I love the holidays, mostly because it’s my chance to make the season completely magical for my kids. Doesn’t necessarily mean that I always capitalize on that chance, but the chance is there for the taking nonetheless. Even before I had kids I wanted to start special traditions for our family, like putting up the tree on the day after Thanksgiving while we listen to Christmas music and drink hot chocolate. Aaron and Victoria dig this, by the way. And while there is never a gentle snowfall outside our windows and the smell of Folgers doesn’t bring my long-lost relatives home, the moments of tradition which we share in the holidays are somewhat magical for me, so I can only hope that the magic lingers in their experience.
You can probably tell already that I also like charts and calendars and countdowns. (They exercise the math addiction of my left-brain 😉 ) So, naturally, I was all about buying an Advent calendar for my kids as soon as they were pre-school age and could learn the tradition. It wasn’t until I actually had one in hand that I realized there were fewer days on the calendar than actually comprised the season of Advent. Whaaa???
I am also all about meaning and symbolism, especially during the Christmas preparations, so the fact that there was a hunk of chocolate behind each door on the Advent calendar sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, what does that have to do with Advent OR Christmas? And what was with the picture of snow-covered Clydesdales on the calendar? Seriously, they needed to call this a December Candy Calendar and be done with it.
I determined then that I was going to find an appropriate Christ-centered Advent calendar. One that was possibly re-usable, maybe with moving parts or something cooler than old candy. I wanted one that counted down EACH day of Advent, not just the days in December, and more importantly, one that focused on the Nativity…the end of Advent…Christmas Eve…the culmination of all our Advent preparations. To me that was a no-brainer. To the calendar makers, not so much.
After several years of searching for just such a calendar, I have come to the slow realization that it simply does not exist. Maybe it’s easier to just count down 24 days to Christmas, but for us Advent is more than the last month of the year, and any calendar that is appropriate to the season should reflect such. I realized I would have to (gulp!) make my own.
For three years I have tried to determine how to best make my own calendar – what materials to use, what it should look like, where it should be displayed so the kids have easy access to it…and finally, I conceived something tangible. My ideal calendar would be a night sky, and the manipulatives would be numbered stars, below which would sit a manger with Wise Men coming from far in the distance. Sounds easy enough…as Dom says, “in theory…”
Enter my fabulous mother – the lady who can take any half-baked idea my wee-little mind conceives and turn it into a spectacular showing of craft and skill. “Mom, I’m thinking of having sort of an abstract-ish nativity in the bottom corner. Something that is wispy and half-drawn so that your mind fills in what’s missing. Oh, and an abstract camel and wise man too…can you help me?”
While I’m quite certain her first thought is usually something along the lines of, “Jiminy Christmas, can my offspring not do anything on her own?!?!” she always buckles down and produces something fantastical straight out of my imagination.
Two days later she faxed me this, asking if she was on the right track:
I called her. “MOM! That is straight-up PERFECT!!”
“You sure Mary doesn’t look like a large nose?”
“Um, no. I really didn’t see that until now. It’s great, though! Don’t mention the nose thing to anyone else, k?”
“OK. I have to go figure out how to abstract a camel now. We’re only doing one Wise Man, right? I mean, everyone knows there were more. I don’t think we need them all on there. Call ya later.”
And with that, the Advent Calendar had hope. I beamed as I looked at the faxed copy of mom’s drawing on my desk. My plan was finally taking shape.
And so this weekend we toiled on the project together, and then I took it home to toil some more. (We omitted the camels and Magi, by the way. Too worrisome to try to figure out how to incorporate them into an abstract horizon of night sky.) I hot glued hooks onto glittery stars until my kitchen and I were both covered in festive craft particles. I threaded needles and tied string. I cut felt. I used fabric glue for the first time. And I almost finished. I still have to get some satin cord and finials for the wooden rod at the top, and then of course I have to determine if the kitchen table should be its foreground.
The calendar will function as such: I will place the appropriate amount of stars on the calendar on the first Sunday of Advent each year. Then each day, the kids will remove one star, until there are no stars left on December 24, when we will hang a single large Christmas star to shine down on the manger.
So, without further adieu, folks, here it is…the fruit of three years’ planning, a weekend’s labor, and a mother’s belief that tradition is worth making.
Happy Advent! (And thank you, Mom. You are worth a million stars!)