Waiting can be hard, it can be long, it can be exciting. Every year, my kids excitedly await their Advent calendars. The calendars always appear at their respective places at the dining room table on the morning of December 1. I make each calendar by hand. Working with Photoshop, I arrange 25 pictures on an 11x17 page. Then I create a Christmas themed cover page with the numbers 1-25 that align to the photos. I cut 25 doors using a ruler and an X-Acto knife and then glue the 2 layers together. This is not something that can easily be whipped out on November 30, although that has happened more than once.
The three calendars are uniquely crafted as a chronicle of each child’s year, starting from the previous December. Each of the 25 doors open to reveal a picture of something special that occurred during the year, like a ride on a rollercoaster, running through a sprinkler with your two best friends or playing a concert at the Schwartz Center. Many times when I take a photo, I’ll think, “This would make a great Advent calendar shot.” I also include photos of things the kids enjoy, like homemade pancakes and strawberries doused in thick syrup. There are also Christmassy pictures; one morning, you might discover images of Santa, or a regal Glenn pageant, Jesus in a manger, or reindeer flying through the night. The last image is always about the birth of Jesus.
The kids are on the honor system. The rule is you only open the door for that day. This rule has been broken by at least two of the three children. Personally, I think that sort of ruins the surprise when you have all your surprises in one day while nobody is looking.
About three years ago, I decided the calendars were becoming too predictable. They needed to be enhanced. I initiated a star reward system. Each calendar would have four images with stars. When one of the kids opens a door revealing an image with a star, they get some sort of reward. Each calendar has one image of a candy cane with a star; on that morning that child receives a candy cane. There is an image of a gift-wrapped present with a star, so that morning they receive a small gift. There could be an image of a favorite restaurant with a star. That’s where we will be having breakfast that morning. The last star is on a mystery image.
The mystery image is usually a hyper close-up photo of some obscure place around the house. The photos are typically challenging to decipher. Some of the shots I’ve taken include a photo of the space between a seat cushion and a chair, a shot of the inside of a glasses case, and a windowsill. You can see the kids searching the house; all three of them huddled up trying to guess what the image is and where the next clue is hidden. Once they find the mystery location, there is another mystery image, and the search continues until they find the third location where their prize is hidden.
The calendars are highly anticipated each year. Some favorite images from this year: a perfect dive into the Emory pool, our dog Otis giving wet licks to the ear, and shooting a bb gun at Girl Scout camp. The calendars give us a view on all the gifts God has given us in the past year. Such great memories are just waiting to be revealed, loved and shared again. Now we await a new year, a new reminder of God’s love and the promise of tomorrow as we celebrate the birth of Christ.