I am an Advent junkie.
I like lots of things about the idea of Advent as it is expressed today. I love the countdown to something wonderful—whether it be the celebration of the birth of Christ, the return of the sun, or the warm fellowship of family and friends. And I seriously think we should count have countdowns more often.
But let’s start with Advent. One of the immediate benefits of this custom is the extension of a shortish holiday in to a long, glorious season. With Christmas, you really just get the two days, and sometimes day and a half, of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Kwanzaa celebrates seven days; Hanukkah gives you nine nights. Those few, intrepid traditionalists who celebrate the 12 days from Christmas to the Feast of the Epiphany get—you guessed it—twelve. But Advent lets you double that—24 little celebrations.
And you get those lovely calendars that help you mark your progress. All you have to do is wake up the next day to earn another Advent treat. Depending on the calendar you use, that treat can be something as small as moving a felt bird from pocket to pocket, to opening doors on a cabin that produce another forest critter for decorations, to drawing out a paper with a different celebratory activity or a holiday story to read, to receiving little presents—candies or toys or tea or whisky. It’s all good.
In my house, we celebrate a lot. And I plead guilty to both the decorating type and the treat type of Advent calendars. The ritual moment of moving that silly little bird is still lovely.
When my kids were little, we did the activities and the story time. I stocked little tins with slips of paper that told us to make paper chains and to read Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins. We had Lego and Playmobil calendars a couple years. We did candy treats the last several years, and I’ve paid for access to electronic Advent calendars with games and interactive scenes.
But we always do something.
There is something powerful about knowing you have a treat coming that turns a normal month in to a time to anticipate and enjoy. Something nearly meditative that brings one in to the moment for a short time each day, as we pause to pull out another critter or munch our treat, to notice where we are in the month and to take a step forward purposefully.
I’m not saying we should have countdowns every month. (I can hear my dad saying if we did it all the time, it wouldn’t be special.) But I am grateful for a tradition that draws out good cheer over weeks instead of hours, that encourages delight in small things, and that forces us to pause and notice our progress.
Enjoy the whole season, y’all.