Advent calendar of Christmas treasures 2019

Festive decoration at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire

To get you in the Christmas spirit, we've selected 24 festive objects from our collection, one for each day of advent, to form our own, unique, advent calendar. We’ve got robins and reindeer, crackers and presents, holly and ivy and much, much more...

Days 1-5: Christmas creatures

Days 6-8: Father Christmas

Matchbox holder in shape of sleigh.

Day 6: Sleigh

The legend of Father Christmas grew from the story of St Nicholas, a 4th-century Greek bishop famed for giving gifts to the poor. If he does exist, his sleigh would have to be a lot larger that this. At just over 10cm in length, this 'sleigh' is actually a matchbox holder at Lanhydrock, Cornwall.

Blue tiled inglenook fireplace with stone mantelpiece in the Great Parlour at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, West Midlands

Day 7: Fireplaces

Chimneys are Father Christmas's traditional mode of entry. It would take him a long time to climb down the chimneys at all the places we care for. This elaborate chimney is in the Great Parlour at Wightwick Manor and forms part of Charles Eamer Kempe’s decorative scheme.

Scandinavian bone spoon carved with shaped handle and etched with reindeer on outside of bowl

Day 8: Reindeer

The association of reindeer with Father Christmas began with Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem ‘A Visit from St Nicholas.’ This Scandinavian carved bone spoon at Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire, has a reindeer etched on it.

Marking the countdown to Christmas

The tradition of advent calendars began in Germany in the 19th century. Religious families marked the countdown to Christmas in various ways, including hanging devotional pictures on the wall. The first-known advent calendar was made out of wood in 1851.

By the early 1900s printed calendars appeared; doors were added in the 1920s and chocolates in the 1950s.

Advent calendars continue to be popular today and come in all shapes and sizes.

Days 9-13: The nativity

Days 14-16: Festive nature as decorative design

Close-up of Elizabethan `Nonsuch' chest inlaid with holly and bog oak in the Long Gallery at Packwood House, Warwickshire

Day 14: Holly

Holly isn't just used to deck the halls at Christmas. The light colour of holly wood has made it an ideal material to use in marquetry to create decorative scenes and motifs. This Elizabethan 'Nonsuch' chest, in the Long Gallery at Packwood House, Warwickshire, is inlaid with holly and bog oak.

Bacchante statue Mount Stewart

Day 15: Ivy

Ivy is not only associated with Christmas – it is also the symbol for Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. An ivy crown is worn by one of his maiden followers, or ‘bacchante’, in this sculpture by Lawrence MacDonald at Mount Stewart, County Down.

Close-up of a beaded purse at Fenton House, London

Day 16: Mistletoe

The first written reference to kissing under the mistletoe dates from the 1820s but it has been used for centuries as a decorative motif. Here, seed pearls are used to represent the mistletoe’s distinctive white berries in this sumptuously bedecked purse from 1610 at Fenton House, London.

Days 17-21: Christmas traditions

Days 22-24: The gifts of the three kings

The Vyne ring that is said to have inspired J R R Tolkien

Day 22: Gold

This ancient gold ring, engraved with the head of Venus and bearing a Latin inscription, is thought to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write The Hobbit. It was discovered in 1785 in a farmer's field in the Roman town of Silchester and was probably sold to the Chute family, who lived nearby at The Vyne in Hampshire.

Japanese bronze incense burner in the shape of an elephant

Day 23: Frankincense

Frankincense, an aromatic tree resin, is used in incense. This elaborate Japanese incense burner can be found at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire. The pagoda on the elephant’s back acts as a lid and lifts to reveal a compartment for a wick.

Mahogany double-sided apothecary's cabinet in box form with 30+ separate components

Day 24: Myrrh

Myrrh, also a tree resin, has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to treat many different ailments. This apothecary’s cabinet from Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, has one drawer labelled ‘powder myrrh’.

" We wish you all a very Happy Christmas Day full of joy and treasures of your own."
The Spanish Room ceiling at Kingston Lacy

Explore our art and collections 

Be inspired by the world-renowned art and collections, exhibitions and more at the many historic places that we look after.