Advent calendar of Christmas treasures 2019
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
Day 1: Robin
No one quite knows why robins became a symbol of Christmas, although the link dates back to at least the Victorian era. This robin is part of the decoration on the pietra dura panels in the Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy, Dorset.
Day 2: Camel
There is no mention in the Bible of the wise men arriving on camels, but these animals have long been linked to Christmas. This embroidery at Mompesson House, Wiltshire, depicts the Biblical story of Rebekah (which does involve camels).
Day 3: Donkey
Donkeys have become a key part of nativity plays. This biscuit-porcelain donkey is one of a pair made in China in the early 18th century and now in the collection at Polesden Lacy, Surrey.
Day 4: Goat
In Scandinavian countries, the Yule Goat is an important Christmas tradition and is often depicted in ornaments made of straw. This painting by Sir Edwin Landseer hangs at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.
Day 5: Turkey
Hanging on the wall at Treasurer’s House, York, is this 17th-century embroidery. Animal and plant motifs were popular in English embroidery from 1590s and this features many, including a turkey near a peacock and a rather haughty-looking lion.
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
Day 9: Gabriel visits Mary
God peers down on the Angel Gabriel, who is telling Mary that she will give birth to a son named Jesus. This exquisite illuminated manuscript is in the library at Stourhead, Wiltshire.
Day 10: Baby Jesus
Depictions of Mary holding the baby Jesus are among the most beloved in Christian art. This one at Upton House, Warwickshire, is by Gerard David, painted on an oak panel with a sumptuous gold background.
Day 11: The shepherds
This stained-glass depiction of the shepherds visiting the baby Jesus was made by William Price the Younger in 1730-31. It was later purchased by John Chute to adorn the Tomb Chamber of the chapel at The Vyne, Hampshire.
Day 12: Angels
Angels are a favourite decorative motif and many can be found in the places we look after. This cheeky-looking 18th-century cherub, made from gilded wood, looks down from the walls of Snowshill, Gloucestershire.
Day 13: The three kings
Opulence abounds in this Adoration of the Magi attributed to Hieronymus Bosch from the collection at Upton House, Warwickshire. The three kings are sumptuously dressed and their offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh are masterfully painted.
Days 17-21: Christmas traditions
Day 17: Crackers
Originally called ‘cosaques’, crackers were invented in the 1840s by London sweet maker Tom Smith. They quickly became a Christmas favourite. This unused set from the 1960s can be seen at the Museum of Childhood, Derbyshire.
Days 18: Parlour games
Parlour games and board games at Christmas became particularly popular during the Victorian era. This 1830s chess table at Ickworth, Suffolk includes pen work drawings of Classical buildings.
Day 19: Presents
The are many theories for when and why the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas started. This parcel, at Dunham Massey, Cheshire, labelled ‘xmas’, is one that the Red Cross sent to POWs during the Second World War.
Day 20: Yule logs
We are used to eating chocolate yule logs, but the original yule log was a specially selected log. It had to be large, like the one in this picture by Richard Beavis at Tyntesfield, Bristol, so it could keep burning throughout Christmas.
Day 21: Wassailing
From the Anglo-Saxon 'waes hael', meaning 'good health', wassailing is probably a pre-Christian custom that became part of the Christmas tradition of Twelfth Night. It included drinking spiced ale from bowls like these at Cotehele, Cornwall.
" We wish you all a very Happy Christmas Day full of joy and treasures of your own."