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Monday, November 5, 2012

Swiss boarding school

My friend Ann’s pragmatic father sent her off to Switzerland and boarding school so he would know what she was up to between the end of school and when he returned from work.  I do have a lovely mental picture of a twelve year old Ann buying a ticket home to demand of her father why he was ignoring her.  He, in the meantime, was winging it to Switzerland to have a stern fatherly talk with her.  Yes, their planes crossed somewhere over the Atlantic.

Ann met girls from all over the world while at school, making lasting friendships.  She thinks nothing of making a trip to help a friend in England, celebrate a milestone birthday in France, meet a friend in Germany.  A wonderfully cosmopolitan woman lives in an old farmhouse in Wisconsin, on a road that isn’t plowed in the winter, and has an oak tree saved from power lines.

A couple years ago I visited at the right time and went shopping with Ann for little gifts for her goddaughter’s Advent calendar.  I only learned of the tradition when my daughter began the tradition for her children, in recognition, I assumed, of the Lithuanian heritage mixed with her Irish.  The calendar had little doors that opened on little chocolate rewards, the largest behind the 24th door.

But, Ann wasn’t buying chocolate, and for the rest, well I’d just have to wait and see.  She bought practical little things I would consider stocking stuffers, and one pretty little necklace in a box.  At home she produced the Advent calendar.  It had been a gift to her, from her Danish friend, Annette. Some of the gifts on it in 1984 are still in her kitchen-- crocheted potholders and a woven wheat cross.  It remains a tradition between herself and her oldest goddaughter, Olivia.  Every year Olivia returns the emptied calendar and every Thanksgiving Olivia takes home the current calendar, which her father hangs in her bedroom door.
Ann keeps a list of what gift is tied to which day, and much of her pleasure lies in wondering if she will get a “how cool is this” text from Olivia that day. 

The Advent calendar was mentioned to her friend in England last summer; Ann was over seeing her girlfriend through a tough medical procedure.  “How sweet,” her friend said, and Ann’s project for us last summer was to duplicate the old Advent calendar for two little English goddaughters.  We did, they were a hit and being refilled by their mother this year.

We haven’t exactly created a monster, but two more Advent calendars for nieces were on the agenda for this year’s visit.  Ann does not sew, but laid out for me the sewing machine her husband knows how to run and her tin of threads and needles, accumulated during her school and college years in Europe. 

We used narrow bias tape to bind the burlap calendars last year, but my hands can’t turn a neat edge anymore, so I went for blanket binding this year.  Last year we used some pretty iron on winter motifs Ann had picked up on close out; this year we found heavy felt designs that required a glue gun.  Another skill mastered. And finally, the last time I knew of the little round rings that hold the gifts I stood next to my grandmother who was asking the clerk for bone rings.  I said that to a clerk last year and she almost choked on spittle.  This year we knew the exact notions aisle we needed.

So, here are the current advent calendars from Wisconsin, after the Danish original gifted in Switzerland.  With apologies for lack of flash, which would have made the pictures much better.

The original 1984 calendar with felt figures and felt numbers.  I repaired the elf's beard again this year.  Ann has just begun snipping off last year's ribbons that tied the packages.

If you sew, or ever did, smile with me at Ann's sewing supply stash.

Putting on the numbers.  Last year we used fabric paint.  This year we upgraded to magic markers.  Ann said they worked better; she could go over the number and make it fatter.

Gifts all sorted and ready to wrap.  The blue potholders over the stove were on Ann's 1984 Advent Calendar.

Tying them on.

Frea inspects.


  1. What a lovely tradition.

  2. A piece of one's heart in all 25 days--what a sweetness to gift to a precious one. And what fun for you to be a part of it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Its good to see some traditions are still alive and kicking, well done to all.

  4. Wow! I love this. It's so very creative and loving.

  5. What a truly wonderful gift. I love it. Thank you.

  6. I remember cardboard advent calendars that had lots of glitter and each little window opened on a picture, with the 24th being Santa. I eventually bought the same type for my own kids. One year I bought the ones with the little chocolates, but one of the kids from next door managed to eat all the chocolates when she was over playing. She did the same at her own home eating all the chocolates from 4 calendars. After that we no longer bothered with advent calendars.

  7. Like River, the advent calendars I'm familiar with had windows that opened to pictures. 24 days of presents, however small, before the big day seems a little excessive to me.

  8. The Advent Calendar! So much work! :-) But so memorable and loving.


  9. Wow, that looks like a big commitment in time and resources!

  10. That is awesome, really awesome! How lucky are those who get to open those small gifts every day! Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!

  11. What a wonderful tradition and using up small bits of nostalgic fabric too, must be thrilling opening the doors.

  12. I love those sorts of Advent Calendars and only found out about them as an adult. As a child, we had the cardboard ones with glitter all over them. Each day had a different picture, and the picture for the 24th was always the manger scene showing Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

  13. I'm guessing this would be a challenge but a pleasure for the makers. Also a challenge for the recipients to not wear out or sneak open the gifts before the appointed day. A great lesson in self control for all.

    Great idea and thanks for the photos to let us see the actual calendar with helps for creating our own.

  14. That looks like fiddly work, but they look great when finished. I would be more of a fan of Christmas if more of it was like this - making stuff / helping / spending time with people rather than - spending huge amounts of money on things we don't really need (dare I say want).

  15. I love this, the gifts and the way you decorated the items is awesome.

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