This Christmas I decided to make my own Advent calendar. I was planning on filling the pockets with the customary chocolates, when I came across a great idea online – putting slips of paper into the pockets, each listing a Christmas-related fun activity to do that day. Not only is this better for Rowan’s teeth, it has inspired me to make this Christmas special and meaningful. Several pieces of paper later, I have some tips on how best to organise your Advent schedule.
The first thing to do is to make a note of the days of the week – be aware of trips to places that close on Sundays, and schedule more time-consuming activities around your family’s busiest days of the week. Consider which day you typically buy groceries, as well – some Christmas baking should be done shortly afterward, to prevent the ingredients from being nibbled away during the week!
Next, look online or in a local paper for Christmas activities. Plenty of churches have Christmas displays, carol services, decorated halls or even donkey rides. Many towns have a Christmas parade or public carols-by-candlelight night. Other options might include screenings of classic Christmas films, Christmas ballets, plays and concerts. Taking advantage of these local events will give you several ready-made Advent activities, and can provide a fun annual tradition without too much effort!
For my own list, the activities were basically jotted down off the top of my head – but they can be categorized loosely into five groups.
Necessary Pre-Christmas Tasks
These are the things that need to get done anyway – making the Christmas cake, buying and decorating the tree, making Christmas cards and gift tags, and wrapping gifts. This year I’ll make a conscious effort to include my daughter in these activities, so they become fun crafty opportunities instead of just tasks to tick off the list. Rowan’s very into stickers and cutting out right now, so she’ll love making wrapping paper and cutting red and green card into vaguely tag-like shapes!
Christmas Traditions From My Own Childhood
Living in the “wrong” hemisphere, my childhood Christmas memories are more along the lines of sunburn and long summer evenings than snowflakes and toboggans! One of my favorite Christmas activities was visiting a pick-your-own berry farm. The fruits of our labors were later turned into Christmas desserts like pavlova and ambrosia. Another family I know has the tradition of opening one present each – a pair of new pajamas – on Christmas Eve, so the family can wear them to bed that night. Continuing family traditions over several generations can become more poignant and meaningful as the years go by.
If you have time, you can make the Christmas season more festive by doing some fun things that aren’t specifically Christmas-related, but correspond well to the time of year. In the northern hemisphere, this might include ice skating, cooking pancakes with maple syrup and making snow candy a la Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the southern hemisphere – well, we’re planning a trip to the zoo, a walk in our local arboretum and a day at the beach.
My daughter is a keen if not reliable cook! Some of my fiddlier Christmas cuisine, like little puddings – truffles decorated to look like mini Christmas puds, a tradition that started when I had a lot more free time! – requires a bit more precision than her two-year-old fingers can handle. On the other hand, she’s a dab hand at mixing fruit for the Christmas cake, helping mix ambrosia for dessert and stirring the cinnamon sugar for spiced nuts. Including her in the baking process will probably mean it takes a little longer, but she’ll have fun – and I’ll be one year closer to palming off the Christmas cooking on to her!
Spiritual Advent Activities
If you celebrate the spiritual side of Christmas, an Advent countdown can be a great way to incorporate virtues, thankfulness and the Christmas narrative into the season. One day’s excursion might be to the library, to pick up Christmas-themed books. (If you do this, make it one of the first days in December – you won’t be the only parent on the lookout for Christmas stories!) With older children, parents could include a slip of paper with the reference to a Biblical passage about the birth of Christ. The child who opens the pocket that day can read the passage aloud.
Some other ideas include:
- visiting a rest home with some home-baked Christmas goodies (preferably diabetic-friendly), decorations or even a small carol “concert”
- donating some toys to a shelter or less fortunate kids
- praying for a different thing every day – relatives, things to be thankful for, world issues and so on
- adding one decoration to a “Jesse tree”
We still have a few weeks before December – tell me your Advent ideas!