Advent calendars and reverse advent calendars

Anyone who knows me well might be wondering why I’d be writing about advent calendars. Words like Advent, or thoughts about Advent, aren’t part of my usual routine. But when I came across a poster of a reverse advent calendar the other day, I took notice. I was impressed.

I admit to having to look this up (aka google it), but Advent is the 4 week period leading up to Christmas. Advent calendars were first used by German Lutherans in the 19th century as a method for keeping track of the number of days until Christmas. Families would light a candle for each day of Advent.  This I can understand. People started making more elaborate calendars, with a little door one could open each day, where the family would find images and/or religious phrases anticipating the arrival of Christmas. This makes sense as well.

Neither Advent or advent calendars have ever been part of my life, but it’s pretty well impossible to miss the advent calendars for sale in nearly every store, from the grocery store to Canadian Tire. And, boy, have they changed from their original intent.

You can buy advent calendars that give you a new piece of chocolate behind every little door on the calendar, one piece of chocolate for every day until Christmas. There’s a whole wall of them – Lindt Chocolate Advent Calendars – to tempt shoppers at my grocery store while we stand on line waiting for the self-checkout.


Believe it or not, you can buy any one of a choice of Lego advent calendars that hide a small but expensive full Lego set behind a door every day. Just think, Lego Advent Calendars! I wonder what the German Lutherans who started the advent calendar tradition would think of this interpretation of their simple idea.


And just today there is a piece in the New York Times entitled The Pleasure of the Luxe Advent Calendar, revealing five opulent advent calendar options for the 2022 festive season. It describes deluxe advent calendars where you can get a new perfume every day, or scented candles, fancy food items, etc. As the author says, “Every holiday season I buy multiple Advent calendars. I’m not so moved by counting down to Christmas as I am excited by the idea of getting a present every day.”  And there’s the rub. I’m pretty sure that’s just not the intent of Advent.

From the NYT article, Harry and David’s classy food Advent Calendar:AdventCalendar-Food

Some people are counting down the days until Christmas because they’re kids and they can’t wait for Santa to come and bring them something special. On Christmas morning. Some people are counting down the days until Christmas because they’re looking forward to making special memories with family and/or friends.  And some people are using each day of Advent to think about the meaning of Christmas for them, the birth of Jesus. All of these reasons are good ones, and if an advent calendar helps, go for it. I can imagine that it’s fun to open a little door on a calendar every day and think about one of these reasons.

But there can be no doubt that, at least in our society, advent calendars clearly have just become one more target of commercialism, and that’s kind of sad. Giving kids a Lego present every day leading up to Christmas, which is mostly about kids getting presents anyway, certainly has nothing to do with the spirit of an advent calendar. And getting a new perfume every day is – I’ll be honest – completely beyond my comprehension.

But … the other day I happened to notice a poster from our local food bank of a reverse advent calendar. I googled “reverse advent calendar” and it was exactly as it should be, instead of getting something every day leading up to Christmas you give something every day leading up to Christmas. Now this captures the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of giving.


This is the kind of advent calendar I can relate to. It ticks off all the boxes on what Christmas should be all about, regardless of how you personally celebrate Christmas – or don’t celebrate Christmas. A chance to help others, and being given good ideas for what is really needed to boot.  Count me in. It turns out that there are reverse calendars being used by food banks in many places, so check out your local food bank to start having your family become involved with your own local reverse advent calendar.

While I was investigating this topic, which as you can see is something I’ve managed to ignore for an exceedingly long period of time, I came across another kind of reverse advent calendar, the Kindness Reverse Advent Calendar. A kindness advent calendar gives you a kindness suggestion for every day leading up to Christmas. There are kindness advent calendars for preschoolers, for school-age kids, and people of all ages.



