The best way of seeing the joy of Advent and Christmas is through the eyes of a child, which ideally should be our own. We should see the time of expectation, which is Advent, through eyes which are pregnant with wonder. We should see the Babe who is born again on Christmas morn with eyes that are born-again with Him. If, however, as is sometimes the case, our own child-like eyes have become dimmed with age or sin, the next best way of seeing these two joy-filled seasons is through the eyes of another child; perhaps, if we’ve been so blessed, through the eyes of our own children.
I have been so blessed and have been enjoying this Advent season through the eyes of my seven-year-old daughter.
One of the ways that we’re seeing the Advent season together is through the windows of several Advent Calendars. We have about six. Two of them, which I suspect are my daughter’s favourites, have windows that open on chocolate wonders of various shapes and flavours. Another, my favourite, opens on windows that show different elaborately crafted initial letters from illuminated manuscripts. My daughter thinks that this is the least interesting one and thinks that I am only teasing her when I say that it is the most exciting. Clearly we will have to beg to differ. Another opens out into a three-dimensional crib with numbered windows secreted in all sorts of hidden places, each of which opens onto a scene or character from the Christmas story. Yet another has windows that open on passages of Scripture, telling the story of the first Christmas. Another is a battery-powered mini-Christmas tree, which lights up, and which has twenty-four little boxes at its base, each of which contains a different mini-ornament with which to decorate the tree itself.
This year, however, unbeknownst to my daughter, I have discovered a magic Advent Calendar that she knows nothing about.
She knows nothing about it because I have not told her about it. It is my secret.
I discovered it nestling shyly on a bookshelf. It caught my eye and seemed to be asking me to pick it up. I took the hint and plucked it from the shelf. I did not know that it was an Advent Calendar. I thought that it was a book. It was not until I opened it up that I saw that it was more than a book and, for that matter, that it was more than an Advent Calendar. It was a magic Advent Calendar!
It must be confessed, however, that it does look mightily like a book. It is shaped like a book, has pages, just like a book, and has words on all the pages. Yes, truth be told, it does look very much like a book. There is no denying it.
It was not until I started reading that I realized that it was not merely a book. It is called The Christmas Mystery and is written by the Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder, best known for his international bestselling novel, Sophie’s World. It has twenty-four chapters. The first chapter is called “The First of December,” the second chapter is called “The Second of December,” the third is called “The Third of December,” and so on, right up to the final chapter, which is called “The Twenty-Fourth of December.” You see! It’s more than a book. It’s an Advent Calendar! But wait! It’s more than one Advent Calendar. It’s several Advent Calendars, one within the other, like a babushka doll. It’s an Advent Calendar that tells the story of a boy who discovers a magic Advent Calendar. Within the story, the boy’s name is Joachim. Beyond the story, the boy’s name is Joseph, because I, like Joachim, am also discovering the Calendar with him. Let’s try to get this straight. I, Joseph, discover an Advent Calendar, which, when opened, reveals a boy, Joachim, who discovers an Advent Calendar, which, when opened, reveals a girl, Elisabet, who is living inside a real magical Advent Calendar!
Every day, as Joachim opens a new window, a scrap of paper falls out which tells the mysterious story of a little girl on a magical mystery tour, or more correctly a pilgrimage, across Europe, beginning in Norway and ending in Bethlehem. But the real magic is that she is not merely travelling through space, from Norway to the Holy Land, but back in time, from the late twentieth century to the very day on which Jesus was born. She is travelling through time and space to the very time and place that gives all time and space its meaning. Think about that! Things don’t get any more magical than that!
Each day the little girl is joined by a new companion on the pilgrimage to Bethlehem. She begins by following a lamb and is joined by sheep, shepherds, angels and Wise Men. She meets one new companion each day, as if a new day is a new window revealing more characters. As I write, I have only read up to “The Eighth of December”. I have no idea how things will develop or how they will end. I can’t read on to find out what happens next because that would break the rules that are attached to all Advent Calendars, whether they are magical or not. I am happy to wait for the surprise that awaits me as I open the window on each new chapter.
I hope to be pleasantly and not unpleasantly surprised at the end.
The fact that I do not know how things will unfold is the reason that it is not merely a magic Advent Calendar but a secret one, at least as far as my daughter is concerned. If it has the appropriate happy ending and nothing inappropriate happens along the way, we will open the magic Advent Calendar together next year. This will enable me to see it all over again, as if for the first time, because I will be seeing it through her eyes.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.