Advent means “the coming or arrival” and counting down the days to Christmas is a wonderful daily activity to do with children. They actually get a little less antsy, because they can celebrate in small steps.
There’s a family in my book, The Book of New Family Traditions, where the mother puts a small stocking on her son’s bedroom door. Every day, starting December 1, he wakes up to find a tiny toy in the stocking, and each one is part of a bigger set. One year it’s all the animals in a farmyard, and the next all the soldiers in an army. By Christmas Eve, he’s collected an entire set but his mother only had to buy one thing, at the dollar store.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with buying an Advent calendar readymade: there are thousands of options made of paper or wood, stuffed with candy or little ornaments or toys. For years, we have bought a Lego Advent calendar every year. Even now, in his first year of college, my son wanted a Lego Star Wars Advent calendar sent to his dorm room.
But there are also many clever and personal ways to make your own version of an Advent calendar, and I want to share some of those. You can do something as simple as sticking little envelopes or paper bags to a wall or posterboard, with numbers on the front. The dramatic example at the top of the blog, with the red envelopes in the shape of a tree is from Martha Stewart. No matter what containers or pockets you create to count down, each day, your child can pull out something after finding the proper number. It could be a candy cane, tickets to the local Nutcracker ballet, or a a toy.
And here are links to some blogs and websites that have amassed collections of Advent ideas, so you can scout around for one that is perfect for your own family:
Go here for the Crafty Crow suggestions on homemade Advent calendars. That’s where I found the Martha Stewart red envelopes as well. There are 20 more clever countdown ideas at the Babble website, here.
Being a quilter, of course I have to include one version that is quilted. This is from the Sew Mama Sew website, and there is a free tutorial on the site about how to make this. It’s probably too late for this Christmas, unless you are a very speedy sewer, but you could save the idea for next year.
When I write and talk about traditions, I’m always emphasizing that traditions should reflect the parents’ passions and values, so when my son was little, we were always looking to add rituals that made books seem valuable and special. I interviewed a woman who used to wrap her Christmas books up like packages and put a number on each one (she got the idea from the marvelous Family Fun magazine), and we adopted that idea immediately.
It’s very simple to do: I always hid the Christmas books the rest of the year, so they would be fresh once a year, and before December 1, I would wrap them all after laying them out on my study floor: I wanted the longer books to fall on the weekends, and The Night Before Christmas to get opened on December 24. If you haven’t got 24 holiday books, borrow some from the library, or find some good stories online and print them out and wrap those.
Part of the tradition was that lovely moment each night after dinner, when my son would run into the living room to find a wrapped book under a little felt Advent calendar. He would grab it and run to the sofa, to snuggle in my lap while I read it. It was so much fun to open an especially beloved favorite book like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Olive the Other Reindeer, Night Tree and The Polar Express.
I found other people who have their own versions of this, and loved the Craftsmumship blog about how she has her kids make the numbers that go on the packages for her literary Advent tradition.
A more ancient way of celebrating, of course, is to have an Advent wreath and light Advent candles. Here is a link to a website that will tell you which are the proper colors, and suggest some hymns or Bible verses for candle-lightings.
But while searching for new ideas, I also stumbled across a website called the Advent Conspiracy, which really piqued my interest. It was established a few years ago by a small group of ministers whose goal was to help people celebrate Christmas in a less materialistic way. They’ve done a beautiful job of creating what they call the Advent Conspiracy Calendar, full of ideas for making this countdown a time of giving and spiritual contemplation.
It turns out that virtual Advent calendars are a growing field. Some are free, others will cost you. You can find some apps to check your virtual calendar on your smartphone, but I also found two really creative ones online. For the more religious, I recommend the one on the Busted Halo website (which calls itself “an online magazine for spiritual seekers.”) The December 1 item is a photo of the Pope, and clicking on it reveals a quote from the pontiff. Like the Advent Conspiracy calendar, you can’t peek at future days: they won’t open until that date. This is not true of another virtual Advent calendar over at Red Ted Art, a website offering tons of creative activities for kids. All the links are open now, and they each lead to craft activities on various blogs.
I have many, many more Christmas ideas in The Book of New Family Traditions, which itself makes a wonderful Christmas (or Advent) gift. However you count down these days, I wish you much warmth and intimacy with your loved ones, and a deep sense of the season’s meaning.