Word of the Day

Advent calendar

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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a picture, usually of a Christmas scene, with a series of 24 hidden pictures behind it

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The compound noun Advent calendar is a combination of two nouns, ‘Advent’ and ‘calendar’. Advent calendars originated in Germany and the term started to be used in English with its current meaning in the 1930s.


Sunday marked the start of Advent, the roughly four-week period leading up to Christmas. And today is the day when many people will open the first window on their Advent calendar. When I was growing up, Advent calendars were as described above; festive images made of card with 24 little windows to be opened one a day until Christmas Eve. The tiny illustrations showed different seasonal images, often culminating in a picture of the Nativity behind window 24. At some point in the 1950s, someone had the bright idea of putting a piece of chocolate behind each little door, although this type of Advent calendar did not become widespread in this country until the 1970s. While some were affronted at the abandonment of the traditional Advent calendar, the chocolate version quickly became a tradition in its turn. Now you can get Advent calendars for adults as well as children, containing every conceivable treat and luxury: a quick search turns up edible and drinkable treats of all kinds, herb seeds, stationery, small items of clothing, and of course beauty products. Many of these ‘calendars’ cost well over £100 and some of the luxury ones cost several hundred. They are, of course, only tenuously related to the advent calendars of my youth or to Advent itself; some do not even follow the ’24 windows’ model. In fact, I’m starting to think the entry needs a new subsense


You can’t count down to Christmas without an advent calendar!

One of the most popular Christmas traditions, particularly with children, is the daily opening of an advent calendar, and the finding of some kind of treat or chocolate behind each door.

If you’ve never indulged in the joy of a beauty advent calendar, 2020 may well be the time.

Related Words

carol singing, nativity play, stocking filler

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.


About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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