Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Grumpy Old Woman

We all have our gripes about modern living, but as we get older and our experience gets wider, we have more to compare with, and thus more to gripe about. Things are never what they used to be, children today are not like we were, society is going downhill ever faster and it's a wonder, with all that rapid decline that the whole planet has not just given up and imploded with the despair of it all.

The Times recently had a most entertaining article on how to recognise if you are a grumpy old woman. While I like the idea of being able to behave outrageously and get away with it, I couldn't actually recognise myself in the list of the GOW sisterhood.

However, when it comes to Advent calendars, I am one of the grumpiest around. In my day (classic GOW introductory phrase...) Advent calendars contained images behind numbered doors. Perhaps there was part of the Christmas story on the inside of the door too, but that's as exotic as it got. These days, most Advent calendars have as much to with Advent as Winterval has with Christmas.

Here in France, a country that has not traditionally had Advent calendars, you can get Playmobil calendars with little stable characters which, once all 24 doors are open, gives you a charming farmyard scene. The question is, what has that to do with Christmas? Is there a baby Jesus in manger? Is there a farming Mary, orJoseph or are there any kings on the horizon? Er, no. What about celestial messengers? I believe I once saw an angel, but the poor thing looked so forlorn in amongst the standard Playmobil farmyard set that I'm sure it was an anomaly that would be examined with curiosity by your average kiddy. Then it would be set aside as they tried to work out what part it could play in the farming version of Bob the Builder.

The Barbie Advent calendar just defied logic. As did the Action Man one...

Then you have the ones with chocolates inside. Kids love them because behind the doors lurk cheap chocs in plastic moulds. The attraction of the calendar is thus the chocolate, not the door-opening, as if they didn't get enough chocolate on a daily basis as it is.

I succumbed, a couple of years ago, to the chocolate Advent calendar because it was the only sort available. I bought one for each boy. On Dec 1, they took them off the wall to give them a good shake to hear the chocs inside, whereupon the whole lot fell down to the bottom inside. As the images behind the plastic moulds were in cheaply printed black and white so barely visible, they were not attractive enough to build excitement with each successive day. It was a total waste of money and time.

Since then, my mother has sent me an Advent calendar because choc-free and pressie-free ones are simply impossible to find. Until this year. I was browsing around Virgin in the centre of Montpellier, and lo and behold, I came across a modest selection of picture-only calendars. I gasped. Then I bought one.

So, this year, we have two. One for the boys with lovely colour pics inside of Christmas-related images, and one for MOI with a Christmas-related picture from around the world, especially Europe, and a little paragraph explaining the custom. So, for the UK, the custom was sending Christmas cards. For Belgium, it was little biscuits in the shape of St Nicolas on the Eve of St Nicolas' Day (today).

Kids don't need chocs or pressies in Advent calendars. They'll get enough of that at Christmas. Why can't they be taught that the beauty of Advent is in the building of anticipation instead of unnecessarily ruining their sense of expectation, or hyping it to the point of hysteria? The 'have-it-now' society can't appreciate the importance of slow time or the fun of 'not having' until the much later moment of 'Christmas Day having'.

However, I do seem to have got through to my boys the pleasure of the picture, which makes me a LOT less grumpy!


  1. An advent calendar reduced to a farmyard scene ? Sounds to me like Chinese whispers.

    It starts in London with a nativity scene (stable, wise men etc). By the time it gets to sweatshops of the Punjab, out have come the three gents with turbans (a stable's no place for them dressed in their finery).

    By the time the calendar trade reaches the Shanghai sweatshops, you've lost the baby Jesus as well (sends the wrong message about population control).

    End result: a politically correct farmyard that offends no one ( except grumpy old women in Montpellier) :-)

  2. I wish I'd invested in a really beautiful permanent one when the children were small but they were expensive...
    You can buy nativity calendars with or without chocs at religious shops.
    Grumpy old woman-yep, that's me in training.
    Re the paint: the beauty of it is that it works with water based paints too so no brush washing.

  3. When I was young, the advent calendars were invariably religious scenes, with only a picture behind the door - I thought they were wonderful - and they were liberally sprinkled with glitter which made them very 'exotic'!

    I googled 'advent calendar' a few weeks ago and found the most marvellous collection of them on a German site - they re-edit old calendars which are lovely. I didn't order one as I forgot, but shall do so next year - for me!


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