children • education • parents
relationships • marriage • the elderly


On Advent Calendars, Expectation, and Alligators

December 12, 2018 by

Our youngest son is not quite three. “Delicate” is perhaps not the most accurate word to describe him. He makes you think about delicate things in the same way a bull in a china shop makes you think about delicate things. He doesn’t do nuance terribly well yet, he’s sort of an all or nothing kind of person. Although he has precious little understanding of what it means, he’s looking forward to Christmas with great enthusiasm. As I was doing dishes after breakfast the other day I could hear him having “quiet play time” in his room flipping through a picture book and singing a song about a donkey very loudly indeed.

a child with a homemade advent calendar

Christmas is big stuff at our Darvell community. It’s a very long season for us that usually starts in the middle of October. For us it’s mostly about gathering; getting together with everybody and singing carols, or inviting the neighbours around for a bit of a celebration – the point is having joy in expectation. For adults the expectation of Christmas is part of the preparation; we know, or think we know, what we are expecting and what we want to experience; this is, after all, something we do every year. It’s something connected to the longing to once again be overwhelmed by the greatness of God’s love for all creation and the wonder of the birth of a baby; something at once rooftop-shoutingly joyful and yet so precious and special that you want to just hold it in your heart.

Christmas is, in fact, too big for any of us to understand or fully comprehend.

The kids though, especially the little kids like my youngest son, have no idea what they are expecting. Christmas to them is simply a wildly exciting time: fairy lights, donkeys, Santa, candles, Mary and Joseph, sheep, camels, baby Jesus, angels, kings (but Herod was a bad king), innkeepers, gifts, shepherds, reindeer; all these things swirl through their heads not as part of a story but as individual and marvellous entities. In fact, it fairly often becomes completely overwhelming for them with the predictable result of irrational behaviour and a predilection for throwing a wobbly. Some evenings after the kids are finally in bed and the wreckage has been cleared away and Olivia and I have collapsed on the sofa it does feel like a little bit much.

And of course I wouldn’t have it any other way; Christmas is in fact too big for any of us to understand or fully comprehend. Experiencing it with kids blows the horizons of it out to where they belong – vast, universe encompassing, uncontainable.

Our six-year-old has made an Advent calendar that we have up on our wall; it’s got a little door for each day of Advent held down by white tack and every day we open one to reveal a little picture he’s drawn underneath; for example, a lantern or a candle or a donkey. The boys usually squabble about whose turn it is to open the calendar; the boys usually squabble about most things. It was the turn of our youngest to open it this morning:

“Oh, wow,” he said, when he had managed to rip the door open.

“What is it?” we asked him.

“It’s an alligator!”

Olivia and I looked at each other. I turned to the six-year-old, “Did you make an alligator?”

“Let me check,” he said, getting up and looking. “No, it’s a shooting star!”


About the author


Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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  • Thanks Kevin. Christmas is without doubt a lot more than just a family thing! At the same time, Christmas is a celebration for the birth of a baby. I’m sure that at the first Christmas Mary and Joseph felt overwhelmed by power of the love of God, and just as sure that they rejoiced in the child himself, worried about his teething, rejoiced when he took his first steps and said his first words. Experiencing Christmas with children brings these things a little closer to home; there is something sacred in every child. Clearly it is not necessary to have a (perfect or otherwise) family in order to be a Christian, but they are certainly a blessing.

    Ian Barth
  • Is Christmas just a family thing? What about those who have no kids (like myself) and those whose families are broken? In addition to being so secularized, commercialized and romanticized, I hate to see it as a domestic holiday. It’s a holy day.

    Kevin Cushing