Advent is here! And candles and calendars mark time to the big day – it’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas, as the song goes.
I remember as a child finding the right numbered window on our Advent Calendar, and opening it carefully to discover what little picture lay behind. As we only had one Advent calendar between my sister and I and there was always a race as to who got to it first in the morning to discover what lay behind today’s window? It might be a lamb, or a shepherd, but what I always wanted to find was the angel. When my own children were little, it was still easy to find what I call a ‘proper’ advent calendar which gave hints as to what Advent was all about, and I hoped that my granddaughters would appreciate the same kind of advent calendar. Oh Grandma, how wrong you were!
I quickly learned that Advent calendars had moved on. Not only was there no interest in the story it told, the biggest disappointment was no chocolate behind the windows! And in case you’ve not noticed, Advent calendars have moved on again. Last year our granddaughters had Lego Advent calendars, with little figures hidden behind the windows. If you’re feeling left out, they do adult versions, with gifts ranging from tea bags to gin and all manner of goodies inbetween – and at all sorts of prices. I think the original meaning behind an Advent calendar has got lost.
The tradition of an Advent calendar countdown began in the mid-19th century in Germany, when families would make a chalk mark on a door or wall and keep a tally of the days, or light a candle for each day leading up to Christmas Eve. Families began making homemade calendars to accompany their countdown, but the popularity of Advent calendars spread with the help of German printer, Gerhard Lang. Having grown up with a home-made calendar, he began designing cardboard Advent calendars and came up with the idea of cutting out little doors that could be opened each day, telling the story of Christmas. Which is where I started this letter.
More than just a countdown to Christmas day, Advent is a season in its own right. Marking the days through Advent is a time of
spiritual reflection and preparation, calling to mind the longing and anticipation of God’s people who, for centuries, waited for the coming Messiah. For us, keeping Advent helps us to watch and wait, because as Christians we still live in a state of anticipation as we wait for Christ’s return. By keeping these themes in mind, something as simple as an Advent calendar can help ready our hearts to celebrate the gift of God’s Son. Good luck finding one that tells the story of Christmas!