As Christmas gets closer and closer, it's almost like you can feel the change around you. I love counting down the days until Christmas, which is probably why I've always loved advent calenders.
Take a minute to google "advent calender" and you'll find out pretty quickly that there are a whole range of shapes and styles these things can come in. But the basic idea is the same. It's to count down the days of the month until that magical day of Christmas Eve.
The earliest countdown I can remember from the time I was in preschool were construction paper chains. Does anyone else remember making those? You'd take 24 strips of construction paper and then loop and glue them together to form a chain. Then each day you could take off one loop, meaning you were one day closer to Christmas. Having the attention span of preschooler, I'd usually diligently count down for about a week, and then forget to remove any loops until the 22nd or so.
When I got a little older, we always had those generic paper advent calenders. It would have a cliche little holiday scene printed on it and then 24 little perforated doors. Each day you opened up the door for that day to find a tiny little chocolate candy inside. A few years after my brother was born we stopped getting these kind anymore. Being normal siblings we always fought over who would get to open the door (and thus get the chocolate). It usually ended with Dad opening the door and eating the chocolate himself so neither of us could have it. Which, of course, lead to temper tantrums and lots of tears. Not very Christmas-y. So it isn't surprising that Mom stopped bringing these home after a year or two of that.
When I was about 10 my aunt made me a wooden advent calender for my Christmas present that year. It was a lot like this one, only instead of ornaments to hang on the pegs, there were little wooden light bulbs that had the day's number painted on them. I liked my little calender, although I got tired of it after awhile. It was nice, but to a 10-year-old, the light bulb thing got old after about a week (kind of like the paper chains). I'm sorry to say I no longer know where it is. I strongly suspect it was pulled out of the garage and donated to the thrift store when I went to college.
One year another one of my aunts made us a Christmas storybook. She gathered together a 24 different Christmas stories and poems and arranged them all nice in sheet protectors in the cute little Christmas binder. The idea was that you would gather together as a family each night to read one of the stories, with the Christmas story from Luke 2 being the last one (for Christmas Eve). This too seems to have mysteriously been eaten by our garage, but the one year we used that binder was one of my favorites.
I've taken a similar approach to use as my advent calender this year. While looking for prizes for last year's A Shady Glade Christmas I came across a book called The Autobiography of Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn. It sounded interesting and I ordered it, but unfortunately it got here too late last year.
So I decided to give it a try this year. There's 24 chapters in the book and the idea is that you read one chapter for each night in December, so that you finish the book on Christmas Eve. I'm really liking it so far, although the hardest part is trying not to read ahead, since the chapters are only a few pages long and a lot of time I want to know what happens! Although it's technically written for adults, I can see this easily being read aloud as a family tradition at Christmastime.
So whatever form they take, advent calenders are a longstanding holiday tradition at our house. After all, getting to Christmas is half of the fun of the Christmas season.