Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Advent Calendars


When December the first rolls around, I pull out my collection of advent calendars and put them on the walls of my office. So many of them are too beautiful to throw away. I usually add a new one every year, but this year I gave away all that I bought.

Since the local bookstores carry a very limited selection, I usually shop for these calendars on the web. If the screen presentation doesn’t show the placement of the numbers, it’s hard to figure out if the windows are well done. In that case, the picture itself becomes more important. Some compositions lend themselves to being an advent calendar and others don’t. Scenes with windows, doors, packages, boxes, gifts, and cabinets make obvious opportunities for windows. Other settings, such as Santa, snowmen, dogs, and teddy bears seldom make interesting advent calendars. I once had a calendar which simply stuck a row of windows across the top in the sky (I didn’t keep it).

Today I’m packing my collection back into their folder for another year. It’s been a good season and I’ve derived much joy from opening the windows. The wintry scenes with secret stories cheer me up every day. Not all advent calendars are equal, especially in concept and artistry. The newer models with chocolates and stickers don’t appeal to me. And since floor space is at a premium here, I don’t usually buy calendars that won’t hang on the wall. However, my all-time favorite is a fold-out. It’s a Victorian calendar by Philippe Fix. This artist created a narrative that is a thing of beauty. The windows of the houses open to scenes such as a child studying his lesson, a kid in bed with a broken arm, a grandmother reading a story. Outside, the boy on a sled opens with a window to show him falling over into the snow. Another window opens to reveal a snowball in flight between two boys.

Many beautiful calendars are produced in Germany, though the artists are rarely credited by name. Korsch Verlag publishes snowy scenes, some with charming windows and some with inane windows. Richard Sellmer Verlag began this publishing company with his first calendar in 1946.

Another favorite of mine is a village scene with large numbers which are easy to find. I haven’t found an English translation for the title “Das Weihnachtsstadtlein.” Obviously printed in Germany, it seems to be a Beiblatt zum Adventkalender Nr. 9540 von Gudrun Keussen, copyright ars edition. This is a scene of snow covered buildings with many windows and doors. Behind them are cakes, children visiting grandparents, carolers, a mother baking bread, geese, a mother knitting. The church door opens to reveal the priest holding a service.

Penny Ive is the artist for “A Victorian Advent Calendar” that is like a doll house. The doors are hard to open, but each one tells a story. Hidden Christmas presents are found in a closet, reindeer in the hallway, a Santa suit hanging in a closet, a man in a bath tub, toys in the toy box, cakes and pies in the kitchen cabinet.

“Farm Yard German Christmas Advent Calendar,” made in Germany and copyrighted by RS Stuttgart is well done. Windows on the barn open up to show the animals; those on the house show attic miscellany and a boy in bed; under the snow is a mole; in the motor of the tractor the mice sleep.

I’ve bought a couple of disappointing advent calendars produced by WJ Fantasy, Inc. of Connecticut—“Country Christmas” and “Gingerbread House.” Illustrated by Kim Jacobs, the pictures are charming, but if you open the windows, it spoils the pictures. There’s no rational behind the illustrations that are revealed.

“Victorian Christmas” by well-known artist Charles Wysocki is one of his early America scenes, beautifully done in primitive style, but the windows detract from rather than enhance the work. Most of the windows of the houses open to drawings of toys. In the yard windows open to Santa, more toys, a snowman, people, but there’s no rhyme or reason to them.

A web site that I’ve been pleased with is

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