Since Ella’s been a little girl, I’ve put together an advent calendar for her and Annie to do in the December days leading up to Christmas. We’ve always had chocolate calendars, of course (sent by my grandmother) and my mom can be counted on to send some traditional paper or otherwise fun-filled countdowns, and the girls love it all. But I’ve found that I really enjoy making something for the girls to “do” each day – our advent activities are among the most special parts (for me, anyway) of our Christmas season.
The calendar has changed over the years. When Ella was still a toddler, her calendar included nothing more than trinkets – a shiny quarter, a piece of chocolate, a bouncy ball. As a preschooler, she might discover that the day called for her to do something – make a Christmas craft, make hot chocolate, go caroling.
“Stained glass” ornament.
Christmas music dance party!
When she entered elementary school, I decided that I’d like to help remind her (and Annie) of what Christmas really means to our family, and I geared the advent activities toward that goal.
I’ll just come right out and say it: We’re not big Jesus people. The girls and I go to church, but it’s an Episcopal church that’s about as liberal as they come. There’s certainly talk of Jesus, of who he was and why he’s important, and in Sunday School, we’re reading Bible stories and learning about God’s and His love… But, at home anyway, we don’t focus so much on the Jesus part.
We have nativities – several of them, in fact. The girls know who all of the figurines are, and they know the story of Jesus’s birth, but realistically, it’s unlikely that any of us will be found saying a prayer beside the manger. It is likely that the Wise Men are going to end up chatting with Barbie in the corner by the stable and that Jesus will be found in April at the bottom of a child-sized purse.
We’re not one of those families advocating that the Christ be put back in Christmas. I have no problem with people who feel that way (including a great many of my friends), but it’s just not our thing. Yes, Christmas originally began with people celebrating the birth of Jesus, and we still acknowledge that as a family… But for us, it’s come to encompass much more. It’s a time when songs that are only heard for a few weeks each year are played in every (and I do mean every) store we pass, when entire radio stations scrap their usual format to play us seasonal tunes. It’s a time when homemade treats and bars and goodies are overflowing, and when it’s okay to have a cookie for breakfast.
It’s a time when, for just a little while, people are especially kind to one another. (It’s also a time when people are especially stressed out and total pricks to one another, but that’s not so much the part of Christmas I like to focus on, you know?) It’s a time when wonder and hope are not fleeting but abundant, when the air is practically alive with anticipation. (In our house, it’s also alive with mice – are we the only ones who’ve had unwanted furry visitors this season? – but that’s neither here nor there.)
So, when I say that I wanted the advent calendars to focus more on what Christmas really means to us, I mean that I wanted it to focus more on enjoying the moments rather than just racing for the finish. I wanted to talk as much about giving as we did about receiving. I wanted some time each day to remember how wondrous this season can be. I wanted to cultivate joy.
And hot chocolate. Because, really, what’s Christmas without hot chocolate?
In years past, I’ve had the girls go through all of their toys to donate some to needy children. We’ve written notes to soldiers who can’t return home to their families.
All of this has been very well and good, but this year was already so crazy (have I mentioned this in any of my posts? That our lives have been really nutty this fall? Maybe once?), I knew that adding too many to-dos in the calendar just wouldn’t be feasible. And so, this year, the focus is more on enjoying the moments we have together as a family, in enjoying the moments that make the Christmas season so special… Because, really, there’s something to be celebrated every day – at least, if we make it so.
It’s a mix of silly and serious, of things that will be over in an instant and in others that will last for hours… but it’s ours. (Well, and also Sarah‘s sons — for the past five years, at least, our Christmas present to them has been an advent calendar that matches ours.) I’ll sadly admit: I’ve been such a maniac these first couple of weeks of December, I haven’t taken nearly the time I’d like to enjoy the calendar with the girls. For the first time ever, we’re even *gasp* behind on a few activities (the cookies still need to be made, for example). But the items in my to-do book are steadily getting checked off, and I’m starting to breathe more easily, and I’m ready to just dig in and celebrate.
And drink hot chocolate. It’s snowing like the dickens out and we’re heading to an outdoor hockey game tonight (holla!) and I needs me some hot cocoa.
Anyway, because I’m always searching the internet each November for activities to include in our calendar, I thought I’d put these out there for anyone who’s looking for ideas for their own families. That’s right – I’m becoming a Pinterest Bitch again. Rock with it.
1. It’s the first day of Advent! Read “The Elf on the Shelf” with your family. (While we read, the girls enjoyed some peppermint chocolates.)
2. Enjoy a Christmas tradition from somewhere around the world. (The girls ate panetonne, which is a type of sweet bread that’s enjoyed in many parts of the world, especially Italy and South America, on New Year’s or Christmas Eve.)
4. It’s time to write a letter! You can write to Santa or to anyone you love. (They received a Santa pen to do their writing.)
5. Many children don’t have enough food at Christmas. Go through your cupboards or buy some food at the grocery store and donate it to a food bank or anyplace collecting food for those in need. (Just for fun, the girls also got Christmas-themed window gel clings.)
6. Make wrapping paper!
This year, the idea for ours came from here. Cute!
7. Make an Shrinky Dink photo ornament.
8. Christmas cookie time! (The kids received sprinkles and edible food markers.)
9. Read a new Christmas book. (Ours was The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie DePaola.)
11. Give someone a compliment.
12. Eat a special candy cane!
13. Listen to new Christmas music.
14. Watch a Christmas movie. (This year’s is “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” – we read the book last year.)
15. Hang up a new ornament.
16. Hot chocolate time!
18. Roast marshmallows over your fire.
19. Do something nice for your teachers.
20. Play a game with your family. (The girls are receiving a super-cool looking new Jenga Tetris game.)
21. Decorate a pillowcase for Christmas. (Fabric markers and pillowcases provided.)
22. Gingerbread houses!
24. Put out food for the reindeer (the “food” is ready to go in a baggie) and set out your luminary bags filled with candles or tea lights. Merry Christmas!
Collapse. And drink more hot chocolate. Preferably spiked.