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The Advent Calendar

This week, as we explore the idea of “Change of Plans,” I wanted to talk about how we can choose to change the tone of our engagement when things get hard (and for most of us, there is at least one moment when things will get hard). So today, Emily is here, talking about one of the more lovely ideas I’ve heard of: the Engagement Advent Calendar. I grew up religious and Protestant, so this line hit me hard, “Like Advent, an engagement is a time for hope and preparation.” Within the religious calendar, Advent isn’t just a time to get ready to open presents. It’s time to emotionally prepare yourself for hope (and preparing for hope is one of my hardest spiritual practices, if we’re being honest). I love the idea of applying that to the last months, or weeks, of engagement. It’s not just about getting ready for the party, it’s about emotional preparation and hope for what is to come: a life together.

I always loved Advent calendars at Christmas when I was young.

For as far back as I could remember my mom always bought me one from church each November. They were small, flat, cardboard boxes and each day in the month of December I would peel back the little perforated doors to find chocolate inside. CHOCOLATE! Waiting for Christmas was exciting enough, but then in those last few days I got rewarded for my patience with tiny cocoa confections. Then, at the end of all this chocolate came presents. Could it get much better?

I’ve been engaged now for over two years. It has been kind of like waiting for Christmas as a child—it seems like that wonderful day will never come.

We moved our lives from Michigan to New York City five months after our engagement so that my fiancé Andrew could pursue a master’s degree, which he will receive just a few short weeks before the wedding. Most of our first year of engagement was spent getting our lives in order in a completely foreign atmosphere. We had most of the “big” things (the dress, the reception venue, the church, catering, and photographer) figured out by the one-year mark. With all this time on my hands, I became lazy, and put off making any more decisions. I dreamed a lot, and wasted entire weekends staring at wedding blogs, but I didn’t actually accomplish anything.

Then, exactly six months from the wedding date, I had my “oh sh*t, I actually have to plan this” moment and went insane.

Ok, it didn’t happen quite that swiftly or thoroughly, but I did spend a lot of time in front of the computer, furiously scrolling through internet searches for the perfect this or that. There was this one night my vision went completely blurry after a five-hour Etsy bender, and I had to lie down to regain my sight.

I now had to try to cram wedding planning into my already jam-packed life with a full-time job, acting gigs on the side, two cats to take care of, and a fiancé whose equally stressful, full schedule allowed him little time to help. I also ran into some difficulty with my mom, who manifested her struggle of giving up her little girl into harsh criticism about my wedding choices. I was simultaneously commanded by my family to be as budget-conscious as possible while not leaving out any of the “traditional” wedding indulgences (even the ones we don’t care a lick about). I found myself completely emotionally wrecked every single day for several months. The overwhelming stress put quite a strain on my relationship with Andrew.

Early in the year, during a moment of particular sanity, I realized the serious importance of the last few months of our engagement. Like Advent, an engagement is a time for hope and preparation. And I don’t mean preparations like shopping and decorating. It’s the time to emotionally prepare yourself to commit fully to your partner. It is a step that is too often overlooked by brides pulling out their hair over insignificant choices.

I decided to make a Wedding Advent Calendar.

It was decided that the countdown would start at 150 days and we hit the craft store and purchased a few packages of corkboard squares and pushpins. I had originally intended on just buying pretty construction paper, a nice, simple idea that would have taken an afternoon to complete. Instead, I decided to design the whole thing on the computer and print it out to hang on the corkboards. Bad call. This is one of those projects that really calls for simplicity. I didn’t even finish the damn thing until we were 50 days into the countdown.

Andrew expressed his desire to help with the designing, but my controlling side had taken over at this point, and I flat out told him “no.” I finished the calendar myself. (NOTE: The lesson learned here directly correlates with Meg’s idea of DIT. When I realized how wrong and petty I was to control the whole project, it made me take a hard look at where else I might have been too controlling in the wedding plans, and I’ve been making a concerted effort to dial it back.)

Certainly, the calendar looks pretty cute on the wall, and the little pictures and designs I chose make me smile, but this is not why the project has been worthwhile. The surprise—the chocolate, if you will—is on the back of each day of the countdown, where we have written each other little love notes. They include favorite memories, inside jokes, or just plain nice thoughts about one another. I wrote messages on the even days of the countdown, and Andrew wrote messages on the odd days. Each night, we flip over the little paper rectangle and whoever did not write that night gets to read what the other has written. We go to bed after each long day, no matter how stressful, or boring, or painful it might have been, with a little reminder of how much we love one another, and why we are putting ourselves through the torture that is wedding planning. In the end, we’re going to be married to each other and that is pretty amazing.

We’ve been doing this now for eighty days, and we have seventy more to go. It has proved to be like therapy for us, and far and away the best project I’ve made in the whole engagement. Having these reminders of our love has brought me back down to earth after several wedding panic attacks. It has brought a calm, serene look to Andrew’s face, even after some giant freak-outs about his final school project and from trepidation about what lies ahead post-graduation. I’m beginning to find my Wedding Zen, and my problems with my mom have been generally resolved, but we still have a long way to go before walking down that aisle, and I believe the kind words we are choosing to share will help us keep our feet on the ground and our focus on the marriage ahead.

I urge any brides-to-be to consider taking some time out of their planning to make an Advent calendar of their own. Maybe it’s not quite as intricate as mine (in fact, I strongly suggest you err on the side of simplicity, and it doesn’t have to be as long either). Maybe it’s a wall calendar with sticky notes over each day, or maybe it’s just pieces of notebook paper taped to the fridge. Perhaps it is not a physical thing at all and you just commit to say one nice thing to each other every night before you go to sleep. What is important is remembering during this crazy, topsy-turvy, emotional, sometimes painful, and usually stressful time why you are getting married. Don’t skip a day (we’ve done this a few times, and even skipped a whole week when we were out of town). Even during—no, especially during—a fight, do not skip a day. Commit to showing your love for one another, even when it’s hard. When you’ve spent an entire day crying over envelope colors or handmade napkin rings, when the pressure becomes insurmountable, or when you’ve been screaming your heads off at each other, you can’t imagine the clarity you’ll feel taking just one small, sweet moment to remember your love for one another.

Photo Credit: Emily’s Instagram!

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