THE TWENTY-FOURTH OF DECEMBER

Elisabet, five angels, three Wise Men, four shepherds, one Roman Emperor, one Governor of Syria and seven sheep witness the birth of Jesus: “This is the meeting of heaven and earth – it is a wonder every time a new child comes into the world”. The others all disappear and Elisabet enters the stable because, as the angel Ephiriel said, that is her role.

John visits again, this time accompanied by Elisabet Hansen. We learn about what happened to her in Norway, Palestine and Rome. That evening Joachim looks out on a heavy fall of snow and sees something … quite mysterious!

THE TWENTY-THIRD OF DECEMBER

It’s now the year 0 and the procession, now moving slowly, is just outside Bethlehem. Everyone is rehearsing their lines and seem quite nervous. They see a young man walking beside an ass which was carrying a woman dressed in red.

Joachim and his parents decorate the tree and get the house ready for John the flower seller’s visit. When he comes, he tells them all about himself and his historical research into sightings of angels across Europe down the ages. And he described how he met a girl called Elisabet in Rome and how she said she’d been kidnapped by an angel. He also says that there is one person in the Rome phone book with the name Elisabet Tebasile. John leaves them with strict instructions not to open the last door until the Christmas bells ring the following afternoon.

THE TWENTY-SECOND OF DECEMBER

It’s the year 91 and the pilgrims stop on the banks of the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptised. They run past Jericho and reach the ruined city Jerusalem, which had been sacked by the Romans a few years earlier. The last addition to the procession is the innkeeper, the one who has to tell Mary and Joseph that there is no room for them at his inn.

The family sees the similarities between John the flower seller and John the Baptist. Both were out in the wilderness and both poured water over people! When Joachim gets home from school, he finds a letter addressed to him from John, inviting himself for coffee and cookies the next day.

THE TWENTY-FIRST OF DECEMBER

The pilgrims reach Capernaum, on the beautiful Lake of Gennesareth. Elisabet says it looks like “a blue china bowl, edged with gold”. She learns about an amazing catch of fish and Jesus walking on water. Caspar says the real message of Christmas is that we should help people in need, the ill, the poor and refugees. They are now in Nazareth in the year 107 and they are joined by the last of the angels, Evangeliel.

Joachim is beginning to dread Christmas because all the excitement and intrigue of the magic Advent Calendar will be over. Papa feels that they are getting closer to the truth and that we are now in the area where John came from. And he adds that the girl in the photo, John’s girlfriend, was herself a refugee.

THE TWENTIETH OF DECEMBER

It’s the year 235 and the strange procession of pilgrims is approaching the Holy Land. Elisabet learns about the moment in 35AD when Saul/Paul “saw the light”. They are joined by another angel, Cherubiel.

The family has a lot to do, baking and getting ready for Christmas, but they spend all of the 20th studying atlases and encyclopaedias. Mrs Hansen, Elisabet’s mother, calls – Papa had sent her a copy of the photo from the bookshop and she agrees that it looks like her daughter, Anna. She says she has never given up hope that Elisabet is still alive.

THE NINETEENTH OF DECEMBER

“The circle is complete” now that Melchior, the last of the three Wise men has joined the group as they travel through what is now called Turkey. In 322 they meet generous, jovial Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, the original Santa Claus, or “Nisse” in Norwegian.

Nicholas’s good humour is infectious and Joachim and his parents can’t help laughing after reading about the Bishop. Mama wonders whether the Elisabet in the photo followed the same route as St Paul and travelled from Jerusalem to Rome.

THE EIGHTEENTH OF DECEMBER

The procession enters Constantinople (formerly Byzantium, later Istanbul). The very grand, proud and smartly-dressed Emperor Augustus makes a surprise entrance and will now accompany the pilgrims to Bethlehem. Elisabet learns how the early Church spent a lot of time arguing over details of doctrine when Jesus’s main message was simply to be kind to others.

Joachim and his parents go through some newspaper cuttings about Elisabet Hansen’s mysterious disappearance and Joachim realizes that even more details have been filled in on the big picture on his advent calendar.

