Advent Reflection: 19th December - Paul Kerensa

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Every day this Advent we will be sharing reflections from Christian authors. Today's is by Paul Kerensa.

Eden Advent Devotional

“Advent calendars? Their days are numbered.” So joked my comedy colleague Tim Vine.

Of course they’re here to stay; now it’s just what sort of Advent calendar we decide to buy. Like most Christmas customs, its future is dictated by units sold. (I once had a promotional Advent calendar from Microsoft – soon as I tried to open Windows, it crashed.)

Market forces mean that if more people buy chocolate ones, more shops stock them. Supermarkets don’t think religious calendars will sell, so Mars gets the shelf space instead.

The divide between church and commerce even means beginning the season at different times. Officially Advent begins on Advent Sunday – December 3rd this year, a full two days after the secular world has started opening doors and munching chocs. Advent Sunday can be as early as November 27th, so sometimes the church is early, sometimes late.

In researching my new Christmas history book, I realised that early Advent calendars began on Advent Sunday too. In fact the earliest Advent calendars weren’t calendars at all, but chalk marks on a wall, like those caricatures of prisoners counting the days.

Advent itself has been celebrated since the fifth century, but it took an enterprising German family to make it commercial. Gerhard Lang used to love the sweets on string that his Mum made for him each Advent, so he marketed his own card calendars from 1908. Newspapers started offering similar versions as freebies, so Lang upped his game, adding cardboard doors with a picture or Bible verse behind each. From the 1920s, he opted to save redesigning to a new Advent Sunday each year, so started every calendar with December 1st.

It took till the 1950s for chocolate to find its way inside – and of course those versions outsold biblical ones rather swiftly. So the Bible verses were there before the chocolate, but sweets on string were there before the Bible verses... but then Advent was property of the church long before Mrs Lang spoiled her son’s teeth with dangly sugared treats. So in terms of who got there first, how far back do you go?

As with all Christmas customs, I guess we go right back, to the manger. Ultimately whether our doors reveal a chocolate reindeer or a non-edible picture of Mary, what matters is what – who – was in that first stable, with no door at all.

So I say enjoy your chocolate, your turkey, your annual Baileys or brandy-soaked pudding. Let’s just remember who originally kickstarted the season. Then our Christmas can be full of joy, our future can be full of hope, and alright, our tummies may be full of chocolate.

Paul Kerensa

 Paul Kerensa is a comedian and author of the new book Hark! The Biography of Christmas, published by Lion. 

Paul Kerensa is a British Comedy Award-winning writer and comedian, with credits including Miranda, Not Going Out and Top Gear. He’s written several books, including So a Comedian Walks Into a Church and is a regular on BBC Radio 2’s Pause For Thought. Paul’s Christmas generally includes port, Shakin’ Stevens and Blackadder’s Christmas Carol.

19th December

December 19th, 2017 - Posted & Written by The Editor

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