When a giant box arrived from a dear relative just after Thanksgiving last year, I worried it would be a well-intentioned, well-sized white elephant gift.
Instead, it turned out to be an advent calendar — a gift that we reopened every morning for 24 days.
Unlike the chocolate-studded cardboard calendars of my childhood, this relative had sourced a wood box with 24 pull-out drawers, each papered in festive wrapping paper and filled with a new surprise, specially chosen for my then-two-year-old son.
It was a wonderful addition to our morning routine for many reasons.
First, it gave us a reason to get moving. These chilly late-fall and early-winter days can make it hard to get out of bed, especially for anyone who tends to get up before the sun, as many toddlers do. On warm, sunny summer days, we’d eat breakfast and head out into the neighborhood for a walk or scoot around the block before preschool. But once the weather turns cold, the hours between wake-up and school can feel interminable and listless. We laze around, often just letting my son climb into our bed to flip through photos and watch the minutes tick down until school. The calendar gave us an event to rally around each morning.
Additionally, it gave us some structure that our mornings otherwise lacked. Kids thrive on routines, so creating this one helped set the tone for our December mornings — and also helped manage his not-quite-realistic expectations of when Christmas would finally arrive. In the early days of the month, we could show him all the many days of drawer-pulls that sat between then and Christmas morning. Toward the end, we used it as a countdown.
The advent calendar quickly became a ritual. My son would climb onto a dining chair in his holiday footie pajamas and wiggle excitedly as we brought out the box. He’d open each day’s box and delight over the toy that awaited within — sometimes a tiny truck or safari animal, once a little puzzle.
Each night at bedtime, we’d talk about the fun that awaited the next morning, and make guesses at what might await when the sun was up and it was time to go check the calendar. The anticipation helped him feel more ready — and even enthused — for bedtime, which, let’s be honest, was a daily advent calendar gift for me.
When life led us on a cross-country flight a week into the month, we wrapped the advent box in clothing and packed it into our duffle. Waking up in a new environment well before dawn, thanks to jet lag, was disorienting, but the advent calendar greeted us and helped knit together our East Coast and West Coast mornings.
Our generous relative sent a new box this year, full of goodies adjusted for my son’s interests and age. And I hope it’s a tradition we’ll enjoy for years to come — after all, it’s the only time of year I’m a morning person!