern, and trace 24 or 25 of them on one of the red or green pieces of fabric. Paint the numbers 1 to 24 or 25 on each design, and arrange them on the towel or fabric in a neat design. Pin the stockings in place, or use a hot glue gun to stick them to the fabric, making sure to leave enough space to tuck a small candy or verse in each one. Decorate the calendar however you wish, with glitter, sequins, or fabric, and make each stocking unique.
You'll find Advent calendars in many places online, in drugstores and grocery stores, and at specialty shops. It's not uncommon today to see calendars themed with pop stars or movie stars! They range from about $0.99 for simple cardboard calendars, to pricier versions that contain Belgian chocolate, felt Christmas tree decorations, or miniature religious pictures. Hanging an Advent calendar in your home is a fun way to celebrate a Christmas tradition that dates back over 100 years. If you have more than one child in your home, it's a good way to teach sharing, as each child alternates days to open the doors on the calendar. If you have a cloth or felt Advent calendar, it can be stored and reused every Christmas, and refilled with small candies or toys each year.