It was over a decade ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. On December 1, 2010, my grandmother introduced me to the magical animated world of Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendars.
For the uninitiated, an advent calendar is a physical calendar used to count down the days leading up to holidays, such as Christmas in December. Each day, you open a slot that reveals a small treat in anticipation for the holiday.
The sacrosanct journey of counting down the days until Santa arrives can take many forms.
A digital Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar is unlike any other method. It’s not your typical, lousy, CVS cardboard calendar with chocolate-filled cutouts.
As a kid, for all 24 days in December leading up to Christmas, I became engrossed in the scenic sights and cheerful, spirited sounds of a small Christmas-themed village in the United Kingdom. Nobody else in my family could understand the sheer excitement of every day.
Each day unlocked a perfectly organized virtual activity. I drooled over this advent calendar even though what was inside wasn’t that exciting.
What I appreciated about this calendar was not the specific contents of each day, but rather the organization and routine it allowed me. This fictional world gave me, and continues to give me, literal and figurative comfort.
As a kid, I experienced anxiety and stress whenever I wasn’t perfectly organized. I needed to have all my responsibilities in order, from homework to babysitting to choir rehearsals to volleyball practice. I was always the kid writing things down.
All my ducks needed to be in a row. I was never late, I didn’t like to be surprised and I always had to know what was happening. There were no exceptions.
I held myself on a tight leash through a planner that mimicked the advent calendar’s increasingly busy schedule. Instead of Christmas treats, my activities and extracurriculars served as my rewards.
As I grew older, I became obsessed with Google Calendar, infatuated by the way I could organize my days into tiny squares by the minute. I planned out each day, sometimes going so far as to add in when I would hang out with friends or when I would shower.
In high school, I would go from giving school tours to basketball practice to editing articles for the school newspaper. Some days were so busy, I felt I didn’t even have time to think — my calendar laid out my day so that “What’s next?” was never a question I had to ask myself.
Every time I looked at my Google Calendar, I thought of the advent calendar: a beautiful, rigid, carved-out day with individual tasks that need to be completed.
I kept myself wholly responsible, minute to minute, in my advent calendar lifestyle ruled by an “on to the next” attitude, and I experienced crippling anxiety when my day didn’t go as I envisioned it. I craved control and feared unpredictability.
Every morning, as a kid when I opened the advent calendar, I lived for the routine, the moment, the discipline.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized it’s important to find time to breathe — to enjoy the things that are unplanned, unpredictable and unscheduled.
Despite me hoping things never strayed from my schedule, some of my fondest memories and best experiences happened when something didn’t go according to plan.
It took time for me to accept that life is led in spontaneous moments. I can have my advent calendar and eat it too, but that was something I had to learn with age.
This was an important change I needed to face: to find a balance between my advent calendar and the moments that happen in between the boxes on Google Calendar. To look up from the chocolate cutout every once in a while and experience real life.