Seven o’clock in the evening, and all’s dark.
Except for the growing number of cheery strings of Christmas lights piercing the damp gloom. Every street dog walk is punctuated by these gaudy acts of creation which cannot help but make one’s heart sing.
Meanwhile, in a tall Swedish end of terrace on the wrong side of the road from the forest, Father is coralling the children. And indeed, the dog. And where’s the cat?
“Everyone,” sounds a strong paternalistic baritone in almost Dickensian style, “time to open the advent calendar.”
Actually, he should have said Advent Calendars. We have two: the politically correct two-card sandwich with doors and pretty pictures, and the heinously 21st century recycling nightmare which contains chocolate shapes. But they’re English chocolate, which is considerably more vegetable than cocoa. Maybe we should call it a vegelate advent calendar.
Then no-one would buy them.
I digress. Everyone congregates at Father’s call, in the bedroom which regrettably still doubles up as a sitting room. I thought we would have parent-space by now, and my children would be insisting on their own most pleasant bedrooms: but no. From six until eight every evening, the bedroom must be a sitting room and everyone sits around and drops crumbs and leaves toys and slightly damp towels to be put away.
But the atmosphere was crackling, for the children love a bit of vegelate pressed into a suitably Christmassy shape.
“Right, Children,” sounds out Fezziwig Shrewsday, calling everyone to Adventy order,”time to make our guesses.”
And everyone turns to look at me. Felix is trying not to laugh, that edge-of-hysteria squeakiness which little boys do so well. He is just waiting for the punchline.
Because every day it is customary for his mother to say ‘ a bugle’.
“I’m guessing it’s going to be a bugle.”
General merriment. “What are you going to guess, Dad?” Maddie chimes in.
“I think: a candy cane,” Fezziwig proclaims, rather than says.
The children roll about laughing.He always chooses that, too.
“Maddie?” Fezziwig enquires.
Maddie, the Snow White of the family, usually chooses something cute and fluffy. A robin, perhaps, or a little teddy bear.
“A polar bear,” she says, sweetly. Somewhere feel sure I hear little birds chirruping in sympathy, but it must be my imagination.
The remaining guess falls to Felix. Felix takes no prisoners where Advent calendar guessing is concerned. He weighs up what has come before. He looks at the probability of which Christmas symbol might be likely at which stage of Advent. Clearly the more important symbols must wait for now, for we are in Advent’s early days.
“Some sort of farm animal,” he say, eyes narrowing speculatively.
I’d say it’s too early for stable inhabitants myself. But with great imagined drum roll, Fezziwig prizes open the door.
” It is….a very fat cow,” he announces roundly.
“I won,” says Felix. I make a mental note to talk to him once again about humility and the social graces.
But all eyes have left the fat cow, and now rest on the vegelate advent calendar.
“Guesses, please?” ventures Fezziwig.
I am taking a new tactic today. The calendar doesn’t look very traditional. I decide to enquire after its form. “What have we had on it so far?”
Felix’s photographic memory reels off what has come out of the calendar so far. A penguin with another animal (he alleges they were having a fight, but how he can tell that when it’s chocolate I’m not sure) and another penguin, a bauble and a Christmas Tree.
Two penguins in two days. I’m not good at odds and probability. I say: “A penguin with a grenade.”
That’s my chance squandered, then. But it’s a good game. Other guesses include a penguin with a tank. I am a trend setter.
It was a star.
And that’s what we do, every Advent evening at seven sharp.
Nineteen more to go.