Why Is the Advent Calendar Order Strange? (Explained)

Advent is one of the most important times of the year for the 1.34 billion Catholics around the world because this signals the coming of the Christmas season, arguably the most significant holiday for them. However, many non-Catholics participate in the Advent Calendar custom, too, a count-down practice. Many wonder, though, why is the Advent Calendar order strange?

The Advent Calendar order is strange since people mark the Advent season differently. Some calendars have 25 days while others have 24; but Catholics start Advent the 4th Sunday before Christmas. As well, some begin counting down from 25 while others start with 1 and end on the 25th for Advent.

It is an interesting discussion to talk about the Advent calendar and the history behind it, so hopefully learning more will make it less strange or confusing; and help to make your observance of Advent more meaningful.

As Catholics, Advent is truly significant to our family’s Christmas, so I’m happy to share what I’ve learned on the subject. Keep reading to find out!


What is an Advent Calendar?

Catholics are notorious for our number of celebrations with almost every day marked as some sort of ‘feast day of a saint’. But Christmas is celebrated by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, with 93% of Americans partaking of Christmas in one way or another. So what is the Advent calendar all about then?

The Advent Calendar, with German roots, is an interactive way to mark the coming of Christmas for Christians and non-Christians alike. Advent Calendars commonly have dividers or doors of 24 or 25 for counting down the days until December 25th, Christmas Day.

Kinder Advent Calendars are very popular for kids, but for families preferring a non-candy route, there’s the Lego Advent Calendar , both available at Amazon. For more ideas of Advent Calendars I’ve listed several options below.

The term Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which basically translates to “coming.” Most Catholics understand this, as Advent is a season of anticipation before the arrival of ‘Jesus’s birth’, also known as ‘Christmas’ by the way.

The days of Advent are meant to draw us closer to God, giving us time to prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus’ birth day, whether or not it’s 24, 25, or even 28!

According to Statista in 2019, 38% of American adults said they’ll have an Advent Calendar for themselves that they either purchased or hand-made (or purchased or hand-made by someone else and given to them). And this is ‘adult-participated’ Advent Calendars, mind you!

So of course, it’s a much higher percentage of Advent Calendars purchased or made for kids! Americans will spend more on their kids than themselves any day of the year, after all!

Advent Calendar Trivia:

  • German-born Gerhard Lang printed the first paper Advent Calendar in the early 1900s.
  • After WW2, Richard Sellmer of Stuttgart restored the paper Advent Calendars creating one with a winter scene.
  • The first chocolate variety of Advent Calendar appeared in 1958.
  • Harrod’s Luxury Department store made a $50,000 Advent Calendar once.
  • The largest Advent Calendar is reported by Guinness Book of World Records to be 232 feet 11 inches tall at St Pancras station, London, UK, in 2007.
  • Some store-bought Advent Calendars have 24 ‘days’ while others have 25.
  • If you find a store-bought Advent Calendar with 12 days, it’s not for Advent. It’s a ’12 Days of Christmas’ calendar which begins on Christmas Day and goes to Epiphany on January 6th!

Catholics Start Advent the 4th Sunday Before Christmas

So one way people observe Advent and organize their Advent Calendar is the Catholic way.

Catholics, as well as some Protestants such as Lutheran and Episcopal members, always begin Advent four Sundays before Christmas. This means Advent could start as early as November 27 or even as late as December 3, making Advent more or less than 25 days long on the calendar.

If Advent is longer, children don’t mind! They get more than 25 treats, but it’s not so fun when Advent is shorter.

Using one of the pre-made varieties of Advent Calendars doesn’t often coincide for Catholic/religious Advent observers since Advent can be more or less than 24/25 days. To account for this, sometimes people buy two calendars to add more days. If Advent that year is less than the store-bought calendar shows, you can simply have extra treats on certain days or remove the treats not needed (use them as a stocking stuffer!)

You may also like to read these articles from Hopeful Holidays:

December 1st Is the Start of Advent for Some

Advent traditionally starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas since it’s actually tied to Catholicism, which marks Advent by the closest Sunday to Nov. 30th, the feast day of St. Andrew. But for many Advent always starts on December 1st, so then does the Advent Calendar.

