Advent (Lat, adventus, arrival). The four weeks before CHRISTMAS, beginning on St. ANDREW’S Day (30th November), or the Sunday nearest to it, commemorating the first and second coming of Christ; the first to redeem, and the second to judge the world.

BREWERS Phrase & Fable

It is too late now. There is no escaping. We’re into Advent and Christmas is coming up fast. If it wasn’t for the kids you wouldn’t bother, eh?

It used to be worse. In the 5th century Advent began on the 11th November, St Martin’s Day, and it took the form of a six week fast up to Christmas. After about a hundred years of fasting like this, (n.b that’s ‘fasting’ not ‘feasting’) it was eventually decided to shorten Advent to its present length and forget the fasting. Cheers all round!

Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year and Advent Sunday – which this year fell last Sunday 27th November – is known in the church as “New Year’s Day.”

jill archer

Fans of “The Archers” probably know that the Sunday before Advent is “Stir Up Sunday”, so called from the first two words of the collect, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” It was the custom, still practised today by Jill Archer and her ghastly grandchildren, to stir the Christmas Pudding on this day and recite “Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot.”

ADVENT church

The church theme during Advent is to remind Christians of the first coming of Jesus Christ as saviour and to his second coming as judge. Special liturgical colours for church hangings and robes are introduced – purple or Sarum blue to represent hopefulness. On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word “Rejoice” the colour is sometimes changed for rose.

card advent calendar

There has been a recent growth in the popularity of Advent Calendars – usually a card divided into 24 or 25 sections, each sealed with a small numbered door. On the first day of December children open the first door to discover a small treat inside -a sweet perhaps – and continue opening the doors on a daily basis up to Christmas Eve.

The origins of the Advent calendar come from German Lutherans who at least as early as the beginning of the 19th century would physically count down the first 24 days of December often by simply drawing a chalk line on the door each day or hanging small religious pictures on the wall.

 wooden box advent calendar

The first known handmade Advent calendar appeared in 1851. According to the Lower Austrian (NÖ) Landesmuseum, the first printed Advent calendar was produced in Hamburg in 1902 or 1903. Other authorities state that a Swabian printer, Gerhard Lang, was responsible for the first printed calendar in 1908.This consisted of 24 little coloured pictures that could be stuck onto a calendar. Several years later his company, Reichhold & Lang of Munich, produced a calendar with 24 little doors with religious pictures hidden inside. Unfortunately Reichhold and Lang went out of business in 1930 by which time they had created over 30 separate designs. During the same period another company, Sankt Johannis Printing Company was producing Advent Calendars with religious texts hidden behind the doors. Because of paper shortages Advent Calendars were not commercially produced during the 2nd World War. After the war production was taken up by Richard Sellmer of Stuttgart and today his company Richard Sellmer Verlag, maintains a stock of over 1,000,000 calendars worldwide.

 House advent calendar

Modern Advent calendars take many forms. The new John Lewis Christmas TV commercial (a 3 hankie weepie!) starts with a boy opening up his Advent calendar – a wooden box on the wall divided into 24 numbered compartments. Others calendars feature Christmas Trees, Santas, snowmen, horses, puppies and model houses.

Mrs Moon1

One of the more unusual Advent calendars can be found in St Margarets in the knitting shop “Mrs Moon” on Crown Road. It consists of 24 hand knitted baby ‘booties’ pegged onto a washing line and each large enough to contain several sweets or a small toy. Like any good family heirloom it can be reused year after year with the confidence that it will look as good in 100 years time as it does today.

The ‘bootie’ calendar is the life’s work of 81 year old Joan Ellis who lives in a retirement home in Devon. Joan designs all the booties herself and like snowflakes each ‘bootie’ is unique. The assembly of the calendars and their marketing is done by her family who live in St Margarets. Although Joan can only produce about 12 calendars a year – that’s one bootie a day – they have been sold all over the world . Described as ‘contemporary antiques’ they have a lasting usefulness and charm that denies their simple design. Joan’s son says his mother’s life now revolves almost completely around production of the ‘booties’. A life-long knitter, the work gives Joan a purpose in life and a sense of considerable achievement. With a target to work towards and the growing anticipation of finishing that 24th ‘bootie’ Joan’s life is shaped and brightened – which perhaps is what Advent is all about.

 Mrs Moon2

Joan Ellis’s “Bootie Calendars” are now on sale at ‘Mrs Moon’, 41 Crown Road in St Margarets. The cost of each calendar is £30.

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Rowan Williams – the Archbishop of Canterbury

Credit: The photograph of a church at Advent was taken at Our Lady & St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Sydenham

— from Martyn Day