You must never open a door on the advent calendar before the day. Pandora had been told that repeatedly – she suspected it was a ploy to keep her from stuffing herself with twenty-four chocolate treats all at once, but her mother was firm. The advent calendar was hung on a nail too high for Pandora to reach by herself, even if she stood on the baby’s high chair. And so, each afternoon, when Pandora got in from school, her mother would lift her up in her arms so she could open the little cardboard door that corresponded with the day’s date.
Yesterday’s treat had been a little chocolate rabbit. What rabbits had to do with Christmas, Pandora didn’t know. When questioned, her mother had shrugged and said, perhaps there had been rabbits in the stable; they could have snuck in to witness the magical baby being born. Pandora, who knew less about leporine behaviour than she did of the Nativity, had accepted this and bitten the chocolate effigy’s ears off.
The day before it had been a child’s spinning top. Perhaps, said Mother, the baby had wanted one of those for Christmas but all he’d got was a lamb from the shepherds (a huge responsibility for any child let alone a newborn babe) and some gold (well, money’s always useful – think of the Boxing Day sales!), some ointment (even magic babies could get nappy rash) and some perfumy stuff (probably for the baby’s mother; she’d done all the work, after all).
The day before that it had been a penguin.
When Pandora got in from school, her mother was preoccupied with list upon list of Christmas shopping. There was still so much to be done, so many to buy for. Mother waved away Pandora’s imprecations to lift her up to the calendar, promising to attend the child ‘in a minute’. When Pandora stamped her foot and started to cry, Mother looked up from her notepad and told her she was a big girl now and shouldn’t be so silly.
Pandora marched into the living room. Big girl now, am I? Well then, Mother. Let’s see what a big girl can do.
She dragged the coffee table from in front of the settee and positioned it below the calendar. She fetched a chair from the dining room and placed it on the table. Gingerly, she climbed up. The chair wobbled beneath her feet. The table emitted an ominous creak.
Pandora extended her arms out like a tightrope walker to get her balance. The calendar was level with her eyes. She scoured the picture for the door of the day. The picture was of a train weaving its way through a village, the streets lined with crowds of happy people dressed for winter. What a train had to do with Christmas, Pandora couldn’t fathom, although she had a dim recollection from Sunday School about ‘stations of the cross’.
Her eyes found the door. Steadying herself against the wall with one hand she reached up and opened it. It was a star, a little chocolate star! Pandora popped it into her mouth and chobbled it. It tasted all the sweeter because she had got it all by herself.
Now, she thought, I’ve gone to all this trouble, it would be silly to be up here and not make the most of it. She scanned the train for the next day’s door. There was no school tomorrow and therefore it would be easier to make Mother neglect the daily ritual…
The chair lurched beneath her. Pandora let out a gasp, her legs quivering. It took a few seconds to regain her equilibrium. Any moment Mother could walk in from the kitchen and Pandora would be sent to bed without supper.
But there was no going back.
She reached up and broke the seal on the cardboard door.
“What on Earth are you doing with the furniture?” Mother cried when she entered the living room. But of her daughter, there was no sign.
Every year after that, when Mother held up her last remaining child to the advent calendar, she would point out a tiny painted figure riding on a train. The figure’s face had a longing expression and there were tears in its large round eyes.
“Say Merry Christmas to your sister Pandora,” Mother told the baby who, thanks to his sister’s impatience, would now grow up an only child.