Happy December! I’ve now caught you in the web of my latest project: December, the Month of Intentional Kindness. I found this December Kindness Calendar the other day, and we’ve made it my family’s holiday project this year. Today is December 1, and our calendared task is to “share this calendar.” Done! (I foolishly showed it to the family last month, so I had to find someone else.)
Careful viewers might notice that this calendar is made for 2017. That’s okay. We will have to ignore the “what day of the week is it?” part of the calendar, as well as the “what year is it?” part of the calendar. So, yes, technically that makes it not, you know, actually a calendar. But that’s okay. Even, perhaps, great! Being late is “on-brand” for the Follies. Also, we aren’t comfortable with arbitrary authority, and we like to follow our own muse.
And that’s exactly the kind of freedom we enjoy, employing the 2017 Kindness Calendar in 2018. We can easily skip over the unsuitable (even unkind) “cook an extra meal and surprise someone with it” task, and instead double-up on a better task that’s nearby. I vote for a second whack at the comparatively delightful “try out the art of positive gossiping.” I cannot wait for that one!!!! How thrilling to have to do it twice.
The calendar comes from an internet outfit called “Action for Happiness,” which yeah, I know. My teenage daughter and I both think it sounds dodgy. Is it a front for the Church of Scientology, or an arm of the Russian SVR, or some sort of Google ad-marketing spider web? Probably! But also, so what! I am an American. We are used to emotional manipulation by commercial interests. It’s kind of our thing!
And it doesn’t even matter who’s behind the Kindness Calendar. Suggesting that people be “loving, compassionate and true” is a good thought for the holiday season. I shall take this webpage at its word. I shall view them with compassion, and be positive. That is kind, and it makes me happy. It’s the first Kindness Calendar win, right there, at the beginning.
And okay, I’m a sentimental sop, and I love Christmas and the winter holiday season. But I think we all know that it’s terribly hard for some people, even for those who love it. So it’s a nice thing to remind our family to be kinder to others, and also to each other.
I’m extra susceptible to this because the Kindness Calendar reminds me of advent calendars. Do you know those things? When I was a kid, we always had an advent calendar, a flat cardboard thingy with 31 little numbered cut-out windows or doors, one to open for each day of December. We used ours as a countdown to Christmas, with the kids taking turns opening each day and discovering whatever secret was behind the door.
When I was really young, we had the standard advent calendar: behind each window was a small picture, a religious scene, taken from a work of the Old Masters. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that I grew up to study art history, and my brother grew up to be a minister. Scary the effect of early influences.
But I learned to read in first grade, and I was precocious, and also, I’m told, impossible. I was all of seven when I discovered books, 70s rock, cynicism, and where our mother hid the Christmas presents before wrapping them. I was over advent calendars before I could pull on my own tights. But my younger siblings were sweet, and more sheltered, and okay, maybe kind of dumb bunnies, so our mother kept them interested in advent calendars for many years. Sure the calendar got more kid-centric. Our mother stayed with the “discover the picture behind each window” structure, but she let the youngest kid pick whatever they liked, which kept them interested, and led to years of colorful Santa themes and such.
But at some point even my innocent siblings must have cottoned to the essential truth of advent calendars: it’s just a con job. Who cares what corny illustration sits behind each day’s window?
And once they figured it out, my siblings lost interest, too. Windows wouldn’t be opened for days in a row, until our mother noticed and they had to do a batch at a time. But it didn’t have the same savor. Juvenile intransigence and boredom had gained the upper hand. The kids were ruining our mother’s storybook Christmas.
She, however, had a superior intellect, a strategic bent and a disinclination to ever surrender. Their unexpected indifference led to her last and greatest countermove. The next year she hung up a heretofore unknown type of advent calendar, a “European chocolate behind every door” advent calendar.
It was a checkmate for the ages, a masterstroke. She was the Napoleon of Christmas.
No kid ever forgot to open those chocolate advent calendars, let me tell you. In fact, I think someone came over in early December one year and secretly removed a chocolate meant for the end of the month, carefully camouflaging the incursion so it wouldn’t be discovered until too late. Yes, it was me. I wasn’t a kid and I didn’t even live there. But I was still a worthy combatant, the more so because they’d made the basic strategic error of forgetting I was out there.
With my own kids, we put advent calendars up for a few years, just out of habit, until they also lost interest, and the price jacked up, and I happily let that tradition go. For the Follies family, the advent calendar lives on only in the mental lumber room of Christmases past, along with our Dancing Santa, cartons of eggnog, and the bells on the dog collar thing.
I still love Christmas, though. It’s just that we have our own Christmas traditions. It is absolutely required that someone sing along with “All I Want for Christmas is You” whenever it comes on in the car; and I always try to lure the rest of the family to watch A Christmas Story with me, to no avail; while they all willingly, even eagerly, watch Diehard with my husband, whenever it’s on. As I periodically yell, “Not a Christmas movie!” from the other room.
Luckily our family will be together, and our friends and extended family are all reasonably healthy this year, and the Christmas message is always lovely and appreciated here. The tradition of Swedish Christmas Eve will carry forward, even though some of us are now vegetarian, and the others claim to hate the Swedish food,. It will carry forward because in the eternal war over Christmas waged inside each family, this is the hill I choose to die on. Indeed, I probably will die on that hill, one way or another, killed either by the food or by the rest of the family. Unfortunately, we have to celebrate without my mother now, who died a few years ago, right before Christmas. I mean, on the bright side, for her, she was no doubt happy she got to skip the Swedish food that year.
I know she’d roll her eyes or wrinkle her nose at me making this kindness calendar a sort of advent calendar for our family. For my mother Christmas was trees, and wreaths, nutcrackers, ribbons and bows, cookies, and inventive, beautiful presents. So she wouldn’t understand. She might even think, just a little, that it’s a rejection of her values. But that would be entirely wrong. I think most of us probably don’t see ourselves very clearly. No matter what she thought she liked about Christmas, my mother was the essence of kindness, and she was, every day, every single thing that the calendar suggests.
I didn’t pick up her love for the Christmas decorations and knickknacks and such. But I did learn that the holiday season is for others. I suspect it may be the one time of year when most of us are oriented to give, rather than receive, and the time when that seems most natural, and right. That’s a huge part of what I love about Christmas.
So we’re going to have a kindness advent calendar this year. Cheers, mom. It’s totally your fault.