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A Different Type of Advent Calendar: Helping Others and a Poem

Linda Crampton is an experienced teacher who enjoys reading and creative writing. She likes classical literature, fantasy, myth, and poetry.

A massive Advent calendar outside a church in Berlin

A massive Advent calendar outside a church in Berlin

Celebrating the Advent Season

Advent is an important time of year for some people because it leads to Christmas and the remembrance of the birth of Christ. An Advent calendar is often part of the season for both believers and nonbelievers. Traditionally, the calendar gives us a gift as we open the flap or door of each date from December 1st to December 25th. The gift may be a picture related to the Bible or Christmas, a quote from the Bible, a small toy, a chocolate, or in the case of a digital calendar, an animation.

Discovering the hidden treats and surprises in an Advent calendar is enjoyable. I think it would be nice to modify the seasonal tradition so that we give a gift of kindness to others every day in addition to (or instead of) being given something ourselves. To me, the modified calendar is a better form of celebration of the season and its meaning. It's the idea behind my poem, which I show below.

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.

— Maya Angelou

Mighty Oaks and Acorns

The title of my poem is related to an old saying. “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” The saying shares the idea that small beginnings can lead to great things. According to the Phrase Finder website (a very useful resource), the earliest source of a statement resembling the quote comes from 1732. It was published in a book called Gnomologia written by Thomas Fuller (1654–1734).

Thomas Fuller was a physician as well as a writer. The full title of his book is quite a mouthful: Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sayings and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British. Gnomologia are collections of short, wise, and sometimes witty sayings that were once used to instruct young people.

An acorn has great potential because it contains a seed. The acorn is a true nut. It doesn't open to release the seed inside. The seed is exposed when the outer wall of the acorn decays or is digested inside an animal's body. Though I love the mighty oaks saying, I think that (metaphorically) even if an acorn's seed grows into a small tree and never reaches a large size, it can be useful.

The greatest Oaks have been but little acorns.

— Thomas Fuller (via the Phrase Finder website)

Acorns of an oak tree

Acorns of an oak tree

Spreading Acorns

Advent starts with love
And promises of more
From us to humankind
Our companions in life

No matter what belief
Or whether none exists
A daily act of care
Helps others on the path

Mighty oaks may grow
To heal the world from pain
But smaller trees can serve
To send love into need

We might not save the world
From hate and misery
Yet sparks of joy may help
To burn despair away

If we aid but one
And one again next day
Ripples into life
May join to form a wave

A calendar of joy
Reminds us of the call
To spread acorns where we can
In hope of growing peace

By giving we are given
And inspired to try once more
Through Christmas and beyond
Till Advent comes again

Helping Others

Helping others is important throughout the year but has a special meaning at Christmas time. Our ability to help others may depend on our health, finances, and other factors, such as our relationships with other people. Most of us can probably find a way to help someone else every day, however, even in a small way. While a major effort can be very helpful, small attempts to help others on a daily basis can also be valuable.

We can help people by giving them physical items or by sharing our time or effort. Some possibilities are listed below. I expect people can come up with many other ideas, including ones that are suitable for their own life and financial situation.

Some Possible Acts of Daily Kindness

  • Place a food item in a donation box for the food bank.
  • Donate one of the items bought for a “two for one” price.
  • Put clothes in good condition or other requested items in a donation bin.
  • Put money in a collection tin for charity.
  • Say “Yes” when a supermarket cashier asks you if you would like to donate money to a worthy cause.
  • Support students trying to raise money for a worthy event. (If you don’t want the cookies, doughnuts, or other treats that they’re selling, donate them to someone else.)
  • If you’re making cookies at home, make extra ones so that you can give some to a friend, a neighbour, or someone else who would appreciate them.
  • If your garden produces lots of produce, give some to a friend.
  • If you are buying a cup of coffee for yourself and know of someone else who would enjoy it, buy them a cup as a gift.
  • Don’t discard or recycle old books, magazines, or newspapers until you’ve checked to see if an acquaintance would like to read them.
  • Buy ethical gifts and greeting cards for Christmas and other special events to help people, animals, and/or the planet.
  • If your neighbour has mobility or time problems, do routine garden jobs for them, such as raking leaves or mowing a lawn.
  • Volunteer to walk a pet belonging to a friend or neighbour if it's difficult for them to do this.
  • Visit someone who is unable to leave home or who is in a care home or hospital.
  • Volunteer your time for an organization that helps people.
  • Make a friendly comment to a neighbour, a cashier, someone else who helps you, or someone in a line-up.
  • Smile at passers by, offer them a greeting, or engage in a brief conversation. (In this day and age, unfortunately, you may need to be cautious about who you interact with and about where you interact with them.)
  • Donate food or other required items to an animal shelter.
  • If the animal shelter needs dog walkers, consider volunteering for the activity.

If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.

— Dalai Lama

Making and Following a Plan

A plan to help others on a daily basis (as far as possible) can be put into action at any time of the year. Starting the activity early in the Advent period may give it a special energy for some people, however. Whether Christmas is celebrated as the time of Christ's birth, a time of good will towards others, or for both of these reasons, daily acts of kindness could be a great part of the season for both the giver and the recipient.

© 2018 Linda Crampton

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