The power of digital holiday traditions
Observing the season online.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, written by Kate Lindsay and edited by Nick Catucci.
Please feel free to reply with your own digital traditions, quite literally the more the merrier. —Kate
Let Embedded be your next digital tradition:
This year was my first time hosting Thanksgiving. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a pesky holiday that stands between Halloween and me popping on the Michael Bublé Christmas, but nevertheless, I was thinking a lot about traditions over the break. After a solid 29-year run of going back to my parents’ for the holidays, I’ve had to start creating new traditions as people’s lives have changed. It’s hard, because most of that warm fuzzy holiday feeling is predicated on nostalgia. New traditions are fun to brainstorm, but have a sort of “new car smell.” In the midst of this upheaval, I’ve found myself clinging tighter to my digital traditions.
I have a few during the Christmas season. I’m a big believer in the power of a digital fireplace, for instance—I ranked them for Refinery29 back in 2019. I also love vlogmas, the YouTube tradition of daily vlogging the 25 days of Christmas (there’s a Refinery29 piece for that, too). But there’s no digital tradition in this world I love more than my Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar.
If you’ve been near me during any Decembers in the past 10 years, you know how much my digital advent calendar means to me. Illustrator Jacquie Lawson mainly makes ecards, but in 2010 released the first edition of an animated advent calendar that I await with an almost feral anticipation every year.
Each season, the site releases a new downloadable little world—a bite-sized, Christmassified animation of places like Edinburgh, the Swiss Alps, or, this year, Edwardian-era England. No matter the world, the calendar comes with 25 scenes or games that become available to explore with each corresponding day of the month.
“That isn’t primarily why I like the Jacquie Lawson advent calendars, though,” I wrote in 2020 on the website that preceded Embedded (and is now an Indonesian gambling website). “I like to go there and just sit.”
Curling up with a Jacquie Lawson calendar, soundtracked by the choir of Salisbury Cathedral and, more recently, the choir of Bath Abbey, has been a steadfast digital tradition for me in a decade of change. Throughout my year abroad in England, my first winter in New York City, and the isolated Christmases of the deep pandemic, this was sometimes the one thing I could count on to give me warm, reliable comfort.
“The creation of the calendar takes nearly a full year and includes a team of artists, creative and technical teams,” creative director Maren Bean told me over email. “Many hours of research with the whole Jacquie Lawson team goes into choosing the setting of the calendar. From scouting castles in Edinburgh to gardens in Gloucestershire, we are very meticulous in ensuring the theme is unique, enchanting and historically accurate for audiences.”
Like all traditions, this one has adapted and changed over the years. For instance, it was once a desktop-only application but has expanded into iOS to keep up with the times. And while my mom is the one who still gifts the calendar to me each year, a few years ago I began gifting them to my friends. We send each other pictures of the digital trees we’ve decorated in our digital living rooms—something that’s taken on a new significance this year. My IRL Christmas tree had to be disassembled not twelve hours after it was first erected due to the behavior of two poorly-behaved kittens. It’s a treeless year for me this Christmas, and as life continues to throw curveballs or otherwise change, similar holiday traditions will have to be adapted or foregone. But in the world of my advent calendar, at least, things are exactly the same.