about the calendars

To briefly recap the history of the advent calendar stories: I created my first online advent calendar in 1995. The original version was extremely simple - it used the new technology of the Web to reproduce a traditional flat calendar online. The static image, Papa Bear baking Christmas cookies in his kitchen, had a "window" for each day in December. Clicking on it brought up a new page that revealed what kind of cookie he had made that day.

Later calendars expanded on this concept, and continued to feature the Bear family. Rather than have a static image throughout the entire month, I began to make the site different each day. The 1997 calendar (still available online, along with the those from 1998 to the present) showed the Bear family receiving daily Christmas cards from their relatives around the world. Clicking on each day's card took you to a "photo" of the relative, and the text of their card. It was in this calendar that a small black cat, ostensibly the bear family's pet, made several appearances, and became popular in her own right. The calendar images in this version were animated GIFs.

In 1998, I decided to make the cat, modeled on our own Tate, the star of the show, and came up with the idea of telling a sequential "story", with one installment being revealed each day. Thus Tate and her owner Pierre, living in the French village of Bric-a-Brac, were introduced. In December of 1998, I had an e-mail from a man in France who told me that he was getting up early each morning to translate the story into French for his daughter. He kindly offered to e-mail me his translations to post, and so Tate appeared in two languages that year!

Since then, additional translators have given generously of their time to translate into Italian, Swedish, Dutch, German, Russian, Portuguese and Chinese. The stories continue to feature Tate and her adventures, but I've switched from using animated GIFs to Flash. The animations are not complex, and in themselves wouldn't require Flash, but the scripting allows me to automate the daily updating process, so that each user is shown the correct pictures at the correct time and date. Prior to this development, children in Australia would e-mail me to inquire why the pictures were not changing at the correct time!

The best part of this annual ritual is the e-mails and guestbook comments from people around the world who've enjoyed the site.

--Penelope Schenk