Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Traditions - England Medieval "Dolls" or perhaps puppets representing Baby Jesus & Mary

Roman du bon roi Alexandre Manuscript by Jehan de Grise, France 1344.

In medieval & pre-medieval times, in parts of England, there were an early form of Nativity scene called "advent images" or a "vessel cup."  They were a box, often with a glass lid that was covered with a white napkin, that contained 2 dolls representing Mary & the baby Jesus. The box usually was decorated with ribbons & flowers (and sometimes apples).  They were carried around from door to door.  It was thought to be very unlucky, if the family did not see the dolls before Christmas Eve!   Bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest. People paid the box carriers a halfpenny coin to see the dolls in the box.

Roman du bon roi Alexandre illuminated manuscript at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

"In the Middle Ages, the doll was not confined to the young.  Operated as marionettes, they were often used to make money.  Adults could buy votive objects to offer at shrines, as well as statuettes of Christ or saints to keep in their houses.  Margery Kemp, the mystic of King's Lynn, when visiting Italy in 1414, met a woman who traveled abut with an image of the baby Jesus.  Other women dressed this image with clothes as an act of reverence, and Margery, seeing this happen, fell into tears for the love of infant Jesus.  Similar dolls of Christ and Mary are said to have been carried about by women during Advent in the north of England." (See Nicholas Orme. Medieval Children. Yale University Press, 2003) 

Ms. 251 from Brugge, 13C Puppet show

Today, Advent is not widely celebrated in England, although in the Anglican church calendar Advent remains the official start of the Christmas season.

Two traditions that remain in England are the Advent calendar & the Advent candle. The Advent Calendar originated in 19C protestant Germany.  Before the creation of the paper December Advent calendar, Protestant Christian German families made a chalk line on their doors for every day in December until Christmas Eve. Before long, commercial entrepreneurs started replacing the ephemeral chalk lines with printed calendars. The first known Advent Calendar is for the advent of 1851. Nowadays it is usually a thin rectangular poster card with 24 or 25 doors. The doors are numbered 1-24/25. Door number 1 is opened on the 1st of December, door 2 on the 2nd etc. Behind each door there is usually a Christmas scene, but the most popular ones have a chocolate behind each door.

One type of Advent candle has 25 marks on it, & the candle is burned down by one mark each day. In some homes, 24 candles are kept, one for each night from December 1 through Christmas eve. One candle is lit for a while on December 1, then a new candle is added each day for the 24 day period. However, it is now more common to have 4 candles for the 4 weeks before Christmas. One candle is lit on the first Sunday, 2 the second week and so on. The candles were often placed on an evergreen wreath upon the dining room table. Advent candles are lit in many homes, schools and churches, in England, with a final central candle lit on Christmas Day.  Some of these are on a hanging decoration known as an "Advent Crown." They became exceedingly popular due to a children's TV program called Blue Peter, who every year made an advent crown from old coat-hangers, tinsel, & candles.

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