Last Sunday, 28 November, marked the start of Advent and thus the beginning of the ecclesiastical year in Western Christianity. Derived from the Latin Adventus, meaning coming, Advent has for Christians traditionally been a penitential season leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day.
Perhaps one of the best-known manifestations of Advent today is the Advent calendar, in which doors, windows or drawers, often with a sweet (or even a toy) behind them, are opened day by day to build up the anticipation for Christmas. You might think this is a quintessentially British invention but, like many of our Christmas traditions, this practice originated in German-speaking Europe in the nineteenth century.
Initially, German Lutherans physically counted off the days until Christmas by drawing lines in chalk on their doors, lighting a candle or hanging religious images on the walls of their homes. Then came the public Advent wreath, hung for the first time in Hamburg in 1839, followed by the first hand-made Advent calendar in 1851 and by printed calendars from the 1900s. Advent calendars seem to have become common in Britain only since the Second World War.
According to today’s Daily Telegraph, ‘sales of Advent calendars have surged this year as parents try to inject a bit of tradition into Christmas’. John Lewis, one of Britain’s major retailers, reports that purchases of calendars in its stores have jumped by 150%. While some have religious themes, many are overtly secular, with a focus on excitement and pleasure.
However, the Advent calendar is being increasingly used (some might say hijacked) for other ends, including in the shape of virtual calendars on the internet. The Labour Party, for example, has just launched an Advent calendar in which each window opens to reveal what it calls a Coalition Government ‘broken promise’. Similarly, Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit has produced a calendar in which each door leads to a fact relating to domestic abuse, which increases markedly over the festive period.
Appropriately for an online opinion polling company, YouGov has now initiated its own virtual Advent calendar for 2010, in which each daily Christmas stocking clicks through to a new piece of YouGov research into some aspect or other of Christmas. The first two stockings are now officially ‘opened’. The calendar can be found at:
The research for day 1 (fieldwork on 30 November and 1 December among 1,686 adult Britons) asked respondents whether they planned to have an Advent calendar this year. 34% said they did, 60% that they did not, with 6% uncertain. Calendars are more popular with women (41%) than men (27%). Peak interest by age is with the 25-39s (46%), perhaps because many will be parents of young children, with the over-60s (20%) being least inclined to have a calendar. For more detail, see:
Day 2’s question (1,934 adults interviewed on 1 and 2 December) enquired about favourite Christmas songs. Preferences were greatly influenced by age. Thus, while Fairytale of New York by Pogues topped the list with 20%, it was most popular with the 18-24s (30%) and least with the over-60s (9%). The latter were bigger fans of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas (16%), which was in second place, with 9%, overall. Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody came third, with 8%. Cliff Richard was the best-known religious artiste, scoring 2% each with Saviour’s Day and Mistletoe and Wine. For the full list of songs, see:
Although we will not be covering each day’s question(s), we will try to post about any which are particularly pertinent to the religious aspects of Christmas.