With the season of Advent 2023 already underway, many people are using Advent calendars to count down the number of days until Christmas.
But what exactly is an Advent calendar?
Where did the practice originate? And how did it evolve to what it is today?
"Advent," which derives from the Latin word "adventus," means "coming, approach, arrival."
It is the liturgical season that immediately precedes Christmas.
Advent can last anywhere from 22 to 28 days, depending on which day of the week Christmas falls on each year.
The first reported Advent calendars were from Germany, as were the first mass-printed calendars. (Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images)
It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve.
In 2023, with Christmas on a Monday, Advent is just 22 days; it began on Sunday, December 3.
Similar to Advent wreaths, Advent calendars are believed to have originated in Germany, according to Hallow, the Catholic prayer app.
"They seem to have emerged from Lutheran communities in Germany in the 19th century, where parents and children used chalk marks to track the days until Christmas," the Hallow website notes.
Some Advent calendars offer different religious verses, activities and meditations on the days leading up to Christmas.
This Advent calendar has drawers for storing and then revealing a daily surprise during the month of December. (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
These types of calendars "can help you fully enter into the season with daily activity and prayer suggestions to prepare you spiritually for the birth of Jesus Christ," says the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The USCCB produces this type of Advent calendar each year.
Sample squares on the calendar include Bible verses, plus suggestions for almsgiving and prayer intentions.
Modern printed Advent calendars are very similar to the first mass-produced printed calendars of the early 20th century. (Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)
Printed Advent calendars were first made in early 20th century Munich by a man named Gerhard Lang, says the website for Käthe Wohlfahrt of America, a company that sells German-made holiday goods and decor.
"It showed 24 little doors, which could be opened to discover small pictures or surprises inside," says the website.
"Each day from December 1st until Christmas Eve, one door was to be opened for a treat. The practice quickly gained popularity and eventually drew international acceptance."
While Advent calendars began as a religious custom, in modern times, Advent calendars have taken on a more secularized and commercial bent, with everyone and everything from grocery stores to luxury brands choosing to produce their own specific calendars.
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Unlike traditional Advent calendars, which were intended to track the season of Advent, secularized Advent calendars typically last for the month of December up until Christmas, regardless of when Advent actually begins.
These calendars may have 24 gifts, or a smaller number — such as 12 or 6.
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Christine Rousselle is a lifestyle reporter with Fox News Digital.