If you have children, you are required to create a so-called Advent calendar for each child. This is a Christmas-themed wall hanging with twenty-four little pouches for treats, one for each day between December 1st and 24th.
Think about that for a moment. Twenty-four little treats—for each child. If you have two kids, you’d better get two of the same, too, since all parents live in fear of the phrase “I wanted that one!” Thus to fill the whole thing you’ll need forty-eight, so these items shouldn’t be too expensive.
My first stab at creating Advent calendars began as a pile of chocolate lollipops, another of red-foiled Santas, and a third one of glitter pens. I methodically filled each calendar. They looked perfect.
Then on second thought, I realized it was a lot of candy, and we still had candy left over from Halloween. So I took out the sweets, leaving only the glitter pens. There was still time to buy other things for the remaining pockets, but what?
I went to Aldi, provider of products that you didn’t need before you walked in but now simply cannot do without. I elbowed my way past other moms to the huge bins of seasonal merchandise and loaded up on colored pens and craft kits of colored glue, rubber holiday stamps, and stickers.
This was an improvement, but now the calendars were mostly crafts. The little girl aspect was missing. As the mother of two cute little girls, not indulging in cute little girl stuff would be to miss a great opportunity.
By now, the whole Advent calendar thing was quickly developing into a logistical nightmare.
I embarked on another trip, this time to one of my favorite stores, DM, Drogerie Markt, meaning drugstore, where they sell makeup, toys, baby food, and shampoo—anything but drugs. There I got hairclips with unicorns or glitter and dinosaur-shaped erasers. Dinosaurs may not be strictly girly, but I was paving the way for my daughters to be future paleontologists. One can’t start too early with these things. Also, feminism. Why can’t dinosaurs be girly? Not to mention I’d officially run out of both steam and ideas. I ended up getting both dinosaurs and little plastic ponies with fluorescent manes and tails.
The calendars were finished at last. Except now I had to take everything out again. Otherwise, my kids would remove not just that day’s treat but poke around in the other pouches, too.
“Hmm, what’s this? Purple glitter glue! Mom, can I have this now? I really need it for a craft project.”
“Hey, where did you get those hairclips? Those are for next week.”
“How come all the chocolate lollipops are missing? And what happened to this Santa’s head?”
When December 1st finally arrived, the first day of the Advent calendars, it was suddenly a lot easier to get the girls out of bed for school. The first thing they would do is head straight for the calendar. But it also meant playing Santa every evening, too. Once the kids were in bed I could finally relax on the couch to watch the news, but just as I started to nod off, it would hit me: the Advent calendars! I would jump up off the couch to fill the next day’s pocket.
By December 25th, my kids would have had twenty-four mini-Christmases. Glitter pens, hairclips, and stickers were strewn about the apartment. Soon they would be found under the beds, between the sheets, and in the silverware drawer. I would discover rubber-stamped shopping lists and fairy stickers on my calendar, wallet, and theater tickets. Glittery hairclips appeared on the floor of the car and at the bottom of my backpack.
My kids told me their friends got CDs and books in their Advent calendars. What? How did their moms fit those things in those tiny pouches? And what was left to give them for Christmas? Maybe a motorcycle? A trip to the moon?
The Advent wreath is also mandatory. Beginning mid-November, they start to appear in all the stores. One candle is lit for each of the four weekends of Advent.
There’s also a little poem describing this ritual:
Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt
Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier
Dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür.
Advent, Advent, a little light burns
First one, then two, then three, then four
Then the Christ Child is at the door.
All this—and Christmas hasn’t even arrived. The Christmas season is one long drumroll, and the cymbals don’t clash until January 6th. That’s a full thirty-seven days of Advent this, Christmas that, and why do we get that day off in January again? If I had known about the German Christmas tradition before I moved here, I would have come sooner.