Christmas Traditions - Advent and Mummers' Plays
Advent did not originate in England, its celebration actually originated in Germany, although in the church calendar Advent is the official start of the run up to Christmas.
The Advent calendar and the Advent candle are now a staple of the pre Christmas tradition across the UK. The Advent Calendar originated in the 19th Century from the protestant area of Germany when families made a chalk line for every day in December until Christmas Eve. Commercial entrepreneurs started replacing the ephemeral chalk lines with printed calendars. The first known Advent Calendar is for the advent of 1851. Modern day Advent calendars tend to be themed cardboard boxes with chocolates in them.
An Advent candle often has 25 marks on it, a bit of the candle is burned down by one mark each day through to Christmas Day. However, it is more common to have four candles for the four weeks before Christmas. One candle is lit on the first Sunday, two the second week and so on, with the final candle being lit in the center of the wreath on Christmas Day. The candles were often placed on a wreath upon the dining room table or on a hanging decoration known as an "Advent Crown”. Christmas wreaths became exceedingly popular due to a children's TV programme called Blue Peter, who every year made an advent wreath/crown from old coat hangers, tinsel and candles.
Mummers' Plays are one of the oldest surviving features of the traditional English Christmas. Mumming in England goes back for over a thousand years, it derives it’s name from the fact that the actors dress from head to toe covering even their face.
Mumming is best described as early pantomime and they may include songs or even dances. The plays are based loosely on the legend of St. George and the dragon. The plays are intended to show the struggle between good and evil.
The key character is the comical doctor, who is brought in to revive the loser of a sword fight between a hero and an adversary. The heroes vary regionally and include Saint George, Robin Hood (in the Cotswolds) and in Scotland, Galoshin. The adversaries include Slasher (a soldier), Hector and the Turkish Knight. The other characters generally ask the audience for money, food and drink at the end of the performance.
The village of Marshfield still upholds the tradition http://www.marshfieldparish.org.uk/wp/marshfield-history/mummers.htm