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Advent Windows 1999-2019

Window Display at 16 North Street in December 2017

 It seems impossible, but this will be the twentieth year of the Advent Window Trail in Lostwithiel – a living Advent Calendar of decorated and illuminated Christmas windows, revealed from 1st to the 24th December around the town.

October 1999 was the beginning – a chance remark amongst friends who met to enjoy a bit of arts and crafts and conversation, and a break from the demands of husbands and young children. Ruth had seen something similar in her native Switzerland, Jenni and Debenie picked up on the design and making challenge, and Gina supplied the drive and organisation to make that first idea a reality.

Possible themes were discussed, townspeople and shopkeepers with suitable windows were signed up, and the race was on to design and create 24 Christmas themed, numbered display windows, which would light up one after the other throughout December 1999. Success! It was so different from the usual generic Christmas decorations – a new tradition had started in the town.

I can still remember my first window – Four Angels, occupying the Bodmin Hill window of Gwen and Mervyn Taylor. Much later came a Snowy Forest with real trees, in the giant window of the Community Centre, a Christmas Kitchen baking scene, a window of Stars and Doves for Rachel John in Fore Street, and a display of Christmas Toys Past & Present for the Museum.

At first we worked separately – I remember Jenni and Ruth taking on the huge showroom window of the old Fiat Garage at Bridgend – but for the past dozen or so years we’ve collaborated on a single window, at Gina’s in Quay Street or Marjorie’s in Bodmin Hill, while new recruits and old faithfuls devise and decorate the other 23 windows. We’re Number 18 this year, and our window is a work in progress . . .

In 2011, all very busy, we were grateful to Marianne and Mel of the Business Group for taking on the work of recruiting and scheduling the 24 windows, leaving us to concentrate on our own window each year. Since then, the balance has shifted somewhat, with more of the windows now being in businesses in the centre of town rather than in private houses. Perhaps that will shift back over time; it depends on inventive people with windows on the streets coming forward.

A few don’t quite get the Advent Calendar idea of revealing and lighting the window from their allotted date only – but it’s still a delight to see the ingenuity and originality of many of the windows. Even better, it’s also inspired many ‘unofficial’ Christmas windows alongside, adding to the festivity.

Twenty years of twenty-four windows – that will be 480 windows since 1999, mostly undocumented, enjoyed and forgotten, but some stick in the memory; Sandra’s amazing Scenes within Scenes at Bridgend; Jahnavi’s Cornish Mining Scene; a wonderful Miniature Lostwithiel in North Street one year; Deborah’s Paper Town, with swans on the river; and much missed, Hilary’s jolly perennial Snow Scenes.

Our lives have changed a great deal since that first year, our children grown up, but each October brings a call ‘Are we going to do a window again this year? We need to start thinking . . .’ and truly, we can’t imagine Christmas without it. It’s become a yearly catch-up, a time to reminisce, and every year a fresh challenge to think of a new idea - and make it work!

Written by Debenie Morse and published in Lostwithiel Newsletter December 2019