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An Advent Calendar
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When I was very young my parents brought out an advent calendar on the first of December. Each night before being tucked into bed, I opened one of the twenty-four doors cut into the nativity scene on the calendar.

A short sentence and a small line drawing behind each door told a bit of the familiar Christmas story -- the journey of Mary and Joseph, the star over Bethlehem, the wise men who traveled from the east -- culminating on the last night in the birth of Jesus which heralded the arrival of Santa Claus.

It sounds crass to put it like that but I was only a kid. Santa was easier to believe in than Jesus. The concept of a jolly fellow who left gifts for well behaved children was simpler to grasp than the idea of someone who suffered and died for our sins, whatever those were. And the reward for belief in Santa was more tangible. You can't sled down the hill behind the house on eternal salvation.

There's no doubt that the countdown to Christmas gifts excited me, but there was also something magical about those words waiting to be discovered behind the doors, even if I did know how the story ended.

Years later I bought advent calendars for my own kids. The only ones I could find had chocolates behind the doors. The kids seemed to like them well enough but to me those calendars just weren't the same. With chocolates you know pretty much what you're getting. Words offer more possibilities, whether hidden behind the doors of advent calendars or inside books.

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