You would think I would know how to organize a full-on advent season in the midst of a busy fall and winter by now. But I haven't. The pressure is still there, lurking and omnipresent, to make a magical four weeks of Christmas anticipation for my children. And for us, I think our Advent will take a looser form, more flexible and fluid. That's what I tell myself as I haven't gotten everything together for a day by day calendar. And actually, our Advent approach is intentional as this season already feels full with busy obligations and with less time left for contemplation, or a quieter approach. By not having an activity planned for every, single, day leaves time and space open for spontaneity, for an organic feel to this season of waiting.
I thought I might share some things we've done in past years and a few we hope to incorporate in the next few days. Hopefully these ideas will help you if you are feeling a bit stuck or lacking enthusiasm for the Christmas season.
1. We have a pile of Christmas themed books we bring out on December 1st. Every year, our children ask throughout the month of November for stories like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Mole Family's Christmas and Bella's Tree (my most favourite Christmas book). And when the books are finally brought out, usually closer to bedtime, we can read stories together, curled up and cozy, ready for bed.
2. Going through our drawers and closets, looking for items that are too small or are maybe too young for our children. We then give away these items. It's a reminder to us that for us to be ready to receive something, often room needs to be made to truly embrace a gift or change.
3. We get creative with peanut butter and bird seed as little gifts for the birds, and yes, likely squirrels too. Cardboard is cut into tree or circle shapes with a loop of jute twine is tied on. We liberally smear peanut butter on them, sprinkle and press in the bird seed and hang these little decorations outside on smaller trees that the cats can't easily climb.
4. Walk around your neighborhood to look at Christmas lights as a family. We normally do our drive around on Christmas Eve after Christmas Eve service before we head back home.
5. Looking back at older traditions works well as option too. Christmas pudding is a constant for nearly every one of my Christmas memories. And because it takes a long time to cure, for the flavours to mellow, we try to make ours well in advance of Christmas Day itself. Our recipe is based on one of Nigella Lawson's and includes grated apples, mission figs, coffee, dried blueberries and Kahlua, which means there are ingredients for everyone to help prepare.
6. Going sledding or skating on a warmer day.
7. Having packets of homemade hot chocolate mix ready for when the children come home from school. Cocoa powder, some sugar and a tiny bit of cinnamon powder in a little paper envelope has been a great opportunity of us to sit together after a school day, to chat about who played with who at recess, disgusting stories told in the lunchroom, and how Christmas concert practice is progressing. We pour the packet into a cup, fill with hot water until about half or three-quarters full and then top up with cream or milk. A little bowl of marshmallows or whipping cream, the nutmeg grater and a candy cane or two to dip in are simple ways to make the hot chocolate more of an event.
8. Making a Christmas garland from paper rings linked together. This is one straight from my childhood. On November 30, we would cut 24 strips of paper and, by glueing or taping them, link them together into a chain. The chain would at first be swagged across a doorway, or cabinet, with a link being removed everyday. For some reason, this simple act would be anticipated as I sat with my sisters at the kitchen table, drinking our cups of milk before bed.
9. Getting together to watch a Christmas movie. In our house, Home Alone is a favourite so long as we edit out the part where one of the would-be robbers gets an iron in the head. That part is, according to our littlest, uncalled for and far too violent.
10. Helping to get some of the Christmas time treats ready. I think you might be the same. There are foods that we purposely try to keep just for Christmas, or maybe other holidays. But this list is a strictly Christmas combination and in that way, becomes exciting! Our list includes: tourtiere, cranberry sauce with oranges and maple syrup, cheese rolls (crepes rolled and stuffed with onions and dry cottage cheese, placed in a baking pan, drowned in whipping cream, dill and garlic), tapenade, smoked salmon and the aforementioned Christmas Figgy Pudding. Some of these keep fairly well in our cold room or the fridge or can be frozen for a few weeks.
11. Searching your community for opportunities to volunteer. Sometimes, I'm a little hesitant to do this type of thing at Christmas because it strikes me as a little insincere. A crude attempt perhaps to balance our overabundance with others' lack. As parents, we try to keep these activities in mind year-round so it becomes one facet of our regular lives rather than just a seasonal thing. We want our children to live a life of service rather than keeping their volunteering to the month before Christmas. However, helping serve at the food counter of a community fundraiser, singing carols in care homes, are all possibilities. To be honest, I am uncomfortable saying we've done this or that as a family because I don't want in any way to come across as bragging or using our actions to promote ourselves. I think that you will know your community and will have an idea of places and times where you might be needed or can lighten someone else's load. This whole paragraph is probably completely unnecessary!
12. Making willow wreaths. Our home is next to a slough/pond that is surrounded by peachleaf and red willow. Gathering arms full, or less even, of slender willow branches and bring them inside to make tiny wreaths for doorknobs and tree, and larger ones for doors and windows is a favourite pastime. Helping each other is essential as there always seems to be one twig that wants to let go, unwind and spring right back to where it was. And the thing I love about this idea is the willow grows back each year, with little impact to the slough around us.
I hope these ideas help you if you're looking for Advent activity ideas. I'd love to hear your ideas or traditions, as one of the beautiful things we can do for each other is encourage one another, and learn from one another. All the very best to you and yours during Advent!