Historically, Advent ushered in the beginning of the church year. It was a time for fasting and personal reflection that spanned a number of Sundays (from Nov. 15 or 30 depending on the church involved), and ended on Christmas Eve. Today, it's a more lighthearted activity that enhances the enjoyment of the days leading up to Christmas.
If you've played the countdown to Christmas game, you know about the Advent calendar. Whether you've helped your child craft a calendar out of construction paper and glitter, or purchased a lovely finished calendar with decorative drawers to hold small gifts and candy, being able to diffuse some of the Christmas excitement with daily treats can be fun whether you have an Advent calendar tacked to your refrigerator door with magnets or displayed as a decorative wall hanging in your living room.
The use of a calendar to mark the passing days to Christmas may date back to 19th century Germany where the first Advent wreath was displayed in 1839, and the first mass-printed Advent calendar was created around 1902 [source:Hadley].