What I want doesn’t exist.
It was late November, 1995. My four-year-old son was asking why Evan’s house, decorated with colored lights and tinsel, cheery carols playing, was so different from our house. We had only a wreath with four candles which we lit each evening while we sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Decidedly unChristmasy. We tried explaining to Kai that Advent is about waiting in the dark. He was not taken with the concept.
We need to make waiting in the dark more concrete, more vivid and compelling, I thought. An Advent calendar could do that. I pictured Kai each day opening a little door that would show him the reason that we’re still and waiting in the days before Christmas.
At the bookstore I found that I could buy an Advent calendar with little pictures of candy canes and gift packages. Others for sale featured the cast of the Nativity behind the daily doors. But I was looking for daily miniatures that were less about Christ’s human birth—we’d celebrate that on Christmas—and more about the need for that birth. I wanted my little boy, opening each door, to sense that Advent is about darkness—and hope, fear—and hope, loss—and hope.
I had no choice but to make my own Advent calendar. The pictures I found myself drawing behind the little cut-out doors were of creatures. Behind door number one, a turtle at the bottom of a pond. Behind door number two, a diamond-skinned snake. Then a loon, a wild goose, a bear, a doe …
I drew a turtle behind the door of December 1 because, days before, my son’s godmother had sent me her meditation on turtle as a symbol of the soul in its dark season. And because I knew my son, like all children, liked pictures of animals.
That was more than twenty Advents ago. Kai and his younger brother still come home some days in Advent. We still open a calendar door and read about the animal for that day. They still want me to ask the only question I’ve ever asked at the end of the reading: Why do we have a turtle on our Advent calendar? Why a bear? Why a loon?
All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings is that calendar in book form. It’s a book for adults, but the twenty-five striking woodcuts by David Klein will draw children to scooch close and ask.
The text is a lyrical description of the amazing adaptations each animal makes to the threat of encroaching dark and cold. Each one becomes a picture, a metaphor of how a healthy soul can respond when the season of dark and cold creeps over us, too. All together, they tell us the ancient wisdom the Church Fathers intended the faithful to hear in the liturgy and rituals of Advent: The dark is not an end, but a door. This is the way a new beginning comes.
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About the author: Gayle Boss is a freelance writer and mother of two grown sons. She lives with her husband and Welsh Corgi in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her book of Advent reflections, All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings, is available from Amazon and Paraclete Press.