I can’t remember a year when I didn’t have an advent calendar.
For most of my life, these tangible countdowns to Christmas were simple affairs: a pretty, seasonal picture (sometimes religious, sometimes not) with perforated doors, one for each day. You wuld fold open the flap, and inside would be another picture, an inset of the greater image, perhaps, or an enhancement. One of my favorite calendars had an image of a Christmas tree in a Victorian bay window, and every door added an ornament.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about advent calendars with ‘stuff’ in them. Now, usually this ‘stuff’ consists of cheap, waxy milk chocolate, but apparently there are some that come with toys, as well. When I learned about them, I spent five minutes feeling gypped, and then I realized I liked the old-school version where the only treasure hidden behind the open door was my own imagination, sparked by the ever-dwindling number of days until the Big Event.
Of course, we count days throughout the year, not just during advent, not just in December.
We make red Sharpie x’s across the calendar squares that march us toward the next deadline, the next paycheck, the next special occasion, the next vacation.
We open our own doors and windows, and we find whatever life offers, and some days it’s as precious as a baby in a bed of straw, and other days it’s the manure from the ox in the corner, but we keep on counting.
Counting up: I’m five, ten, sixteen, twenty-one, thirty, forty-five.
Counting down: Christmas, the new year, Valentine’s Day, tax day, another birthday.
I read about my friends who have advent calendars with pockets that hold treats for their children, and I’m wistful for the days when I was innocent enough to believe marking a day on a calendar, picking a toy out of a pocket, burning the candle down to the next mark, held some kind of special magic.
And maybe, just maybe, they did.
And maybe, just maybe, recent years have led me toward virtual Advent calendars like #musicadvent, or Holidailies, or even the collection of poetry my friend Jancis is doing on his tumblr account because that’s the grown-up way of opening a door and finding a prize to help you count the days.