“Tallest Advent Calendar” Inspired in Part by Jacksonville’s German Sister City

By Jeremy Coumbes on November 28, 2022 at 8:45pm

What might be one of the tallest holiday decorations in the world made its debut in downtown Jacksonville Friday night. The east side of The Farmers State Bank and Trust Company has transformed into one of the world’s tallest advent calendars ahead of Christmas.

The 110-foot-tall building was built in 1913 and has been known for lighting up every window with a single electric candle light for years during the Christmas season. However, this year the display was taken to a whole other level thanks to a long-talked-about idea between a pair of former JHS educators.

Pat Kennedy, a retired English teacher, contacted a friend and former colleague, retired German teacher Jo Ann Nelson after he had started counting the newly installed windows on the bank tower this past summer.

Kennedy and Nelson had long wanted to see a giant advent calendar somewhere somehow in downtown Jacksonville like those found in Germany this time of year. The calendar was primarily inspired by the Old City Hall in Uelzen, Germany, which has a large advent calendar with a different number in each window. Uelzen is Jacksonville’s sister city in the German/American Partnership student exchange program that JHS has participated in for many years.

Retired JHS German teacher Jo Ann Nelson’s postcard of the Old City Hall in Uelzen, Germany, which was part of the inspiration for The Farmers State Bank and Trust Company’s “Tallest Advent Calendar”

Along with local artist Steve Varble, Kennedy and Nelson brought the idea to The Farmers State Bank and Trust company hoping they would be on board. Executive Vice President Kristan Becker-Hoffman says it was an easy decision to make.

The answer was an easy, yes, I mean, it’s part of the revitalization of downtown, and being able to work with Jacksonville Main Street, all the revitalization, the economic development that is happening in the downtown.

We’ve been a longtime supporter of downtown Jacksonville and we certainly encourage and want our community to come downtown and use this as an opportunity for us to be able to bring people to our town and celebrate the great businesses and the holiday spirit that is already down here.”

Executive Vice President Elizabeth Becker says, she, Kristan, and President and Chairman of the Board, Joy French Becker were cautiously skeptical at first, but the more they explored the idea, the more excited they became.

The countdown to Christmas will happen each day in December, transforming the number in each window into an image of Christmas. Visitors are invited to visit the bank lobby or drive up during banking hours to sign up for prizes the Bank will be giving away to celebrate the days of the Advent calendar. They can also visit their West Morton location in Jacksonville.

Becker says the advent calendar is also allowing them to bring back the in-person customer appreciation day they had to pause during Covid. Becker says it’s now going to be open to the whole community during the entire month of December.

So we thought that this year would be a good time to kick that off again in person by doing a customer appreciation day on December 1st, and definitely inviting the community to come down and do the sign-ups on that day. And then also doing an advent calendar giveaway with all kinds of small candies for the public.

But then with that, you can come in and sign up for different prizes for each day. So depending upon the day, we will give away from one up to twenty-four prizes. For the number turned, so will be the number of prizes given away that day.”

Becker-Hoffman says all of the prizes were purchased from local Jacksonville businesses. The first number will be changed on Thursday at 4:00 pm to coincide with the downtown Jingle and Mingle event, with the second also changing at 4:00 pm on Saturday during the Jacksonville Main Street Cristkindle Market. She says each day thereafter, the numbers will be changed at 9:00 am to show a different Christmas icon.

Kennedy says seeing the debut at the Christmas Parade Friday night, reminded him of when he was young and downtown was the epicenter of Christmas in Jacksonville. “The downtown square was a bustling place in all of December. There wasn’t a Morton Avenue yet, so the action was down here, and it was really…you felt the spirit of the community. They’ve done a good job now of making the downtown area very hospitable, and it was fun the other night to see that same spirit in people coming down to the square, and getting excited about the displays.

I enjoy the cold weather, and I think we need to embrace the chill and come down as a community and get that feeling of friendship again” Kennedy says it was wonderful to see young and old alike on the square enjoying all of the decorations Friday night, especially those looking up at the lighted numbers in each window.

The 2022 Jacksonville Christmas Parade passes beneath the advent calendar Friday night on the downtown square.

Steve Varble says they have researched and although the Guinness record for the largest advent calendar was set in England in 2017 with a larger one, for now, they think it is the largest advent calendar currently on display. Kristan Becker-Hoffman says “we will just call the tallest in the world until someone tells us otherwise.”

The tallest advent calendar can be seen on the east side of The Farmers State Bank and Trust Company through January 6th. The Becker family along with everyone at the bank invites everyone to visit downtown and stop into its many locally owned businesses during this holiday season.