Advent Calendars for Grown-Ups
When I was little, my mom made a felt Advent calendar with tiny red pockets for each day of December, counting down to Christmas. Every night, after my brother and I had gone to bed, she would tuck a small piece of candy into the pocket for the next day, and in the morning we would gleefully jump out of bed to retrieve it. As a parent, I’ve introduced this tradition into our household too, having realized that
a) Advent calendars are an excellent way to get kids going in the morning without undue nagging, and
b) they are also an excellent way of slowly jettisoning children’s own Halloween leftovers—the suckers, Sweet-Tarts and Starbursts that so stubbornly persist long after the chocolate has disappeared.
Grown-ups deserve Advent calendars too, with or without the morning sugar boost. This season I have discovered two lovely books—one sacred, one secular—that help adults discover the beauty of Advent and anticipate the joys of Christmas. Both are gorgeous full-color hardbacks with ribbon markers and all the trimmings. Advent may be a liturgical season of penitence and austerity, but speaking for myself, I can’t get terribly excited about a tiny pocket black-and-white paperback of Advent devotions. Winter makes me crave color and warmth as well as words of wisdom.
In A Simply Wonderful Christmas: A Literary Advent Calendar, editor Silke Leffler collects twenty-four short stories from around the world and illustrates them with her own charming designs. First published in Austria, the book features primarily contemporary European writers, who will be fresh voices to most American readers. A number of the stories, including the moving multicultural tale “Peng-Yo,” are suitable for kids and family read-aloud sessions. Marjaleena Lembcke’s brief yarn “A Real Santa Claus,” scheduled for reading on Christmas Eve, helps children to understand the real spirit of giving behind the Santa myths. Adults will warm to the whimsy and playfulness of the book, whose stories are less maudlin than those in some American collections like Joe Wheeler’s popular Christmas anthologies.
Even the best of the secular Advent books often neglect the fact that Advent does not begin on December 1, nor does Christmastide end with the excitement of December 25. (There are four Sundays in Advent before Christmas, meaning that it usually begins in late November, and the liturgical season doesn’t officially end until Epiphany on January 6.) Readers who are more interested in daily devotions than gentle stories can’t find a more beautiful seasonal aid than Paraclete Press’s God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe. Here is a cast of true heavy hitters in Christian spiritual writing: Eugene Peterson (The Message) provides a wondrous introduction, and the four weeks of Advent are taken up by Richard John Neuhaus, Scott Cairns, Luci Shaw, and Kathleen Norris. Emilie Griffin does the meditations from Christmas to Epiphany. Each daily devotion offers a Scripture reading, meditation by the author, and a prayer. Interspersed with all of these first-rate reflections are occasional sidebars on the history of the various feast days in the season, as well as gorgeous artwork by Michelangelo, Chagall, Millet, Dürer, and many others.