Many, many Christmases ago, my grandmother brought us one of those magical advent calendars with chocolate behind a little door for each day in December leading up to Christmas. But she brought only one.

One calendar for three grandchildren. We would have to share the 24 chocolates, which shouldn’t have been a problem. Twenty-four divides into three equal portions quite nicely.

Except that the 24th window was special. It had two flaps to open instead of one and a special, larger chocolate.

Being the oldest, I quickly did the math and nobly volunteered to be last in the advent calendar rotation. My brother, not much younger, twice as nobly protested that he would be more willing to go last. It went downhill from there.

I don’t remember my parents’ solution but I believe it involved sharing and sacrifice and letting our baby sister have the 24th, which we thought was just stupid. What I do remember is the sting of injustice.

Flash forward and I am the parent of two little ones, hoping to have one or two more. I am eagerly and intentionally establishing our own family traditions around the holidays. My first determined project is to create my own advent calendar with very, very large pockets that can hold many special candies. Perhaps, seeking justice yet.

I recently asked each of my children for their favorite memory of Christmas. I got answers like listening to Christmas music, going on Pajama Light Tours, and the advent calendar with surprises in its big pockets. My youngest said, “The good bread.”

Surprisingly, not one of them mentioned a particular present and I know we have put a lot of effort into buying special gifts. There was the Train Table of 2002, the Nintendo DS of 2005 and the Wii of 2007. I know there were many others but I can’t quite remember them at the moment…

In the movie Up, there is a scene where the young boy Russell is telling the old man Carl about counting red cars and blue cars with his dad. “I know it sounds boring,” he says sheepishly. “But sometimes I think it is the boring things I remember best.”

At Christmas we often put an awful lot of effort into stuff – buying stuff, wrapping stuff, giving stuff, stuffing stuff, stuffing ourselves. But who really remembers all the stuff? Afterwards, we just have to find places for all the stuff.

When we look back we find the greatest reward came from time spent on simple pleasures.

We have had a year since the financial meltdown and many of us have suffered considerably through this economic downturn. But interestingly, the people who measure such things are reporting that, in general, people are happier. A Consumer Reports poll tells us that we plan to spend a lot less money this year but that most of us expect to have as happy or happier a Christmas than last year.

It’s as if we needed a purge – permission to live more simply, to be content with what we have and recognize our blessings, instead of restlessly acquiring more and more stuff.

Perhaps this year we will spend more time than money – time doing the simple things, “the boring things,” as Russell said.

Time just being. Simplicity.

Hot chocolate around the fire. Admiring the neighbors’ lights. Eating “good bread.” Being thankful for what we have and giving some of it away. Spending time remembering the simplicity of a rough stable and the humble birth of the King of Kings.

The King who came to be a carpenter, who lived our simple and boring life, on his way to the cross, where he gave the most extravagant gift of all.

From our family to yours, we wish you the blessings of a Merry Christmas with the best kind of memories – the boring ones.


Jennifer Zach lives in Ahwatukee Foothills with her husband and three children. They are members of Bridgeway Community Church. She can be reached at

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