For us lapsed Christians, Advent has a certain poignancy. The believers are gearing up, counting the days, mulling the prospect of the nativity - that old yarn - and singing their special Advent hymns. The big day is coming! Who needs presents when you've got Jesus? Well, if you've turned your back on Jesus, you're smug for eleven-twelfths of the year, but in December it's hard not to feel a twinge of envy. In our secular lives we can only celebrate the weeks up to Christmas by shopping, or drinking, or cradling our Starbucks Christmas cup as though it's the Baby Jesus Himself. It's not quite the same.
To survive these cold and faithless days, I cling on to a childhood hangover, the Advent calendar. Be warned. I have surprisingly strong views about Advent calendars. (A fine, if worrying, example of being able to express well-informed and passionate opinions on only the most trivial of matters - Advent calendars, table tennis rules, mushrooms (anti). New Year resolution: upgrade opinions.) They boil down to the following - some people think chocolate in Advent calendars is OK. I do not.
Let me list the ways. Advent is not an excuse to eat chocolate for breakfast. It is a time of expectation and childish glee and twinkly lights and spruce trees. A time when an innocent heart can be warmed just by the act of opening a little cardboard window and seeing a picture of a candle, or a donkey (when they've run out of ideas). Simple pleasures! Call me dull, call me puritan, call me Victorian, but in my book the Advent calendar is about wonder, not gluttony; about celebration, not Cadbury's.
Look at the word. Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning "a coming, approach, arrival". It's about anticipation - the long, itching wait, seeing something on the horizon and watching it slowly come into view. Naturally, it's a debilitating disappointment once it does. The anticlimax of Christmas Day floors me every year, however much I brace myself. But still I maintain that eating chocolate for breakfast on 1 December is like celebrating New Year on 31 November - far too soon.
With that, stepping down from my high horse for just a moment, let me wish you a happy Christmas. I hope you waited.