How Advent Carolndar Spreads Holiday Cheer With Songs, Laughter, and…Clams?!
Once upon a time there was a Stable Girl. Her (fictional) story lay dormant for over two millennia—until four years ago. It all started when an Instagram video went viral, featuring two friends in holiday sweaters with a festive gleam in their eyes, as they sang about this very little girl. It was one of several songs that sparked joy, laughter, and perhaps a little confusion that became the holiday tradition now known as Advent Carolndar.
Since then, Advent Carolndar (pronounced “care-ole-en-dur”), the brainchild of Julia Mattison and Joel Waggoner, has only grown more and more popular. The videos, 25 each year, arrive on Instagram daily in December with fans sharing and tagging each other with “OMG”s and “LOL”s and “This is one of the most important songs ever written.”
One could argue that nothing has done more for holiday cheer and spirit in the theatre community than Joel and Julia. So, Theatrely reached out to speak with the pair ahead of their new season, which will now feature two live shows and a taped variety special (which presumably will be submitted for Emmys consideration).
Theatrely: Ok, let’s start at the very beginning. Whose genius-bonkers idea was this?
Julia Mattison: It started very organically and stupidly. In 2018, my fiancé and I hosted a holiday party at our house, and Joel and I had been fans of each other for a long time and had many mutual friends. We realized that we love making silly songs individually and we must together. I really always wanted to do a caroling party where everybody commits and sings along. So, I wanted to print out caroling lyric sheet books, and I thought it would be really funny if we snuck in really stupid fake carols and maybe make them up [along the way]. So Joel and I got together and it just blossomed into this thing where we wrote seven or something. We wrote “Why Is Sausage Not a Christmas Food” and “Stable Girl” and—
Joel Waggoner: “O Religious Christmas Song”!
Julia: And then we hosted this party with me, and Joel at the piano, and everyone had the lyric books and we sang until literally 5 AM. Truly, it was so unhinged, so chaotic. We have some videos of it. Everyone was scream-singing and committed. The late, great Nick Cordero was there and he was actually a huge fan. He was saying, “when you make ‘Stable Girl’ and do a full song, I'll fly across the country and record backup vocals.” So we worked at it—we just finally made the song, so we're going to dedicate it to him because he was there till the morning hours. The next morning, there was a sign on the door that said, “The noise was unacceptable. Next time, the cops will be called immediately. You have been warned.” I still have the sign! And our story was born and we realized that we wanted to make this into a fun thing.
With that stocking stuffer of an idea, the pair sat down to figure out how this could work. Eventually they decided it would be posted on online and they would commit to 25 songs, one a day leading up to Christmas.
Julia: The second it gets colder, I love all of the twinkly lights everywhere. I’m Winona Ryder in Stranger Things Season 1. I just want to fill the space with twinklies. New York gets very magical this time of year and we just lean into the holiday joy of it all, [especially] the caroling, even though the songs get crazy and unhinged and silly. The reason we do it at all is because it’s so joyful just to sing and play together.
Joel: I really love sitting in warmth with a blanket, with warm brown food or warm liquid soups. I love crocheting or little mindless granny tasks that imply that you don’t have to do anything or be anywhere or think ahead. I also live for the holiday markets of it all—I love shopping, so I guess those songs come into play with like “I’m Playing Secret Santa With Myself,” which is Julia’s song, and then “Christmas Soup,” I guess because I like warm soups.
Julia: We don't have a “Christmas Brown Food” song—I think that could be in our new ones.
Joel: Julia and I really do this because we like it—it’s sort of a little bit selfish. We definitely love the fact that people are receiving it like a gift. In 2020, I drove from Iowa to New York for two days, just so we could do this mostly for our own creative brains… we ended up dehydrating ourselves into a bed-ridden stupor the day after. We’ve since learned how to take care of ourselves, but it was totally worth it.
Julia: The twist is we filmed all of them in one day, and we made them all up a few days before. We lost our minds.
Joel: We were going to film just on our iPhones, but Julia has a relationship with Nathan Chang at Hallello Creative. I swear, at the 11th hour, she said, “What if we went to the studio that my friend runs in Brooklyn and he could make it look really good?” And I said, “Julia, we don't have anything, we have six songs written. We have to make up the rest, it's going to look too fancy!” That was honestly one of the best calls—besides us deciding to do it [in the first place]. The second we saw it, it was slick looking and sounding, but also we were just screwing around. [The studio] turned it into something a little bit more real.
Julia: I think Nathan's amazing. He’s like the third branch to our... musical government?! Where am I going with this? We can be such perfectionists, even in the dumb, silly nonsense of it all. To have Nathan there to say, “No, we definitely have it. Let’s move on to the next one. We’ve gotta get through 25 today.” He’s so funny, he’s been such a great person to play off of and with.
Joel: He’s also spent ten times more time watching us than we have. We just drop off the groceries and then leave.
Of course, they’re the ones making the grocery list and doing the shopping. While they don’t keep a running list of ideas (“That's a really good idea,” the say simultaneously), they do start texting about a month before they have to begin filming, discussing what genre or topics they want to fold into a Christmas carol–esque tune. That easy attitude has helped with the origin of some of their funniest work.
