December 23, 2011
By Mary Jo Gibson
The holiday tradition of an Advent Calendar originates from Germany; a card counting down to Christmas that children open, one “window” a day, finding a picture, poem, story, sweet treat or a small gift. For this week’s Cabinet, I offer a brief history of the Advent Calendar and a choice selection of special virtual museum experiences.
The first printed calendar was the creation of Gerhard Lang in 1908, drawing inspiration from his 19th century childhood. On the first day of December his mother baked 24 meringue pastries, indulging her son each morning through Christmas Eve. Mr. Lang’s publishing house, Reichhold & Lang, invented the perforated doors used on modern Advent calendars in 1920, but failed to obtain a patent, and copycats profited. The calendars took hold in America when Newsweek published a photo in 1953 of President Eisenhower’s grandchildren grasping for an Advent calendar; demand and production jumped.
Despite all the marketing to children, adult Christmas Advent calendars in Germany are popular. Creative breweries offer relief to parents weary from buying presents via ‘calendars’ providing a can of beer each day of Advent.
This tradition of a holiday calendar successfully morphed into a new existence on the internet with museums bringing new exposure to their collections using this unique format. The Advent calendar moved off the shelf of the gift shop, becoming an integral part of December social media experience. Institutions can glean archives and past exhibition images to grow their exposure, moving into the New Year with a solid following from this simple format.
Finding twenty-four museum Advent calendars was not the easiest task, and in the end I settled for the 13 included below, not all are museums but each have something to offer. Enjoy the images, perhaps one of these will inspire you to look further at what the museum has to offer for the virtual tourist.