I am all for simplicity. I have tried to simplify at the holidays, I swear! We haven't gone crazy with gifts and have been incorporating more experience gifts. I thought through our activities and polled our family about what their favorites are. They love them all and so do I! They are keepers because they make us happy!!
Every family has its just right balance for the season they are in. Currently, I am a stay-at-home mom with a nap-time job and my teacher husband works from seven until three. Our girls are nine, six, and three. A piano teacher visits our home once a week and our kids barely have any homework. Our evenings aren't very busy. For our current season, this is our "click point" in preparing for Christmas.
I love the Advent calendar I received as a birthday gift many years ago. I made the activity gems in a surge of craftiness.
I used to write Advent activities on slips of papers. A couple years ago, I made illustrated felt-backed glass gems. They make rearranging activities simple, hold up better than slips of paper each year, and, most importantly, look cute. (Trace a large clear floral gem on cardstock. Draw, write, or print clip art in the circle. Use permanent ink so the image doesn't look smeary after next steps. Cut it out. Use Mod Podge to adhere it to the glass gem. Add felt circle to the back to make it extra fancy.)
Someday we might trade out making a reindeer snack for seeing The Nutcracker. *sigh*
I pick twenty-five activities (we have a few extras) and consult our shared family Google calendar for December's events. I line them up in rows by week and rearrange until it works. I add them to our Google calendar, Plan to Eat meal planning calendar as necessary, and place the activities into the Advent house. Of course, all events are subject to germs, bad weather, and life with kids. Some things may get switched or ditched. In the famous words of Stuart Smalley, "That's okay."
This year's November snowfall was the perfect backdrop to my Advent calendar planning.
"Advent"ures of choice
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the kinds of activities we plan each year. They seem to fall under the categories of tasks, entertainment, baking/cooking/eating, giving, crafting, relaxing, and spiritual. Scroll to the bottom to see the whole list. For more details, read on....
Sending cards is a team effort and another advent activity. I write addresses, the girls add stamps. Stamps that look like they were applied by a drunken elf are charming.
We treat the to-dos of the season as special events. Take tree cutting, for example. I love to decorate the tree around my birthday, so, if it's not raining, we will cut the tree in the afternoon of my birthday (this should be quick since we pre-selected and tagged our tree already). After that we will go out for Sushi as a family. I'll spend the next day, Saturday, decorating the tree with the girls.
Tasks- send cards, wrap gifts, decorate the house, cut the tree, and decorate the tree
Just for Fun
Some entertainment activities fit our family routine, like movie nights on Fridays, but others take planning and involve meal planning foresight. The girls' school's fundraising night at Chipotle mid-month has been added to our Plan To Eat meal planning calendar. (Their annual 50% off sale is coming up 11/26-12/2.) My sister and brother-in-law will be getting back from Africa the day before, so we will take them burritos and drive around to look at Christmas lights after we eat. They have a festive neighborhood near their house that we need to check out.
Entertainment- Christmas movies, lights drive, Pinterest printable Christmas games with cousins while waiting for food at Grandma's birthday dinner out (keeps them happy), and an indoor snowball fight
I love our Christmas Eve tea tradition served on my grandma's china.
Since we are on the subject of planning meals, food is a big part of celebrating. Our fanciest event is our Christmas Eve tea. Making homemade gingerbread houses with the cousins is a much anticipated tradition too. Here are the recipes for gingerbread, royal icing, and template we use.
Food- bake gingerbread, decorate gingerbread houses, have a red and green picnic by the tree, bake cookies, have a tea party, and make a reindeer snack
Sharing joy seems to overlap with making food and delivering cookies to neighbors is an easy way to share joy. Sharing your voice, no matter how off-key, is another way. Caroling at a nursing home with friends last year made us happy! So heartwarming to spread some cheer!
Giving- carol at a nursing home, deliver cookies, make teacher gifts, and make sibling gifts
Our snowflakes look beautiful on our windows and china cabinet.
We like to get crafty for gift giving, but also for decorating. Grandma is the best at cutting snowflakes, so that activity is planned for when she's visiting at my birthday. Also, since Grandma's name is Susan, it's necessary to watch the Suzy Snowflake cartoon clip from her childhood over and over again and sing along with Rosemary Clooney.
Craft- make teacher gifts, make sibling gifts, and cut snowflakes
A cozy night with hot cocoa is a perfect way to savor the season.
Some activities are just plain relaxing. It doesn't get much more relaxing than turning out the lights and enjoying the lights on the tree for a few minutes. Snugly blankets are crucial.
Relaxing- drink hot cocoa or cider, read Christmas books, and paint our holiday manicures (dad excluded)
Our Advent candle holder is a piece of firewood, spared, with holes drilled into it. With some fresh greenery around it, it serves as our centerpiece all month.
The Reason for the Season
While not actual activities placed into the Advent calendar, we will light our table top advent candles at dinner and read the daily Advent reading. We will read this one again this year. I'm sure there will be nights we miss. (Insert Stuart here.)
Spiritual- daily candle lighting paired with an advent reading and read a children's book of the Christmas story and act it out
Gratitude, Solitude, and Margin
It's my goal to keep this season balanced and my heart grateful. For me, this means a bit of time by myself. Being intentional to have some Mommy quiet time is so important. I want to leave space to enjoy creating the homemade Christmas crackers by scheduling enough time to make them. Writing cards with just the right pen and a cup of tea is something just for me.
Planning intentional margin in our calendar is so important too. It's easy to miss out on the unplanned surprise joy when you are over-scheduled. Often these are the most special and memorable times. May you find joy and gratitude in the surprises and traditions, both shared and "just for you" this year.