Here’s a sample Kindness calendar for you to fill in yourself. Even filling in the boxes as a family might be fun. KindnessCalendar-open

I’m going to be checking off each day on our local food bank Reverse Advent Calendar. It’s never too late to get with the program! I’ll try for kindness at the same time. I hope you might find something that speaks to you in a reverse advent kind of way. 🙂

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49 Responses to Advent calendars and reverse advent calendars

  1. dfolstad58 says:

    Dear Jane, I read your post with real interest. Nodding in agreement about the Lindt chocolate calendars which I saw at The Bay, and was tempted. The Reverse calendars focusing on giving I read carefully. It touched my imagination to think of what would happen in December if Random Acts of Kindness were touching many lives. We don’t need gifts anymore and so our tree underneath is gifts we are giving to others and my wife starts months and months ahead of purchasing and tucking things away. In January I get my closet back. Thanks for your post today, it made me think, and smile.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Bernie says:

    My friend and I have done a customized reverse kindness advent calendar for about 5 years. We match community giving with giving to others in our circles.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reverse Advent and kindness—I hope this catches on!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Who woulda thunk it – some good ideas here and some crazy ones too. We have an advent calendar which we stock with inspirational quotes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dr. John Persico Jr. says:

    Funny, I just bought two advent calendars a few days ago. First time I have ever purchased any but at 2 for one, I purchased one for a religious friend and one for Karen. Neither seemed very excited. I love the “Random Acts of Kindness” calendar. Great idea. John

    Liked by 2 people

  6. 9erick says:

    Not to say I missed the whole point or anything, but just a line to let you know I was on my way over to google to find out what an advent calendar was when you told me.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    I love the idea of reverse advent!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Victoria says:

    Cheers to the reverse advent calendar concept…thanks for your post, Jane! So many ways to share and care…I’m with David about the creativity and imaginative potential with random acts of kindness…so good! 🤍😊🤍

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Mary Rimmer says:

    Jane, I was sort of aware of the craze for Advent calendars with chocolate, gifts, etc. in them, but not of the extremes to which it has been taken. So after reading your post I went looking for them on Amazon, out of morbid curiosity, and am still reeling from the exposure to so much rampant consumerism! There are a few of what I consider real Advent calendars (pictures, no gifts) but they’re deeply buried in all the ones with stuff in them, or made to put stuff in. I did grow up with a real one: a family friend long ago gave it to my older siblings with the idea that they could count down to Christmas and to me, since I was due to arrive around the same time. (Being impatient, I arrived on the 24th instead.) Over sixty years on it’s a bit the worse for wear, because it has come out every year since then; some of the doors have been mended with tape and some of the pictures have had to be patched up. It never occurred to anyone to get a new one: that was THE Advent calendar, and even though it was given to the other two I think I was the one who became most attached to it; a couple of years ago when my mother died I took it over, with no opposition. Some pictures were always my favourites, and I still take pleasure in greeting them as their days arrive. It’s an old friend, and to me has more meaning than any compendium of twenty-four chocolates, etc. could ever have. But I’m also very taken with the idea of the reverse Advent calendar: thanks for your suggestions of ways to buck the trend and give rather than consume–things worth giving, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      What a marvelous story of your family advent calendar, Mary. That is a true personal treasure. And what an auspicious birthday, which you share with both my husband and our youngest grandson!! Thanks for sharing.


  10. Rose says:

    I have seen advent calendars, but never knew what they were. Thanks for pointing us to food shelf and kindness ‘reverse’ advent calendars. You said this perfectly, “instead of getting something every day leading up to Christmas you give something every day leading up to Christmas. Now this captures the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of giving.” 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wynne Leon says:

    These are such great ideas – and what a great activity to do with kids. Thank you for sharing this and putting it on my radar!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Wynne. I’m so glad that you see the same opportunities and rewards in carrying out – and even creating – a reverse advent calendar that I did. I wish I had known about this concept when my kids were young.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. When I was young, we used to light candles. Over the years, the calendars have gotten a little over the top. All right, a lot over the top. Like the idea of the reverse advent calendar.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Your writing always promotes interesting conversation, Jane. I’ve never heard of the reverse advent calendar, but I love the idea. We were always encouraged to give to others as children, and I’ve always preferred giving to receiving. I think if we could focus on this the world over, we would all be better for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reverse advent calendars – what a great idea, I really like it Jane.
      Mine, used for the last 18 years, is cloth made featuring stick on characters from the manger which Granddaughter used to love. There are pockets into which I usually place Roses Chocolates!
      You must have neglected to buy the gin advent calendars – a miniature in every pocket for your morning cuppa!! Only £60! 😉🥴🤶