Julia: This last season, Joel came over and he said, “What if we do an old timey one?” He goes, “Well, let’s get-a-go and get egg cream.” He tripped over his own words and it was a total accident. So I said, “Oh, should we get-a-got-to-go-and-get an egg cream?” Then we were off to the races. I think [the songs] just gets borne out of mayhem. Usually we come in on the day, or this year we were kinder to ourselves, and had two days. But this past year we have maybe 15 maximum... We have maybe nine songs kind of done, maybe 15 to 20 ideas, and then we improvise the rest. And you know, I’m sure you can tell which ones we are just like, “Let’s just go and see what happens.”
Theatrely: One of my favorite punchlines that you guys have had is “Tiny Little Christmas House” and the in the basement, there are clams [Ed. note: my auto-transcriber wrote this as ‘clown penises’ which hopefully makes it into another song]. It’s so unhinged.
Julia: That was the greatest trust fall of my life—I’ve never felt so free. [Laughs] This was maybe take number two or three. We said, “maybe she’s just a weird witch, maybe she’s in a weird house? I don't know!” And I just [started], and I remember, I said “clams,” and I surprised myself because there was never a thought of a clam. Nary a premeditated clam! It just fell out of me, and then I was like, “Oh, my God. What?!" And Nathan, I remember him going, “Don’t stop! Just dive further into it and see what happens.” It truly is one of my favorites, too, because it’s just so broken-brain unhinged.
Joel: And it's become like the basis and lore for a lot of things coming up.
That hint is, of course, the now-announced Joel and Julia’s Haunted Holiday Singalong!, which will debut at midnight on December 13. It will feature special guests, including The Playbillies and a pinecone with googly eyes, and so much chaos. And don’t worry! Julia says they’ll still be doing 12 Days of Christmas teasers to build up to the premiere. “We’ll still have a little morsel of something a day for everyone, but it’ll be like a puppet screaming or a sausage screaming. We have a lot of screaming options.” The digital program will be released on Vimeo OTT and is already available for pre-order here.
Julia: We are doing a variety special instead of the 25 songs this year. We have 75 songs, so if we do another season, that’s 100, and that’s a lot of songs. So we thought, “What if we do a greatest hits season and film an entire variety special?” We’re talking puppets….we decked out a cabin and filmed an entire show. We have a “Stable Girl” full-length song and music video. It’s so crazy. What a dream it would be if people watched it every year as a new holiday tradition—just the most unhinged, insane thing on the planet. We decided to do live shows and a special this year just to give our song-generating brains a break.
Joel: We actually already probably have almost 100 songs because of our COVID songs that we wrote, which people also remember and dig. People really like “Ring Light” and “New Cough.” So we have written a centennial canon.
Julia: And I looked it up. I realized we have more songs than Simon and Garfunkel wrote together their entire career.
Joel: Are you kidding?
Julia: And I’m not saying “Tiny Little Christmas House” is “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by any means…but still, the quantity over quality is incredible!
Joel: Dan, can that be the headline?
Theatrely: It already is. ‘Advent Carolndar’s Julia and Joel are the New Simon and Garfunkel.’ In terms of the live show, will you have your now-famous living room set, etc.? And then how are you deciding which songs to sing? It's like Sophie's Choice!
Julia: It really is. I think we’re going to try to barf Christmas all over the set with a keyboard in the center and some instruments. I think we’re going to do a proper welcome as if you walk through the screen and you’re there live with us. As far as songs, I wrote this down, we’re kind of building it out right now, and I was thinking, “Billy Joel does this really great thing at his Madison Square Garden concerts where he does multiple choice and he’s like, ‘Do you want to hear “Piano Man” or “Vienna” by round of applause?” And people pick that way. So, maybe we throw that in as an option. Maybe we just have a list and we have a spinning wheel. It depends on the budget, if we can get a spinning wheel, that would be great!
Joel: Also, the space really lends itself to shenaniganery and audience participation. So I think that there’s going to probably be some moments where we invite everyone to sing along, or participate, or maybe some volunteers come up. Maybe we do some crowd work. Maybe Icicle Mike is the loose, I can’t tell you or not!
Julia: More likely, I think we’re at risk of going way too long, and having the 9:30 PM show people waiting to come in because we forgot. It’s just going to bleed one long night into the morning.
Joel: What’s been really cool about coming back to New York is that I didn’t know exactly just how many people really watched it. It’s one thing to see numbers and comments. It’s another to be walking down the street and have Gavin Creel tap you on the shoulder, who you’ve never met, and say “I’m a huge fan.” I’m like, “That's my line!” It’s very, very strange. Being able to see people in real life on the street and to get everybody together who’s been watching our crazy shit is such a gift. We did try and do a live event in Times Square last year, but it was in the middle of Omicron.
Julia: It was peak Omicron but so fun. We sang on the Red Steps and caroled and it was just so silly.
Joel: There’s one picture that someone got of us, and the billboard behind us is an LED one. It’s just Julia and I with this disastrous Chernobyl explosion.
Julia: The community that comments on all the videos every year is so fun and so joyful. We have these regular players—I think a lot of people connect with each other on Instagram who may not know each other in real life. We have had run-ins with people, I remember one time my fiancé was wearing a "Why is Sausage Not a Christmas Food?" sweatshirt to run an errand, and someone started singing it at him. A total stranger! What’s going to be so crazy is to do these live shows and hear people sing the songs with us. I think it’s the closest Joel and I are going to ever feel to Taylor Swift. We’re going to have one of those moments where we stop singing and they sing it to us and we get emotional.
An epic moment that would be for everyone this holiday season. Tickets for the live shows are available here.