Life with four young children being what it is, I don’t spend much time looking ahead at the calendar. Most days I can tell you the number of minutes until bedtime, but I’d be hard pressed if you asked me the specifics of next week’s schedule – let alone what’s happening next month. This past November was a particularly busy month for our family, so all of my energy was focused on just getting through Thanksgiving.
Right after Thanksgiving, I ran into a friend at a Middlebury College family dinner. She asked about our holiday, and I said, “It was wonderful, and I’m feeling much more relaxed now that we’ve survived November.”
“That’s great!” she said, “November must’ve been pretty crazy if you’re feeling relaxed with only three weeks until Christmas.”
That’s how I learned that, this year, there were only three weeks – THREE WEEKS!! -- between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It could be worse, of course; this year, my Jewish friends had to deal with Thanksgiving and Hanukah falling on the same day. The fact is, no matter how many weeks separate Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Christmas season is always measured in numbers. “Advent” derives from the Latin word “adventus,” which means “coming;” the weeks before Christmas are a time of waiting for what’s coming, counting down the days. And if you celebrate Christmas in any form, I’d suggest that you probably celebrate Advent, whether or not you’re aware of it. You may count down the four Sundays prior to Christmas, or shopping days left, or – as my daughters’ Advent calendars suggest – “24 Chocolate Days ‘Til Christmas,” but we’re all counting.
This year I’ve made my own Advent calendar; a numerical accounting of our family’s Vermont Christmas:
1: Number of Christmas pageants I’m co-directing. This is the second year I’ll be wrangling nine barnyard animals, three shepherds, six angels, four wise men (don’t ask), and Mary and Joseph over at Memorial Baptist Church.
2: Rehearsals we have prior to the Christmas pageant. (Which makes things awfully exciting!)
3: Graham cracker gingerbread houses my daughters made at Ilsley Public Library. We used gallons of sticky white frosting: most ended up on our clothes, some in the girls’ bellies, and a small amount on the gingerbread houses.
4: Hot chocolates our family consumed while waiting on Main Street for Santa to arrive in Middlebury via fire engine.
5: Marshmallows my 2-year-old scooped up from the sidewalk and popped into her mouth after spilling her hot chocolate.
6: Christmases we’ve owned a stuffed squirrel wearing a Santa cap that sings “I’m Getting Nuttin’ for Christmas” when you squeeze his foot. (Thanks, college roommate!) Here’s hoping this is the year he finally short-circuits.
7: Stockings we have to hang. But where to hang them when we have an operating wood stove directly under the mantle? That’s been our dilemma the past three Christmases. It’s probably okay to hang the stockings over the wood stove, but who wants to risk them all bursting into flames?
8: Minutes it took to select our Christmas tree at Werner Tree Farm (four cold kids make for quick decisions).
9: Unprintable oaths my husband uttered (internally, of course) while attempting to put up the tree – a process that required two days, two tree stands, safety goggles, a power saw, and five blocks of wood.
10: Paper snowflakes cut out and decorated with glitter glue.
11: Candy canes we’ll have sitting around until I finally toss them in April. (Every year my daughters ask for candy canes, but nobody actually likes candy canes. Why do I always buy the candy canes??? Baffling.)
12: Days my older daughters will be out of school for Christmas vacation. (These are the days I’ll really be counting down!)
13: Times our daughters will come out of their room on Christmas Eve.
14: Times this month I’ll order my daughters to leave the breakable Nativity set ALONE!
15: People I need to buy gifts for.
16: Minutes it takes to decorate our Christmas tree with the girls “helping.”
17: Minutes it takes me to re-hang all the Christmas tree ornaments once the girls lose interest.
18: Times we’ll take the long way through town in order to see all the beautiful lights.
19: Times I’ll ask, “What do you think?” in response to a daughter’s question about whether Santa is real. Yes, we answer those types of questions with more questions.
20: Minutes it’ll take us to drive up to Rikert Nordic Center for some holiday cross-country skiing.
21: Minutes it takes to get the girls from the mudroom to the car, in order to drive to Rikert Nordic Center.
22: Minutes of actual skiing we’ll get done during two hours spent at Rikert Nordic Center.
23: Times I’ll read How the Grinch Stole Christmas! this month.
24: Candles on our new Advent wreath, which sits on the dining room table: one candle for each day of December until Christmas. It’s beautiful, and seemed like such a good idea at the time. But we’re only halfway through it, and already the cloud of smoke that’s released when we extinguish the candles after dinner is enough to set off the smoke alarm. I’m expecting the Middlebury Fire Department to join us on Christmas Eve.
I know that, for many adults, this Advent countdown seems less like eager anticipation and more like speeding towards an impossible deadline. But soon it will be January, when the days are just days, and each day doesn’t come with its own numbered cardboard door hiding a piece of chocolate.
I think my daughters’ chocolate Advent calendars might be on to something; one little bit of joy each day might just be enough to get through life’s crazy countdowns.
Wishing all of you, in Vermont and elsewhere, a wonderful holiday season.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.