Counting down to Christmas

Today, TV channels across the Nordic region launch the annual highlight for many children; the TV calendars. The tradition has become a spearhead for fantasy based children’s entertainment. 

For almost 60 years, televised advent calendars in the form of short 24-episode drama series for children have aired in the Nordic region between December 1st and 24th (which is the main day of Christmas in the region, unlike the 25h in many other countries). The tradition is in fact a Nordic invention; the first series aired in Sweden in 1960 and the other countries soon adopted the idea, even though making it an annual event was not established until the 80s in some countries. Today, all the Nordic countries air them, alternating between new productions and reruns of the most popular and/or recent series. Both public broadcasters and some the commercial networks invest in the format, which has created some of the most beloved classics of popular culture in the region. Even though not every “advent calendar” season is fantasy oriented, a relatively high percentage falls in related genres. This year is no exception, so let’s have a look at what the channels have on their tables for counting down to Christmas, Nordic style.

The Danish public broadcaster DR (Danmarks Radio) has shown Christmas calenders since 1962 and decided to broadcast three different calendars this year, none of them shown in Denmark before. DR1 shows the main calendar, which is the Norwegian production Snowfall, with Danish dubbed voices. -This is a beautiful and ambitious calendar for the whole family, with mysteries, magic, humour and lots of Christmas spirit. It’s a classic story about the good fighting the bad, and we think both children and adults will enjoy following this series, says Pil Gundelach Brandstrup, DR1 channel manager. This is the first time that DR1 is offering a foreign calendar in its primetime slot. The story is about nine year old Selma, who lost both her parents when she was three. Now she lives with Ruth, the strict lady next door. Selma dreams of getting her own family, and writes to Santa Claus. Magically, she is transported to the village Snowfall, located in another dimension. The idea of a portal to another world is a frequent occurrence in Nordic Christmas calendars. Recently the concept was used in Yule in Valhalla (Denmark, 2005) and in The King of Christmas (Norway, 2012). Snowfall was the calendar for 2016 in Norway, took four years to develop and make, and cost 50 million NOK, a substantial amount in a Nordic context.

Snowfall trailer:

DR Ramasjang is DR’s television channel targeting children up to seven. Their calendar is less genre focused but involves Santa Claus’ lost computer, which endangers Christmas itself. This sends the local inhabitants off on a journey through Europe. DR’s channel for 7-12 year olds, Ultra, started showing their non-genre TV calendar daily on November 24th (except in the weekends).

Denmark’s biggest commercial broadcaster TV2 is also getting into the Christmas spirit, with Tinka’s Christmas adventure. In this calendar we meet the nisse (gobling or brownie) girl Tinka who will receive the nisse medal from the Nisse King, to prove that she is a real nisse. However, something goes wrong and the medal does not change colour, indicating that Tinka is not a real nisse after all. Thus she embarks on a journey into the human world where she meets Lasse, and together they search for the lost magic of the nisse community. They also try find out why humans and the nisse people have not seen eachother the last 100 years. Tinka and Lasse are played by Josephine Højbjerg and Albert Rosin Harson. As you can see from the trailer, Tinka’s Christmas adventure has several classic fantasy traits, such as a magic portal to another world, a whole people of mythical creatures, and medieval set designs.

Tinka trailer:

Public broadcaster NRK launched their first TV calendar in 1970 but it was not an annual tradition until 1986. While the most beloved calendar is the non-genre 1979 Jul i Skomakergata (“Christmas in Shoemakerstreet”), shown seven times on TV until it was included in NRK’s online stream archive, Christmas related fantasy is well represented, most notably the Blåfjell franchise and The King of Christmas. This year’s calendar is the non-genre Jul i Svingen (“Christmas in the Bend”), a rerun from 2006.

NRK’s commercial competitor TV2 is mostly known for its classic The Julekalender, first aired in 1994 and reprised six times since. This year they’ll show the non-genre Julefergå (“Christmas ferry”) – and of course, The Julekalender, for the 8th time. Both series air on their support channel Zebra. The Julekalender is an adaption of a Danish calendar of the same name, and is centred around three nisser, farm brownies, who is stuck in a cave in the days before Christmas, looking for an important key. On a nearby farm, a nåså (a mythological creature with some similarities to vampires) seeks refuge, which is not a good thing, since the nåså is an enemy of the nisse people. Contrary to most Christmas calendars on TV, The Julekalender is mostly aimed at teens and adults, with its quirky humour and dark atmosphere. Since 1994, TV2 has only produced four different calendar series, and once shown the Danish import Yule in Valhalla, which has ties to Nordic mythology.

Norway’s second commerical channel TVNorge airs the non-genre Jul i Blodfjell (“Christmas in Blood Mountain”, a twist on the Blåfjell title) where, if supernatural creatures are absent, murders are central. TVNorge has a history of calendar parodies, but no fantasy og science fiction based entries.

The Swedish public broadcaster SVT has the longest TV calendar history in the Nordic area, having produced 55 different series in 57 years. Some of the Swedish calendars are heavy genre entries, such as Super hero Christmas (2009) and The Hedenhös Children invent Christmas (2013), in which Christmas does not exist in an alternative present time, until stone age children travel through time and invents it. In 1967, the most popular calendar was made, Gumman som blev liten som en tesked (“The lady who shrinked to the size of a tea spoon”), a moral fable version on Honey, I shrunk-something. The lady in question can even talk to animals when she is tiny. Several of the old Swedish calendars can be watched on SVT Play online.

This year’s SVT calendar is pure science fiction; Jakten på tidskristallen (“The hunt for the time crystal”) sees three children saving the world in general and Christmas specifically. Asrin, Lima and Max are students at the legendary Future Academy, a school for children with special abilities. They discover that professor Styregaard’s math programme is a secret project that will affect the whole world, and that evil forces plan to stop time on the day before Christmas. The three children finds a way to travel to the middle of the Universe to stop this from happening. If time stops, Christmas will not happen! However, travelling through portals (there it is again) is not easy and it’s easy to arrive in the wrong place. Will our heroes save Christmas before Christmas?

Time Crystal stars Eva Rydberg, Monna Orraryd, Vincent Wettergren, Naima Palmaer, Rikard Wolff (in oone of his last roles before he passed away in November), Klas Wiljergård, Felice Jankell, Kodjo Akolor, Julia Ragnarstam. -This is a different, adventurous, exciting, funny and a little sad Christmas calendar, but I love my character, Eva Rydberg, who plays the professor, said to SVT.

Last year, SVT’s calendar Selma’s story attracted around 3 million viewers, nearly one third of every Swede. This year’s adventure has a lot to live up to, but director Tord Danielsson is confident. -We’ll be taken to strange planets, meet scary bad guys and funny robots. It’s our loving tribute to all the fantasy films we grew up with, he said in a press release. Will you spot the references to Back to the Future and E.T.?

Time Crystal trailer

In the land that claims to be the home of Santa Claus, the first TV calendar was broadcast in 1963 but it was not a regular countdown treat until 1980, and even since then some Decembers were not lined with televised calendars. This year, public broadcaster YLE is offering the non-genre Huiman hyvä joulu (“A big nice Christmas”), on the universal theme of friendship and right vs wrong, but online viewers can access several other calendars, including the Swedish The Hedenhös Children invent Christmas.

The smallest Nordic public broadcaster RUV offers the Norwegian Snowfall this year. The commercial competitor Stöð 2 does not include TV calendars in their programming.

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