THE SEVENTEENTH OF DECEMBER

The band of pilgrims is approaching Constantinople and the year 500. They are joined by the angel Seraphiel. Elisabet learns that the Church has done many wrong things in the name of Jesus, such as closing down the ancient School of Philosophy in Athens.

Joachim receives a phone call from John who is somewhere out in the wilderness. He wants to know how Joachim is getting on with the advent calendar and teaches him the importance of being patient. Advent, after all, means something that is to come.

THE SIXTEENTH OF DECEMBER

A fourth shepherd, Daniel, joins the band of pilgrims. They fly through 7th Century Croatia and Dalmatia and see Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the small town that would later become Dubrovnik.

Joachim thinks that the magic Advent calendar is like having a birthday every day. His father talks to the police about the little girl who disappeared in 1948. All they ever found was her woolly hat, in a wood outside town.

THE FIFTEENTH OF DECEMBER

They arrive in Venice in 797 and save a drowning man, who thanks them by giving them the Seventh Sheep. By 718 they’re in Aquileia and then move on through Trieste into Croatia.

Papa tries to explain the concept of travelling back 2000 years to Bethlehem as being like going down through a stack of 20 pancakes. The family goes back to see the book-seller, who promises to tell John to phone them. They learn that John was originally from Damascus.

THE FOURTEENTH OF DECEMBER

They sail down the River Po and reach Padua in the year 800. Quirinius knew the area well and says the difference between Padua now and the city in his time is that it’s full of churches, priests and monks. They are joined by Isaac, the Third Shepherd.

With only ten days to go till Christmas, Papa shows them the route they have taken so far, all the way from Norway, through Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to Italy.

THE THIRTEENTH OF DECEMBER

Behind one of the doors in the advent calendar that Quirinius gave her, there is another identical tiny advent calendar whose doors won’t open. The wise men explain the word-puzzle involving the words Elisabet, Roma and Jesus. The strange band of pilgrims runs down into Italy and they soon reach the Po Valley

Joachim finally decides to admit that John came to see him. Papa is even more determined to find the mysterious flower-seller but he is no longer at the market and seems to have vanished into thin air.

THE TWELFTH OF DECEMBER

Joachim’s father continues to look for the mysterious John. He went back to the bookshop to get the photo that John had once left there. It was taken in the 1950s and shows a fair-haired girl called Elisabet standing in the road that leads to St. Peter’s Square.

The band of pilgrims races past Lake Geneva and Martigny before they climb up to St. Bernard’s pass. They get there in 1045 and see the hospice where the Benedictine monks, helped by their big dogs, organise a rescue service for lost travellers. At the pass they meet a “living road sign”, the eccentric Roman governor of Syria, called Quirinius. He joins them on their journey to Bethlehem and gives Elisabet an advent calendar.

THE ELEVENTH OF DECEMBER

The ferryman waiting to take them across the Rhine is none other than Balthazar, the King of Sheba and the Second Wise Man. They travel through Worms and reach Basle in 1119, before starting the climb up into the Alps.

Joachim feels much better now that his parents know all about the Advent Calendar. He doesn’t need to keep it secret any more (apart from his meeting with John the flower-seller). Joachim believes 100% in the story of Elisabet and the journey to Bethlehem, Mama seems to believe bits of it and sensible papa remains very sceptical!

THE TENTH OF DECEMBER

The group is joined by an impulsive young cherub, the angel Impuriel. They pass through the old Roman city of Cologne and start going up the beautiful Rhine valley.

That morning Joachim reveals too much information about the calendar and his parents become really suspicious. When he gets home from school, Joachim is furious to find that his mother has opened his secret box and read its contents. She had broken a solemn promise! The magical calendar had suddenly become ordinary! But he soon calmed down, his parents apologised, he forgave them and they start to enjoy the story together. Phew!

THE NINTH OF DECEMBER

The procession of pilgrims is moving fast through Germany, back through the 14th Century. They visit Hanover and Hamelin where Elisabet learns the story of the Pied Piper and what happens when you break your promises. Another sheep joins the flock.

