Monday, December 8, 2008
Looking Into Advent Calendars
The second Sunday of Advent has come & gone already, so I guess this is either very timely or a bit behind the eight ball, depending on your point of view. Now of course Advent, like Lent, is a time of year folks probably think about to a greater or lesser degree based on their religious affiliations or lack of same—but while I don’t have any formal religious associations myself (except thru my better half), I’ve always been kind of fascinated by the liturgical year. Just that sort, I guess; actually, I’m pretty interested in all types of calendars.
& speaking of calendars, this is one way the more secularly-minded among us may choose to participate in the Advent season—Advent calendars are a pretty big phenomenon these days, as a Google search will tell you—& there are all sorts of them, as I’ll get into presently. But I was curious about the origin of the Advent calendar, so I looked into this question first.
According to various sources, including the omnipresent Wikipedia, the practice of counting down days in Advent in some calendar like fashion may have originated with German Lutherans around the beginning of the 19th century—at that time, Lutherans would draw chalk marks on their doors or light a candle to mark off the days of the Advent season. The first handmade Advent calendars apparently date to the mid 19th century, but printed version didn’t appear until the early 20th century—we’re gratified to learn from Wikipedia that there’s controversy both about who created the calendar & when it was created, but by any account it was at least 100 years ago, & possible a tad more. One of the candidates for first printed Advent calendar is a Swabian man named Gerald Lang, & he was at least of the first object that resembled today’s version—a cardboard backing with little doors that opened onto little pictures.Of course, “today’s version” covers a host of different objects & designs—everything from various versions of the traditional cardboard on cardboard calendar with doors to websites that post a different photo each day of the Advent season. Some of the items I ran across during a random & unscientific search:
Sticker Advent Calendars – No knock on Dover Publications, which I like a lot, but putting something on a surface rather than opening up a door just seems wrong—they’re not the only offenders either.
Lego® Advent Calendars – Vey elaborate, & obviously based on the old adage: “’Tis the season to spend money.” You can view this contraption here (just to say you saw it)
Magnetic Advent Calendar – See comment for stickers. If you must see one, you can look here.
Wooden Advent Calendars – The ones seen on this page are relatively “flat” objects that are essentially wood designs based on the old standby cardboard on cardboard. However, I’ve also seen wooden versions that are quite elaborate, featuring miniature houses & sheds
Fabric Advent Calendars – Christmas stockings seem to be big in this genre, tho the example page is a Snowman with a more traditional look than most of these. The Bronners site has all sorts of Advent calendars.
DIY Advent Calendars – These vary from a DIY traditional calendar (e.g., the patterns offered for free in pdf form here to fabric versions (e.g., the felt bird calendar here) to novel ideas like the “good deed a day” jar to kind of strange ideas, like the toilet paper roll calendar.
Web-based Advent Calendars – OK, this is a blog, so this is kind of up our alley right? I ran across a few of these. I love astronomical pix, so my favorite of these was the Hubble Space Telescope Calendar at Boston.com; you can view the calendar, with a new outer space pic per day, here. There’s also the video song-a-day calendar from holiday.net; this includes the memorably bizarre match-up of Bing Crosby & David Bowie on “Little Drummer Boy” (December 2nd). For the more spiritually-minded, there’s the St. Margaret Mary Advent Calendar here. You “mouse over” the door to open it, then click on the picture to enlarge it & see the Biblical verse.
Advent TV Show Calendar – Another tip o’the cap to Wikipedia: we learn there that the Scandanavian countries televise shows beginning on December 1st & ending on Christams Eve. In Swedish, these shows are Julkalender; in Finnish, they’re known as Joulukalenteri.
Really Big Advent Calendars – & wth final thanks to ubiquitous Wikipedia, we know that some German towns turn their town halls into Advent Calendars yearly—these include Gengenbach, Reith, & Hünfeld—the latter is shown in the pic at the top.
Some good pals of mine made Advent Calendars back in the Charlottesville poebiz days. The Advant calendar in the pic to the left actually was a gift to my from my own dear wife Eberle—a friend at the time—back in ’86. Not a traditional design, but I liked it. It got pride of place in my study, while the Advent calendar I bought myself that year stayed in my kitchen (second pic from top). Why was I interested in Advent Calendars in ’86? Well, my own contribution to the form came as a series of poems I wrote in 86 (& into 87). You can read the poems as a sequence starting here, or you can choose individual poems (indented under the heading “Advent Poems” right under the right-hand corner picture) here; the sequence was never finished, tho I did come pretty close. For what it’s worth, they are some of the better poems I wrote while in Charlottesville.
There’s the potential for delight when we open a door to a surprise. This type of delight is one of the best aspects of the holiday season, tho it’s often obscured, frustrated, stymied, etc. by the weight of expectations, anxieties & all the other psychic delights of the Yuletide in the 21st century U.S. Perhaps one lesson of the Advent calendar is that such delights often are best looked for in small things.