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jane Fritz says:

        Thanks, Margaret. I love your description of your family advent calendar, a special tradition. How did I miss the advent calendar with a cute little bottle of gin behind each door?! The Christmas spirit in a bottle! 😳😂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Alys. I couldn’t agree more about focusing on the giving, what a world that would be!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Roy McCarthy says:

    Their days are numbered 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love the idea of reverse advent calendars! When my kids were small, I could source advent candles – every night at dinner we would burn it down to the next date. I liked them because there would be no treats to fight over, and heck…I just love candles! I haven’t seen any for decades…wonder if they are still available?


    Liked by 1 person

  16. What a great idea reverse advent calendars are. I particularly liked the concept of the Kindness one, since kindness costs nothing and spreads so much more of the intangible milk of human kindness than the edible goodies can.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I love the idea of reverse calendars! Thank you for sharing this, Jane. I’m excited to share and participate in a meaningful, new holiday tradition.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. heimdalco says:

    A lovely & informative post. I admit to not being tuned in AT ALL to Advent Calendars … until reading this. I agree that this, too, has sadly been commercialized & don’t believe I’ve been missing too much. But I DO like the idea of a reverse Advent calendar. No matter what or who we are, giving to help the less fortunate is NEVER a bad thing & is in keeping with the spirit of Christmas … & the spirit of the spirit. I like it.

    My only real experience with Advent is through our church where we light an Advent candle on the 4 Sunday’s leading up to Christmas. My husband & I volunteer to do it one Sunday in the schedule but this year we didn’t volunteer. I thought it was someone else’s turn. And other people DID volunteer but the minister volunteered US to light the last candle on Christmas Day. In the end, we really don’t mind.

    Several years ago I volunteered to light a candle by myself. The minister instructed me which candle to light & just as I was doing it the choir director shouted at me (in the middle of the service, mind you), “NO, NO … that’s the wrong candle.” I froze but the minister gently leaned over & told me to light the candle … that it was the right one. I did but I was traumatized. Apparently the minister & choir director worked out their differences & I didn’t light a candle for a couple of years. I got over it but NEVER light an Advent candle in church without revisiting that horrifying moment of the “disgruntled choir director.” It isn’t even our turn this year yet & I’m already thinking about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. heimdalco says:

    No it isn’t but it was a learning experience … LOL. For what it’s worth, we have a new minister now & the choir director has moved away. It’s like a blank slate & for that I am grateful.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. debscarey says:

    My family did the advent candles thing too – it was something I took with me when I stopped being a practising catholic eons ago. Sadly, Himself can’t breathe properly around candles, so we don’t get to burn them, and battery powered ones don’t work in an advent wreath quite so well. I hate the idea of chocolate & other gifts in advent candles, my daughter has one where there’s a christmassy themed thing to do each day (baking cookies, making cards, decorations, going out to see the lights, etc). I’ve been intending to do a reverse calendar for years and I think this year couldn’t be a better time. I’ve bought myself (and a couple of friends) a mindfulness journaling calendar produced by someone I know which I’m looking forward to.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Pingback: Advent calendars and reverse advent calendars – Nelson MCBS

  22. I never knew any of this, Jane. I had heard about Advent and even Advent candles, but I was too lazy to learn about more it. I think you’re right that brought up to date there’s an obvious commercial aspect to it that is undeniable. Still, the original meaning of has some lasting value. BTW, my very first set of quality stereo speakers back in the day were Advents! 🙂 – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  23. candidkay says:

    They even have really expensive beauty Advent calendars now! Each day opens a door to a beauty product. I love the kindness ones you shared!

    Liked by 1 person

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