An Advent Calendar opens on the sights and sounds of an ambulance arriving at the scene after a man chops his finger off at a butcher shop. A hapless customer, John, who takes home an order of minced beef to his ailing Uncle Cecil, is overwhelmed with guilt and horror when the butcher arrives at his door looking for the missing finger. John, who is out of work, his wife Marguerite, and their two young children move in with Uncle Cecil and the adults struggle to find equilibrium and satisfaction in lives filled with longing and unfulfilled dreams. Marguerite has a brief affair, an escape from the seemingly relentless poverty and boredom of her life. Her lover, Aaron, arrives at her back door one night after everyone has gone to bed. Marguerite's young daughter, Emily, walks into the kitchen where they sit drinking and smoking. Uncle Cecil lives in squalor with a goat out back. John's sister, Elizabeth, a schoolteacher, befriends a troubled student, Joy, who is seduced while baby-sitting for a middle-aged poet. The story takes place during the twenty-four days of December that are depicted in dime-store advent calendars. It culminates at Christmas, not exactly with a Hollywood ending that rights all wrongs, but with redemption and absolution, as is sufficient unto the season.