The Countdown Before the Countdown

By Diane Stark

“Mom, look at this Star Wars Lego set,” my eight-year-old son Nathan said. “Can I get it for my birthday?” Before I could answer his first question, he continued, “If you’ve finished shopping for my birthday, can I get it for Christmas instead?”

I smiled. My son had definitely figured out how things work in our house. Nathan is the youngest of five, and all of his siblings are teenagers. Two of them are girls and they are extraordinarily difficult to shop for, so if they find something they like, I will often buy it and set it aside for the next holiday. It does hurt the element of surprise, but at least they are happy on their birthdays and on Christmas morning.

I looked at the Lego set in question. “Nathan, this isn’t just a regular Lego set. It’s an Advent calendar.” At his questioning look, I explained, “An Advent calendar counts down the days until Christmas. Starting on December 1, you would open one box each day. And each box contains one small Lego toy.”

He smiled. “That’s a lot of Legos.”

“Well, there are 24, so I guess that is a lot.”

“I want this really badly, Mom. Can I get it for my birthday?”

“Yes, but here’s the problem with that, Bud. It’s August right now, and your birthday is in September. If we bought this for your birthday, you couldn’t start opening the toys until December 1. That’s a long time to wait to play with a new toy.”

He shrugged. “Then can I have it for Christmas?”

“Well, that’s not going to work either because it’s an Advent calendar. If you get it for Christmas, you won’t be able to count down the days until Christmas.”

He thought for a minute. “Okay, then I’ll just choose something else.”

After much deliberation, he picked out a different Lego set. “So you can wrap this and give it to me on my birthday, and I’ll pretend to be surprised,” he said with a smile.

I nodded. Like I said, he knows how things work in our house.

We left the toy department so that I could grab the groceries and other items we needed. We were heading toward the check-out when Nathan said, “Mom, I changed my mind. I really want that Star Wars Advent calendar.”

“Even though it would be two and a half months before you could start using it?”

“Yes, I really want it.”

So we bought the calendar.

On Nathan’s birthday in mid-September, he opened his presents, including the Advent calendar. He acted as surprised and pleased with it as he did with the gifts that were actually a surprise. And then he started to open it.

“Bud, remember that’s an Advent calendar. That box contains one small toy for every day from December 1 until Christmas Eve. So we can’t open it yet.”

His shoulders slumped. “Oh, yeah, that’s right.”

We put the box in his closet. I hoped he’d forget about it, but that was wishful thinking.

“How many more days until I can start opening the toys in the calendar?” He asked the day after his birthday.

“Well, you’ve got the rest of September, plus all of October and all of November.”

“Can’t I just open it now?”

“Well, it’s yours and if you want to do that, you can,” I said. “But I think it would be really fun to wait and use it to count down the days until Christmas.”

“Okay, I’ll wait,” he said.

But just a few days later, he asked about the calendar again. “How many more days, Mom?”

“Nathan, you’ve got until December 1. That’s two and a half months.”

“I don’t think I can wait that long.”

Again, I told him that it was up to him and again, he agreed with me that it would be better to wait until December 1.

But just days later, he asked yet again. I gave him a pocket calendar and we counted how many days until December 1.

“It’s just so long, Mom,” he whined.

At this point, I regretted that I’d ever bought the calendar. “Nathan, every December, we count down the days until Christmas,” I said. “But this year, we’re counting the days until we can count down the days until Christmas.”

He smiled. “It’s the countdown before the countdown, Mom.”

I looked into his smiling face and realized that he was enjoying this. I found it frustrating, but for Nathan, this was just making the fun of Christmas last even longer.

So I joined in. We marked off the days on his pocket calendar and talked about how fun it would be when he finally got to open the first box in his Advent calendar. When the waiting got tough, I reminded him how glad he’d be that he’d waited.

“I wonder what the first toy will be,” he wondered aloud, turning the box over in his hands. “I hope it’s R2D2.”

“We’ll find out in just 38 days, Bud,” I said.

“I can’t wait that long,” he said, even though he’d already decided that he would.

The countdown before the countdown became a daily ritual for us. Finally, it was December 1. Nathan’s hands were practically shaking as he opened that first box. It was an R2D2 figure, just as he’d hoped. For the next 23 days, he opened another box and was delighted with each one.

“I’m so glad I waited, Mom,” he told me nearly every day. “This is the best countdown to Christmas ever.”

People say that Christmas starts earlier and earlier each year. I know these complaints are about the over-commercialization of the holiday, and I see their point.

But this year, Christmas came to our house very early, and it was so much fun. It taught my son patience and the power of delayed gratification.

Next year, I’m buying three Advent calendars, so we can continue our new countdown tradition.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark

    Diane Stark

    Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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2 Responses to “The Countdown Before the Countdown”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your story was such an enjoyable read, I am sharing with my daughter. Your little one certainly kept the spirit going.

  2. Rose Ann says:

    The countdown before the countdown–love it!

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