I’ve never really got into the yearly habit of buying Advent calendars. My family has a few at home that I really love though. One is a miniature Christmas tree standing on a chest of 24 little drawers, with a tiny decoration inside each. Every day a drawer is opened and an ornament placed on the tree, so that by the time Christmas arrives the tree is splendidly decorated and ready for celebration. The others were the traditional card ones, with a little door to be opened for every day of Advent, to reveal a little picture or Scripture reading inside.
We never really went in for the chocolate Advent calendars, and I never really minded – after all, there were all manner of treats to be enjoyed on Christmas day itself, and I enjoyed them all the more for not having had the run-up of daily chocolates beforehand. It always amuses me when people are outraged on my behalf that I didn’t grow up with chocolate calendars – apparently, they were a standard part of childhood for most. But it makes me sad that the traditions I grew up with are labelled boring and brushed aside so readily by people whose main argument is ‘but, chocolate!’
I don’t believe that there is anything intrinsically immoral about chocolate advent calendars, but they are a mark of the commercialisation of Christmas; a tradition that has been stripped of its original implications and filled in with consumerism. Whatever people may say, I did used to get excited about the little pictures and ornaments; my brothers and I would take it in turns to open the doors and drawers, and each one would reveal a little more of the bigger picture and make the approach of Christmas even more tangible.
It strikes me now, too, that if the true message of Advent is preparing for Christ’s arrival by opening our hearts to Him, then the opening of a little door each day before Christmas is a perfect way of expressing that. Rather than encouraging you to do no more than to satisfy your sweet-tooth, picture-Advent-calendars ask you to take note of something other than yourself; they require you to open yourself a little to each message, so that bit by bit you are ready. Bit by bit you open your heart and furnish it splendidly, like a decorated Christmas tree, to be ready for Jesus’s coming, the King of Kings.