Advent Adventure

Anker’s Advent calendar for 2016 makes use of the gym ladder that serves as a versatile headboard in his new room. Photo by the author, taken with the Leica X1.

A passionately secular family, we nevertheless partake, in our own way, of the social rituals organizing the Christian year. For us, the Holiday Season has always consisted of a month’s shopping, crafting, and baking, with a culmination of heavy expectations, strange Polish foods, and an onslaught of presents on Christmas Eve. In 2015, I reached for a new tradition, one adopted from Denmark (my six-year-old son’s other country of origin): a Decemberful of trinkets, lighting up dark winter mornings with a steady uptake of jolly cheer. Oh, sure, kids in Poland get their share of pop-out chocolates, too, but this was a different custom among the Danes I observed: real gifts, deliberate and hand-wrapped and displayed in a way worthy of fervent repinning on Pinterest.

Unbound by the facts, our Advent last year (having no other referent for “Advent” we don’t call ours a calendar) began with day zero on the last day of November and went on to include the 24th, 25th, and 26th of December. All season long, it jump-started the days and harnessed that under-the-tree megadose of excitement, delivering it instead at a gentle pace (indeed, there were also fewer presents on Christmas Eve). Most importantly—our new ritual reframed the rites of Christmas itself, transforming many of those feelings I described as heavy into a childlike experience of magic.

And Anker’s experience was magical, too, I could tell.