Monday I bought my son an Advent calendar. I don’t usually buy one, because years ago I bought a Christmas tree-shaped wall hanging with a pocket for each day in December. I fill the pockets with miniature Christmas tree ornaments, and each day my son can take one out and put it on miniature Christmas tree (it sits on a table and is thus safe from the dog).
This year, though, a co-worker was selling Advent calendars as a fundraiser for the German club at the high school. My younger son has been enthusiastic about all things German ever since attending a program put on by the German club for the elementary school students. The calendar doesn’t look especially German to me, but it was made in Germany – including the pieces of chocolate hidden behind each numbered opening. (Also, apparently Advent calendars originated in Germany.)
One of my objections to most Advent calendars is that they start on December 1, not on the first Sunday of Advent. (That’s true of this German calendar as well, but I decided not to let that keep me from buying it.) That may be partly a reflection of the secularization of the Christmas holiday, but I’m sure there is also a large practical component to it.
Advent starts on a different date in late November each year, depending on what day Christmas falls, so the length of Advent also varies. That would mean having a different pattern for the calendar for each possible length of the Advent season. And that would increase the cost of the calendars (which I think are mostly overpriced anyway). A calendar that counts down the first twenty-five days of December, on the other hand, works every year.
One year (when my older son was a little boy), we tried doing an Advent chain. They had made the chains (or at least started them) at church. It was a paper chain such as my sister and I used to make to decorate the tree (do kids still make paper chains these days?), with a Bible verse reference written on the inside of each link. Every day, we were supposed to take off a link and read the Bible verse. We did it for a few days, but then we both forgot to continue.
That’s one advantage to an Advent calendar with chocolate, I guess. I suspect my son will be much more likely to remember to open a new window each day when there is chocolate behind it than if there were only a Bible verse (even considering that this is the younger son, whose Halloween candy I throw out after a few weeks when he has lost interest). But there’s no reason why we can’t read a Bible verse as well as get a piece of chocolate. (I wonder if we’ll be able to taste the difference between American chocolate and German chocolate.)
For myself, I like an Advent calendar with something a bit more substantial than a morsel of chocolate (the entire set of 25 pieces adds up to 140 calories). Not candy or even food, though (much as I like both), but food for thought. I’ve browsed the web and found some virtual Advent calendars. This one has Christmas art and poetry for each day. The online Advent calendar at this blog has photos and passages from Scripture.
Other virtual Advent calendars have devotional messages for each day. This one has not only a devotional for each day, but weekly recommendations to Think, Do, and Pray (click on the Sunday candles for these), and resources to help children think about and celebrate Advent. (It’s also kind of cool that they include the Scriptures in Gaelic as well as English, even if I can’t read a word of Gaelic.)
But my favorite so far is Following the Star. There’s something about the quiet, reflective mood of the site that helps me stop and think instead of just hurrying on to the next website or the next thing to do.