Advent Calendars are confusing because it always starts on December 1st for some, regardless of Advent being originally a Catholic tradition starting the 4th Sunday before Christmas. Most store-bought Advent Calendars start December 1st, too, for ease of production.

It is just easier to always have Advent Calendars start on December 1st for manufacturers. This way they don’t have to modify their production plans. As well, Advent Calendars can be stored and reused the following year if they don’t sale…that is, if they always start on December 1st.

Counting Down or Up Can Make Advent Calendar Order Confusing

Keep in mind, ‘start’ just implies having a December 1st beginning for Advent Calendars, not necessarily starting on the number 1 spot. Advent Calendars can actually start by counting down from the largest number until getting to 1 for Christmas day. Also, calendars vary by having 24 or 25 days.

All of this contributes to the Advent Calendar order being so darn confusing! That’s for Catholics and non-Catholics both!

Besides all of these ways for making Advent Calendar order confusing, there are also unique Advent Calendars that actually mix up the order of the numbers too-on the calendar itself. This might be a way for the manufacturer to acknowledge the calendar doesn’t have to start with one- or for Advent to not ‘have to’ begin on December 1st. These calendars are reusable, so many choose them for their environmental (and wallet) friendliness.

I haven’t seen any personally with more than 25 days or ‘place holders’ for gifts or treats inside on this type, to be honest. But again, I haven’t seen them all, either, so it’s certainly a possibility that some come with more, making them Catholic-friendly too.

Often this kind is meant to be an heirloom and kept year to year. Many are elaborate or ornate in design for this reason. Though that might make them more costly in the beginning, their longevity can make it a cost-effective option.

And since they are reusable, please understand they don’t include the treat/prize inside. That will need to be supplied each year by the consumer. But many prefer that in order to make them customizable for their families.

In what order do you open an Advent Calendar?

There is a large variety of options for making your own Advent calendars, counting down to Christmas Day.

While Advent calendars are popular, there are some people who do not really know how to use them properly. So let’s dive a bit deeper into this so that Catholics and non-Catholics alike can better understand how to use Advent calendars.

The spirit of Advent Calendars is to allow us to open different doors of our hearts in the days leading up to Christmas. In reality, we end up opening doors on an Advent Calendar.

How to use the Advent Calendar can be confusing since Advent is marked differently for Catholics and non-Catholics: some calendars having 25 days or doors; some 24 doors; and some more or less than that. As well, some open on December 1st, while others a day (or days) before or even after, depending on the liturgical year!

1. One way to start is to begin with the day or door marked ‘one’ or ‘1’. That is because, as mentioned, the purpose of the Advent calendar is to count the days leading up to Christmas and not to count down from the days before Christmas. This also makes sense to people who start on December 1st because then the doors/days align with the regular calendar and it’s easier to keep up with, in case you forget to mark a day.

2. Some choose to do the opposite: to start with 24 (or 25) and count towards 1, with 1 designating Christmas Day. This is particularly aligned with those, Catholics especially, who also celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas, because Christmas is the 1st day of Christmas. So with this way, you end Advent at 1, and can then begin your 12 Days of Christmas celebration.

Truly, the way to start or use your Advent Calendar is whatever way that leads you closer to the spirit of Advent and Christmas, that is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. And to open your heart to others! So in that essence, use the Advent Calendar order that works for you and your family!

Popular Amazon Advent Calendars:

Wrapping Up Strange Order of Advent Calendars

To wrap it up, yes, the Advent Calendar order can seem quite confusing. This is simply because of when people consider Advent season to start. For the religious like Catholics, Advent always begins for them on the 4th Sunday before Christmas. For those non-religious or wanting to mark Advent by typical Advent store-bought calendars, it beings December 1st.

Counting down by decreasing numbers or counting up to Christmas is also a personal choice, as it’s not explicitly indicated.

Remember the season of Advent is to prepare for the arrival of Jesus, the savior of the world, so that’s the most important thing about marking the days of Advent!

To read next, I suggest these articles from Hopeful Holidays:

Sources: Bustle; Crosswalk

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