THE Advent calendar was a bad idea.
It’s fallen off the wall eight times and there are still eight days to go.
I’ve seen pictures of families opening Advent calendars.
It’s all very holy and gentle. They are admiring the biblical scenes inside the little doors: Mary trying to make a manger and a pile of hay comfy, and Joseph leaning on his staff like a council workman.
You know these family vignettes are phoney (I mean the family looking at the Advent calendar, not the holy family) because they always have a mummy and a daddy and two children.
It’s the two children that give it away. It might work if you have one (but I doubt it), but with two it goes like this: “I want to open another one.”
“Yes darling. We’ll open number two tomorrow.”
“No dear. It’s December the first today, so we opened this one. Tomorrow it’s December 2, and it will be your brother’s turn to open it.”
“No, I want to open it. Now!”
And the brother howls inconsolably because he hasn’t opened one at all.
And then they both howl inconsolably because inside that inviting little door there was a picture of a jack-in-the-box.
No one younger than 40 really has any idea what a jack-in-the-box is, and especially not three-year-olds.
Jack-in-the-boxes have gone the way of cowboys and indians, hoops and tops. They are an anachronism.
Small children observe them with scorn and then snatch desperately at little door number three, if they can find it. That is to say, if you can find it. We lost door no. 14 on an Advent calendar one year. Couldn’t find it until halfway through January. Why don’t they just do them in numerical order and save some of that inconsolable howling.
But the kids don’t care. They’re all just doors to them, and one of them must have something interesting behind it, like food!
“There’s no lollies. Rebecca’s got one with lollies. Get me a lolly!”
And they have to open them in correct order. We insist on it. It’s as if we’re determined they should pay in advance for all that fun they’re going to have on Christmas Day.
Why? Why does the order matter?
We’re going to try driving a two-year-old and a three year-old into paroxysms of anticipation over the only double door in the calendar that contains (roll of drums) a picture of assorted farm animals, undernourished peasants, one woman (who will probably be the only one on her knees) and a baby.
That baby, by this time, will be the only human being under 10 years old that’s not crying.
All this — 23 days of unconsummated expectation — for a badly painted farmyard scene!
They’re two and three years old for Christmas’ sake! Yes, yes, they should have been told by now about good children and heaven and the baby Jesus, and they’ll have heard Away in a Manger more times than they’ve opened calendar doors.
But they’ve also heard about Santa and his little elves, bimbling away with their hammers, making presents. They’ve seen the TV adverts – and if TV can sell stuff to adults merely by yelling at them, what chance have kids got?
When they open that final door, on the final day before the big one — the climax before the climax, so to speak — it’ll be: “I do not want a picture of baby Jesus! No, it is not cute! I want a present!”
Ah! Peace on earth and goodwill to all children. If you can catch ’em young, you’ve got ’em for life!