Over time, Advent calendars became more sophisticated with little doors that contained candy or a Bible verse. During World War II, the production of Advent calendars was halted in Germany. After the war, the custom spread to the United States. Many families make their own calendars using pictures, candies or trinkets.
The origin of the custom is attributed to St. John of the Cross (1542-1591), who carried statues of Joseph and Mary through the Carmelite Convent in Spain seeking a place to stay. Missionary priests brought the custom to Mexico using real people instead of statues.
Today's families can adapt the tradition using the figures from their Nativity Scene to re-enact Mary and Joseph's journey to the stable in Bethlehem. Start with an empty stable. Place the figures of Mary and Joseph on the other side of the room and move them closer to the créche each day. On Christmas Eve add Baby Jesus, the angels and the shepherds. Then let the Wise Men begin their journey to the créche so they arrive on the feast of the Epiphany.
An Advent Chain is a way to mark the days through Advent. Cut one strip of purple construction paper for each day of Advent. Use a pink strip for the third Sunday of Advent and a white strip for Christmas. Some families like to write something special on each strip such as: "Call Grandma today." "Do something nice for someone." "Say a Hail Mary for someone who is sick." "Read a book about a saint." Let everyone in the family brainstorm other things to write. Then paste or staple the strips to create loops that interlock to form a chain. Each morning detach one loop and read the message as you prepare for Christmas.