You may be used to counting the days to Christmas with a chocolate-filled Advent calendar. Now you can count down the days to the 2012 election with the Election Day Advent Calendar, which is filled with artwork and civics lessons.
Ben Helphand and Paul Smith are in the men behind the The Election Day Advent Calendar. Helphand runs a non-profit land trust for community gardens. Smith, one of the founders of EveryBlock, recently began working for the Democratic National Committee. In their spare time, with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, they've produced their third calendar.
This year's calendar features a painting by Chicago artist and musician Jon Langford and six different set of questions. Unlike the 2006 and 2008 editions, this year's is reusable. With no set dates or questions, people are able to use it to count down anything.
The Huffington Post spoke with Ben Helphand about the origin of the art project/civics lesson.
The Huffington Post: What made you want to have an Advent calendar?
Ben Helphand: Well, I didn't grow up with Advent calendars for anything but I thought they were a really cool way to teach people about something without cramming anything down their throat. You can slowly explain different aspects of something over the course of a whole month. I really loved the form.
The inspiration came after the when my [business] partner, Paul Smith and I, had been campaigning in the Twin Cities about a decade ago. It was a really intensive, really long weekend, going 15-hours a day. At the end of it we looked back on things and our spirits were low. It seemed like all there was to the election season was an endless array of signs and buttons and stickers. On the way home we began talking, discussing that there had to be more to this, something else and I said, "Why don't we do an Advent Calendar for election day?" It was born on a drive home to Chicago.
Instead of a mad rush to get everyone to the polling place at all costs for your guy or gal, it could be something that expanded into a season where you take the time to learn about this at all. A chance to learn about the history and the struggles that we've been through to be able to do this in the first place. There's so much that we've forgotten and don't bother to take the time to teach it. I worry about the next generation, voting rates going down. We need to invest in our democracy. This is our one way to try to do that. Expand and celebrate the season. Look at democracy in all its complexity, all of its warts, all of its wonders.
It has the things you'd expect and some of the things we shouldn't be proud of. It's all part of it. The calendar is used in schools, with parents and their kids.
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HuffPost: You have six different cards for the calendar.
Helphand: Three cards, two-sided. You can actually download your own and make your own insert. It's a new addition.
HuffPost: How did you decide on artist Jon Langford?
Helphand: We wanted to have something Americana. We're familiar with his work. We're all from Chicago.
He's the one that came up with the dancing donkey and elephant.
HuffPost: What's different about this edition?
Helphand: We wanted to make some changes from the first two. The first two were good, they had a nice following, but it always kind of hurt me that they were disposable. There were also more quotes and facts we wanted to include.
This years calendar is reusable. It's not tied to any election. You can use it for this election, school elections, the Inauguration, whatever.
HuffPost: Is this the final edition of the calendar?
Helphand: I think we might do another one but it might not be every four years.
We've been talking about doing a teachers guide for the inserts.
HuffPost: Will you make other types of Advent calendars?
Helphand: The election is where my heart is. It's not the big money maker, I'm sure we could make more doing them for a wedding or a due date.
HuffPost: Why is the calender apolitical?
Helphand: If you're going to have a conversation about the history of democracy and the philisophilcal reasons for the founding of our contry, then you can't make it partisan. You'd just get sucked into the party platforms. You don't have the space to have a meaningful back and forth or have the humility to even think about the other side.
HuffPost: What have you learned from making this edition?
Helphand: So much of the same things we're debating now are the same things that were debated hundreds of years ago. It's not new.
There are a lot of Founding Father quotes that I disagree with but I put them in there. They're part of our country. It's important to understand that, think about it. It's important to know why you disagree with it.
When we made the first calendar a lot of people thought it was going to be a count down of Bush leaving office. They were upset when they found out it wasn't that. That would have been kind of a hateful product. It's much harder to make something that lifts people up. We've have nice, positive reinforcement from groups like the League of Women Voters and teachers that have been able to use it because it's non-partisan.