Celebrating Advent with Oprah, Outer Space, and Other Christmas Countdowns

A Collection of Unusual and Delightful Advent Calendars

Guest Contributor / 12.10.20

This post comes to us from Grant Wishard:

As of this past Sunday, we are formally anticipating Christmas. Advent has begun. We are reenacting how the Jews faithfully waited for the Messiah to arrive and also meditating on His future return. We are adventing.

If our experience with COVID-19 lends itself to any event of the Christian year, it is the waiting and hoping of Advent. Millions of us have been sick and have waited and prayed for healing. If you have been blessedly healthy, this year has been about waiting for many things — test results, a vaccine, an end to quarantine, a return to normal life.

Even in a normal year, Christians and non-Christians alike can understand the significance of waiting for the coming holiday, whether it be spiritual or secular. Compared to the complexity of the incarnation that Christmas involves, Advent is a simple concept that everyone participates in. Children instinctually observe Advent by counting down to the big day with so much excitement that they can’t sleep the night before. Adults, whether they are inside or outside the Church, eagerly await the chance to take a break from school or work, spend time with family, and/or rake in the cash during highly paid overtime.

Advent is universal. It is almost inescapable. Even Herod experienced an upside-down version of this season while he fearfully expected the birth of Jesus. The only escape is to have never heard of Christmas in the first place.

This year, the universal moment of these next few weeks is nestled inside a worldwide pandemic, which is why, now more than ever, all excitement for the 25th should be applauded. All attempts to countdown to Christmas should be boosted. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Alan Taylor, a senior photo editor at the Atlantic, has been releasing a Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar for the past 13 years. Each day reveals a new awe-inspiring image of our solar system, and it can’t help but add to your meditations on the glory of God.
  2. In amusing contrast to the heavenward gazes of the Hubble Telescope, personalized advent calendars are a verifiable trend according to Dominique Fariso at New York Magazine. She lists the ideal calendar for The Person with Fidgety Hands, The Person Who Loves All thing STEM, and, surprisingly, The Person Who is a Traditionalist.
  3. In parallel to this trend is the navel-gazing, nay, mesmerized, appeal of beauty advent calendars. These 25-day rollouts of skin-care and makeup products will have you looking your best for the arrival of the newborn King. Oprah, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and any other taste-making publications can help you navigate this one.
  4. Those of you who are cool enough to know how to code might enjoy The Advent of Code, a popular tradition started by Eric Wastl that involves solving one small programming puzzle each day before Christmas. Points are awarded for speed and there is a leaderboard for the top 100 programmers.
  5. It might not earn you any respect from the Instagram-DIY-glue-gunslinging crowd, but you could easily make your own spirits-themed Advent calendar this year. There are cute starter kits on Etsy. And there is a way of doing this craft using just a permanent marker. Really, almost anything that helps you look forward to the babe of Bethlehem seems entirely appropriate. Does that mean you should maybe spend hundreds of dollars to purchase this luxury CBD Advent calendar to experience the “ultimate mindful Christmas?” Maybe yes!

It would be too easy to laugh at or dismiss these rituals. Doing so would overcomplicate the very simple idea that is behind Advent — eager anticipation — and would smother the opportunity to usher more people into the shelter of the Church. It would be especially curmudgeonly, and a tactical error, to nitpick any kind of countdown to Christmas at the end of a difficult year that has been characterized by anxious waiting.