It's not the first poem that P&PC ever encountered—that distinction probably goes to the quirky "I went to the animal fair" verse that dad used to recite—but it's pretty darn close. We're talking about the 24-line holiday poem printed verse by verse behind the 24 doors and windows of three brick houses featured in the tri-fold "Getting Ready for Christmas" Hallmark advent calendar pictured here. (That's panel one you see here; panels two and three follow in sequence below, concluded by a panoramic photo of the card completely opened up.)
Like the Hallmark Christmas card matchbook featured on P&PC about this time last year and pictured here, the advent calendar solicits an unusual amount of reader involvement to get at the poem; but unlike the matchbook, where the reader is invited to dismantle or deconstruct the poem matchstick by matchstick, the advent calendar asks the reader to help build the poem line by line and window by window in an act of constructive reading that runs parallel to, or perhaps even tropes, the houses that were built brick by brick to shelter them.
If you've spent any time around the P&PC office, the accentuated sequential nature of this window-by-window poem probably brings to mind the old rhyming Burma-Shave billboards that delivered poems in line by line (and sign by sign) units along American highways until the 1960s. Burma Shave's billboards awesomely staged the experience of the poetic line break by setting up signs/lines 100 feet apart from one another—thus letting the driver/reader ride in the exaggerated "white space" between individual lines for several moments. The advent calendar does the Burma-Shave poems one better, though. Because one is supposed to open one window or door every day for each of the 24 days leading up to Christmas, it effectively creates line breaks measured not in terms of seconds on the highway but in terms of days; that is, if the poem is read as intended, each line break in "Getting Ready for Christmas" is effectively 24 hours long!
As scholastically appealing as "Getting Ready for Christmas" is (we might go on to ask, for example, what sort of voyeuristic holiday experience Hallmark is asking us to have in opening all of these windows and doors as we let our fingers do the strolling, caroler-like, through the little neighborhood), we at P&PC value it more for reasons external to the card itself—for its family history. According to Mom (née Ann Salvatore), it was first given to her and her brother Jim in Cleveland, probably in the early 1950s. (Ann had it, or large parts of it, memorized if I remember correctly.) Then they sent it to my great-aunt Tillie Boye (née Matilda Danca) and her children in Lincoln, Nebraska, later that decade. Then the Boyes sent it back to Northeast Ohio for Ann to share with with my sister Trish and me (both Chasars) in the 1970s. Then Ann sent it to Tillie's son Alan and his Boye clan, living in Vermont, in 1988. Then Alan sent it back to the suburbs of Cleveland in the 2000s to share with Ann's grandchildren, my niece and nephew, Wayne and Julianna Grindle. Members of the Salvatore, Danca, Boye, Chasar, and Grindle families have thus been "Getting Ready for Christmas" via this poem for well over half a century.
This holiday season, we wish we could send the actual card to you—the extended P&PC family—as well. While we can't do that, we can give you the composite text of the 24-line poem here:
The guests are welcomed at the door
The gifts are piled upon the floor
The cook is making gingerbread
And all are waiting to be fed
The corn is popping almost done
Come and get it everyone!
A taffy pull is in full swing
Cheerful, merry voices ring
The stockings hang all in a row
Outside it has begun to snow
The younger tots have said their prayers
And now are fast asleep upstairs
But one sits by a candlestick to wait awhile for Old St. Nick
The older children laugh with glee and dance and caper 'round the tree
A train for Jack, a doll for Jill, a scarf for Anne and Gloves for Bill
Underneath the mistletoe Jane steals a kiss from her best beau!
Hot things to drink, good things to eat
For every child a special treat
The grown-up folks sit by the grate
The clock says that it's growing late
Everybody stops to spy the Christmas star up in the sky
The Christmas carols now begin
With everybody joining in
And all the doors are opened wide to welcome in the Christmastide!
Using your imagination, perhaps you can experience something of the thrill this advent calendar poem offered and, in the process, open a few doors and windows onto where P&PC comes from. Happy holidays all.