Question: What went up in many homes today?
Answer: An Advent calendar. Like many Christmas traditions, this one started in Germany, around 1851. The first printed Advent calendar was made by Gerhard Lang, a partner in the Reichhold & Lang printing shop in Munich. When he was a child his mother had helped him count down the days to Christmas by letting him take a small candy off a handmade cardboard calendar. Remembering his own pleasure in doing this, he thought other children would like it too and in 1908, his shop produced cardboard calendars to which Christmas pictures could be affixed each day. Later versions put out by Reichhold & Lang and other printing companies (who knew a good money-maker when they saw it) featured little doors that could be opened to reveal candies, pictures, and Bible verses. Production fell off during the war years, but resumed with gusto afterwards and expanded beyond Germany.
Chocolate-filled Advent calendars came in about 1958. Though these are still widely used, there are now also Advent calendars that contain small toys and ornaments, and LEGO and Playmobil sets have little figures that can be added to a Christmas scene each day.
Other Advent countdowns include Advent wreaths and specially marked Advent candles that are lit every day and allowed to burn down to the next mark.