When I was a child, I was given one of those chocolate Advent calendars. It was explained to me that each day until Christmas, I was allowed one piece of chocolate behind the perforated door. Well, after eating that first piece behind door No. 1, my eyes became fixated on door No. 2. I was tempted, taunted and tortured. If discipline and patience were the intended lessons behind the gift, I was a horrible student. Within an hour after opening the first door, my Advent calendar was reduced to a torn, spent, and empty cardboard box.
To this day, I remember my euphoria turning to sadness. The instant gratification of inhaling all 24 pieces of chocolate at once left me feeling empty – I had nothing left to look forward to. I was disappointed in myself for not having had more self-control. And I certainly didn’t absorb any deeper understanding or appreciation of Advent.
My behavior at that moment, years ago, is emblematic of how Advent is treated every year by so many good Christians. Its intended purpose is forgotten and neglected as we busy ourselves with the “sweet stuff.” The quiet time of Advent is drowned out by the frantic noise of holiday sales and Christmas music on the airwaves a month and a half in advance. And later, when the chaos ends and the Christmas holiday has arrived and passed, we feel a sense of regret that we didn’t commit ourselves more deeply and spiritually to preparing for Christ’s arrival.
In our minds and hearts, we all know Advent should be a time of contemplation and patience. It should be a time to prepare for the coming of our Lord and an opportunity to pray and reflect on the truth of our sacred scripture. And that is what the Advent calendar is for.
But, when I was a kid, the chocolate got in the way of the message.
So I am proposing an alternative: a fun and easy way to create your very own Advent calendar. This one is unique since it presents the Advent season as observed in the Catholic Church and focuses on a reading or meditation for the day rather than just being used as a countdown tool to Christmas. What also separates this calendar from those that are commercially bought is that it can be reused every year.
Whether you make one for yourself, family, or a friend, I hope it helps you spend a part of each day preparing for the coming of Christ our Savior.
You will need:
- 1 ½ - 2 yards of twine
- 25 - 27 small envelopes
- 25 - 27 mini clothespins (purchase at a craft store or online)
- Numbered stamps (or stickers)
- Inkpad or paint
- Scrap pieces of patterned paper
- Glue stick or double stick tape<
- Scissors or craft knife
- Printed Scripture or Advent reflections (can be found online)
Decorate and number each envelope using patterned paper, stamps (or stickers). Be creative! If you plan to reuse this calendar, you may want to create a few extra envelopes with additional dates, since the Advent season begins on a different date every year. Fill each envelope with printed Scripture or reflections (which correlate with that day). There are plenty of great online Catholic sources for this, or you can grab one of those Little Blue Books for Advent from your parish. Attach each numbered envelope on the piece of twine with the mini-clothespins. Tie a loop at each end of twine and hang finished Advent calendar on a fireplace mantle or a wall.
ANOTHER IDEA: Leave the envelopes empty so that a special prayer or petition can be written on each day of Advent and placed into the envelope as that day’s special intention.
Michelle DiFranco is a designer and the busy mom of two children.