This year I have been having the most delightful treat. Every morning, since the first of December, over breakfast, my three children have been making me smile. Not that they don’t do that anyway, but to do it over breakfast, while the blinds are shut against the darkness, our puffy eyes are matchstick-propped open, we huddle over the heater (the central heating doesn’t quite take the chill off the kitchen) and I reluctantly force down my bowl of porridge, is quite a remarkable feat.
It is all down to my daughter. At 8 years old, after receiving ‘only clothes’ for Christmas last year and enduring the lack of a birthday badge, she has learned to inform me of her wants/place requests for dearly wanted items well in advance and with the sort of persistence that is guaranteed to make its way into my befuddled brain. She wrote a letter to Father Christmas in November. She has been planning her January birthday for some time. And she asked me, well in advance, and with calculated politeness, if they (her brothers and she) could please have a chocolate advent calendar this year.
Now, I have to say that I have been resisting the lure of the chocolate advent calendar for some time. Fourteen years ago, when Sam was approaching his first Christmas, I inwardly cheered when I came across the lovely advent calendar we still use, every year. A jolly Father Christmas with a velvet hat and a soft woolly beard who, sewn across his fat tummy, has twenty-five (to be honest, this is the only odd thing about him) pockets, into which a wooden snowflake (attached to his hand with string, travels each day. As subsequent children have come along, the turn taking has increased, the discussions over who gets to go first and in which order (in order that they might place the snowflake in the red 25) has lengthened. It has become part of our family tradition, and I have been pleased that I have avoided the chocolate issue.
Not that I have anything against chocolate. It is, I would probably say, my favourite foodstuff (especially if combined with some sort of biscuit, a digestive if pushed to make a choice), but the Easter egg thing is bad enough, and, as my children grow, Hallowe’en. I just didn’t want it to become part of my children’s Christmas. My sister and I always had an advent calendar when we were little. We had a paper one between us that our mother stuck to the kitchen window so that the pictures stood out better, and that seemed to me to be perfectly acceptable.
When we were kids chocolate advent calendars didn’t exist. Neither did Playmobil ones, or Lego ones, or any of the other ones that fill the shops and tempt our little ones with their promises of more and more and more…stuff. Christmas is full enough of stuff without adding to the stuff through the month, to the expectation.
But this year, for some reason, I caved. This year, she must have asked me particularly nicely or something, because without really consciously thinking about it, I bought them a chocolate advent calendar (each). Father Christmas still has his snowflake, and whose turn it is to move is still hotly debated, but every morning this month my heart has melted, if I may say, I have been blessed, by watching them open them.
Unsurprisingly, A and L are keen to open the little door and scoff the chocolate before doing anything else, but their reactions have been priceless. At 11 and 8, they are amazed that the chocolates should be ‘of’ something; they are intrigued as to what the next one might be. They are delighted that, while the chocolate is of one thing, there is a picture beneath it of another. They have had circular discussions over which row or column will be completed first, they have raced to find the correctly numbered window.
Sam, ever determined to be different, was keen to open number 24 straight away, but his interest has waned over the course of the month. He’s not the biggest fan of chocolate (strange child), so he is putting his in a little pot, ready to eat when he feels like it; a steadily increasing pile of chocolate that is eyed enviously by his younger siblings, and guarded fiercely.
I’m glad I waited so long. I’m glad that, at this age, my children have discovered something new and exciting to the season of Advent, running alongside the endearingly familiar. I’m glad that I didn’t rush them into it, that I held on to my principles, and surprised them with an early gift. What a joy to light up the cold, dark mornings.
Happy Advent. Happy Christmas.