It’s only the 5th of December, but my kids are already complaining about the daily treats they’re getting in our Christmas Advent Calendar. How can I make it through to Christmas Day?
Signed, Annoyed by Advent
I know your frustration but I’m a traditional kind of guy. I love the Christmas tradition of boxing your least favourite relative around the ears with a Panettone smothered in Lutefisk.
I love the tradition of Boxing Day itself where you get to drink beer and eat leftover meat in front of the TV for up to 5 days (depending on how long the cricket* lasts) and your family pretends you’re in a coma. More on this magical tradition in the coming days.
But nothing can beat the tradition and general hoo-ha of your Advent Calender, which has an evolution to match Donald Trump’s hairstyle.
Like many Christmas traditions it all started by holy order, apparently by Bishop Perpetuus of Tours (in France), around the 5th century, who ordered fasting three days a week from the day after Saint Martin’s Day (11 November). Taken with the idea of eating nothing for long periods, locals extended the fast to 40 days just like the fast of Lent. This was called Quadragesima Sancti Martini, translated as “40 days of nothing but gin martinis.”
In as series of fasting cutbacks, and after drunken and hysterical locals started burning entire villages to the ground, the Church administration of the time shortened the fasting period and called it “Advent.”
And what is any good religious tradition without a folk tradition to match, so to celebrate Advent in England, women would carry around the “Advent images”, two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A coin was expected from every door to whom these dolls were shown and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve.
Struck with the idea of door-to-door visits, Mormons copied this practice but swapped the Advent images for bibles and bicycles.
In Normandy, some farmers employed children under twelve to run through their fields and orchards armed with torches, setting fire to bundles of straw to celebrate Advent.
And in Italy, celebration of Advent includes the arrival of Calabrian pifferari, or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of Mary, as legend has the shepherds once did at the birth of Jesus.
And through the centuries all of this silliness has been boiled down to celebrate a more simple countdown of the days leading up to Christmas, with today’s treat filled calendar that your kids now complain about.
In many places, Advent technically starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, so you should have had your Advent calendar pinned to the wall and Christmas tree up on 27 November. But given this changes every year (in 2017 Advent will begin on 3 December), it’s too hard for the marketing people to mass-produce a new calendar each year so it’s an unwritten rule that we’ve rounded Advent to kick off on 1 December.
But this isn’t for kids only. Yep, the grown ups have got into the act where you can now have Advent themed calendars for your favourite boutique beers, whiskeys, pork rinds and brussel sprout-shaped chocolates.
Yes and for those of you without kids you can get a calendar for your pet so no one is left out of this game.
So in consideration of the tradition started by Perpetuus so long ago and the blood, sweat and martinis that have gone into shaping this tradition of Advent, I urge you not to regard the Advent calendar as a perpetual pain in the butt. Embrace the fine history of this tradition.
Kids love playing with fire, so arm them with torches like they did in the old days and let them loose to light a little something up and down your street. Break out the bagpipes along with the gin martinis and celebrate the countdown to Christmas by annoying the hell out of your neighbours with loud music and all night jeering.
And send your little ones out to menace door-to-door like the French villagers once did, demanding money from your neighbours or you’ll keep the bagpipes playing.
Your kids will love this mayhem and the focus of providing the daily treat will magically disappear.
* Cricket is a game between two teams where the teams bat and bowl twice to see who gets the highest score. Bowlers hurl (not throw) a ball overarm to a batter, who stands at one end of a wicket, whilst the batter’s partner waits patiently at the other end of the wicket chewing gum and making smart arse remarks about the bowlers family. Batters score by hitting the ball and running between the wickets or hitting the ball into or over the fence. The Test version of Cricket can last up to 5 days, depending on whether the bowlers can keep their frustrations under control before they beat the living daylights out of the batters.