Joachim’s parents are worried: he keeps saying such strange things and telling stories he couldn’t possibly have learned at school – they need to find out what or who is behind it.

THE EIGHTH OF DECEMBER

One of the lambs goes missing and it is found by the new addition to the pilgrimage, Jacob the Second Shepherd. It’s 1402 and they enter Germany.

Joachim stops his mother from opening a door of the calendar, just in time! And Joachim meets John the flower-seller and hears the mysterious words Sabet-Tebas for the first time. He doesn’t tell his parents about the meeting and feels his head is splitting because he has so many secrets to keep.

THE SEVENTH OF DECEMBER

They reach the time when Copernicus discovers that the earth is as round as a ball, and the invention of printing leads to the Bible being produced in many different languages. Elisabet learns that it’s important to be happy with the little you have “because it’s infinitely bigger than nothing”.

Joachim realises, with every passing day, that the big picture on the Advent Calendar is becoming clearer and clearer. His mother nearly catches him with the piece of paper hidden in his hand.

THE SIXTH OF DECEMBER

The first Wise Man, Caspar the King of Nubia, joins the group and teaches Elisabet that there are two ways to become wise: you either travel and see as much of the world as you can, or you stay in one place and observe everything that happens there in great detail. They see Copenhagen in 1648.

Joachim’s mother continued to be puzzled by all the strange things he’s saying: “But Joachim, where do you get all this from?”.

THE FIFTH OF DECEMBER

Every time Joachim looks at the Advent Calendar, he sees things that weren’t there the day before. But he still hasn’t told his parents what’s going on.

The Third Sheep arrives. In Lund Cathedral Elisabeth hears “the most beautiful music she had ever heard”, composed by J.S.Bach. With Ephiriel, Joshua and the three sheep she reaches the border with Denmark in about 1700.

THE FOURTH OF DECEMBER

As they travel through Sweden, they meet the shepherd Joshua who will know be able to take care of the ever-growing flock of sheep and encourage everyone to hurry on “To Bethlehem, to Bethlehem!” They are in Gothenburg early in the 19th Century.

Joachim decides he has to meet John the flower seller in order to find out more about this amazing advent calendar.

THE THIRD OF DECEMBER

The Second Sheep joins Elisabet, the lamb and the angel as they reach the Norway-Sweden border at the beginning of the 20th Century. Ephiriel explains to Elisabet that they are travelling back in time.

And Joachim is still keeping his discoveries secret from his mother and father, but decides to collect all the pieces of paper from the advent calendar and give the story to them as a Christmas present.

THE SECOND OF DECEMBER

Elisabet, who still hasn’t caught up with the lamb, is joined by the angel Ephiriel, who tells her that the lamb is on its way to Bethlehem. Elisabet decides to go too, and off they run with the angel dancing behind them.

Joachim notices that the big picture on the advent calendar has changed – the lamb is now part of the scene and it wasn’t there yesterday. He is tempted to open the window for the 3rd of December but says that cheating over Christmas would be like stealing from yourself.

THE FIRST OF DECEMBER

In this delightful story by Jostein Gaarder, a young Norwegian boy, Joachim, reads a story hidden behind the windows of an old, home-made advent calendar that he found in a bookshop. A piece of paper falls out of the first window and he reads the beginning of an extraordinary story about Elisabet Hansen, a small girl who chases a toy lamb that has come to life in a department store. She, and an ever-increasing cast of sheep, shepherds, wise men and angels travel across Europe and back in time to be present at the birth of Christ in Bethlehem.

As Joachim opens more doors on the magic calendar, he and his parents try to find out about the mysterious flower seller, John and about a girl who disappeared in Norway on Christmas Eve many years earlier. Adding to the mystery is a photograph taken in Rome of a young woman. On the back of the photograph is the name ‘Elisabet’ – could she be the same Elisabet?

Try listening without subtitles but, if it’s too hard for you to understand, click on the subtitles button at the bottom of the screen. Or, even better, buy the book; in English, in Italian or in the original Norwegian!