You've seen them. The advent calendars, in all styles, handmade and store bought. Paper, fabric, felt, metal. Mittens, buckets, windows, boxes: all the wonderful ways we count down the days to Christmas, whether that day is secular or religious in our homes.
I've been meaning to make an heirloom advent calendar for several years. I keep searching, but I haven't found the perfect project. It has to be perfect, of course, because the holiday is all about perfection--isn't it?
My daughter announced that she was going to make an advent calendar. She was tired of waiting for me to do it. We've been talking about what Christmas means, and why people celebrate it--beyond decorations and presents and candy canes. Her knowledge grows a bit more nuanced each year. This year, with growing interest in baby Jesus, she was eager to mark each day.
She took a piece of paper and asked me to draw squares. Okay, I told her, I'll do it tonight when I have time.
No, Mama, do it now.
But I need to measure, and think about it, and plan, I replied.
No, Mama. Just draw boxes for me.
So I quickly sketched some wonky squares on paper. She took the paper, chose three crayons, and got to work. It took maybe ten minutes. She didn't think long about any of the pictures. She just drew, for the enjoyment of the process and in anticipation of the result: her own calendar.
What did I see? In the beginning, small and fairly tidy pictures. One quarter of the way through it, she added green lines between boxes, just because. Her pictures got bigger, a little messier, more exuberant. She made a few gnomes, just for fun. The images didn't fit in the boxes any more.
The small shadows in my mind whispered. The art doesn't fit in the box! How will we make little flaps to cover each image? Why can't she be neat and color in the lines like other kids her age?
Then I considered my thoughts in dismay. What did I just think? Her art doesn't fit in a box? She doesn't follow the lines? In other words, she likes to be free and joyful in her creations. Do I really have a problem with that?
And what are we really celebrating? The birth of a child. The revival of light. The renewal and longing of a season, a season that endures in our hearts. Can I not find joy in the accomplishments of my own child, who brings so much light to my life, without comparing her to any other child? Can I not understand the gifts she presents me each day? Surely I am not the one who needs to be taught what authentic creation means.
Or maybe I am.