Wednesday, December 23, 2015

THE ADVENT CALENDAR by Victoria Chatham

Over the years my Christmases haven’t been built so much on traditions as memories.

My earliest recollections of Christmas are at my grandmother’s house with a passel of assorted relatives and friends. Gran always had a real tree, with real candles placed in holders shaped liked peacocks with long feathery tales. Health and Safety measures today would have those banned in a flash! Lighting the candles was always the task of the man of the house. Being war time and with most of the men in the family being spread throughout the forces, this would be the task of any male who was lucky enough to have home leave.

As an adult with a family of my own I made sure that Christmas was a really fun time for my kids. One year we built our own Advent calendar. It started with a long piece of wallpaper taped the length of the dining room wall and a big star which had to be moved each day to indicate the progress of Wise Men’s journey as they followed the star to Bethlehem.

Each day we added something, one of the Wise Men riding his camel, or a sheep or two. The Wise Men’s robes and turbans were cut out from fabric scraps and re-purposed jewelry. Wool to make the camels realistic came from real sheep’s wool pulled from the barbed wire fences around their field. Trees were made using twigs and leaves picked up during a walk through the woods. A lot of glue was necessary for this procedure.

As the scene progressed so did the number of neighbor kids who wanted to help build the calendar. We had many discussions as to how many hills the Wise Men would have traveled over and how wide the desert was. Real sand and small pebbles came into the picture here. A swipe of paste on the paper, then the kids stood back and threw sand at it. A lot stuck but I was thankful to have a tiled dining room floor to make the resulting clean up easy. The final scene was the one we had the most fun with as we added the ox and the ass making them tactile with unraveled knitting wool in appropriate colors and cut into suitable lengths for fur. The angel over the stable had real wings, courtesy of the neighbor’s flock of white chickens which almost went into shock when they saw a dozen kids advancing on their run to collect their fallen feathers.

The children were all concerned that the final scene of Baby Jesus in the manger be done properly. They chose to make a straw doll and wrap it in a length of bandage for the swaddling clothes. None of them wanted to miss out on placing Baby Jesus in his manger, a collage of crisscrossed drinking straws and real straw, so on Christmas morning I had a house full of children and their parents in to finish the calendar. Hot chocolate for the kids, coffee laced with a little something for the adults, cookies aplenty and good will all round.

After Christmas the calendar was carefully taken down and rolled up. The kids talked about it so much when they went back to school that one of the teachers asked me about it and came to our house to see it. His excitement was palpable as we unrolled it. My kids explained what we had made each day and who had helped and how they’d had to discourage one eager participant from putting a red post box in the desert as they hadn’t been invented yet. Rather than be relegated to our attic until the next year, that calendar went off to school where it was enjoyed and embellished for several years more.

But the fun we had building it never lost the sense of reverence for the meaning behind it. I don’t even know if any of the children involved in its construction would remember it now with as much fondness as do I. Of all my Christmases, wherever they have been or whoever I have spent them with, that is my most vivid Christmas memory of all.

Merry Christmas to all of you and a happy, healthy and successful New Year!