Celebrating Advent :: Part 1

You are all so kind! I feel so blessed by your many well-wishes. I am still sick ... the laryngitis has passed and been replaced with a cough. Yuck! I don't get sick often, but when I do, it seems that I get every possible symptom.

I know that December is still a few weeks away, but I thought I'd share these ideas with you now so you'll have time to think about them if they resonate for you.

Spreading out the holiday season is very important to me. The idea of one single, over-stimulating, and -- ultimately -- disappointing day is very unappealing to my mama soul, and not so good for the wee ones, either. The more that we can do to celebrate a holiday season, the better, in my eyes. So to that end, we have a very involved advent tradition, into which we have incorporated many of our other family holiday traditions. We also celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas, ending on Three Kings Day (January 6). During that time, we are still in merry-making mode, but we try to ever-so-gently wind things down.

As I wrote this post, I realized that it was far too much information for one day, so I'm going to divide it up into two days this week. Today I'll talk about the advent calendar. On Wednesday I'll share a very long list of ideas for things to put into the calendar once you've got it set up. These ideas have been accumulated over my 5.5 years of mothering and from my own childhood as well.

Advent Calendar

advent calendar 2006

The first thing to do is to come up with some sort of advent calendar "vessel". This can be just about anything. We have 24 stockings strung on a garland. Years ago (2003, to be precise), Martha Stewart Kids showed a sock garland calendar made with baby socks, number stickers, and clothespins. It's not up on their website Here it is, although they do show this one, which requires sewing, and this cute one, made of boxes. (I made ours three or four years ago using this kit from Magic Cabin.) I have a friend who uses 24 beautiful paper cones. You could use a variation on the pocket calendar, based on something like this, this or this. Kim made these gorgeous little cornucopias. You don't even have to have 24. You could use a single beautiful bowl, tray, or piece of pottery, and the gifts could appear in it each morning. And each vessel does not have to be large enough to "hold" the day's gift. Our gifts frequently don't fit in our tiny stockings, so they simply await the children on a chair or stool beneath the garland. We do have a little elf who travels from stocking to stocking day by day as a visual aid to the passing of the days.

Another variation is to have a 12-day calendar and use it to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas instead. Then you only have to come up with 12 ideas, and you can spread Christmas out in the more traditional manner. (Traditionally, the Christmas/Yule season began on that day, rather than ending on it!)

advent calendar 2006 - close up

Now that you've got a vessel of some sort, you have to come up with little gifts to put in it for 24 consecutive days (I know, I am a crazy person). This can get very expensive, very quickly, if you approach it with the idea that each day must contain an actual "gift" for each of your children. I try to think about things that we would be doing anyway, and make those things fit into our celebration of advent, rather than the other way around. For example, we would always make cookies one day, visit holiday lighting displays one or more days, and put up/decorate our tree one day. The same idea applies to things we'd spend money on anyway. Is there something that my child needs now that can't wait until Christmas? That goes into the calendar. We have the tradition of wearing new pajamas on Christmas Eve, so they started appearing on the last day of the calendar. We would buy a new, special holiday or winter book for our family each year anyway, so we incorporated that into the calendar. One of the most important things that I can recommend to you if you are just beginning with this tradition is to keep it pretty low-key and low-pressure. If you set your children up to expect an actual "gift" every day, they will feel disappointed if sometimes it's not. If most days they find coupons or tickets incorporating an activity that would happen in your home anyway, it gives them the security of predictability, and keeps it from becoming another commitment for you to buy a lot more expensive gifts.

The key here is keep it simple and manageable for the parents. I usually sit down in November with the calendar and figure out which days, according to my husband's work and gig schedule and my cello teaching schedule, we will do our usual family outings and activities. I think about the more "gifty" things I have acquired (or plan to), and try to spread those out at fairly wide intervals. I look at the days we're going to celebrate other festivals (St Nicholas's visit on the 6th, Santa Lucia's Day on the 13th) and think about ways that I can either incorporate the celebration of those festivals into the calendar (a Santa Lucia crown on the 13th, for example) or something simple that won't distract from the main event. (Since St Nicholas brings chocolate and a small gift to my children, I keep the advent calendar very simple on that day.) Once I have the main things plugged into my calendar, I fill it in with simple crafts or small things that I have on hand.

Advent goodies for calendar

I like to have as much as possible on hand and parceled out according to date before Dec. 1 so that no matter how tired or busy I've been on some December day, the advent calendar won't be a cause for stress right before I go to bed. The easier I can make this for myself, the more enjoyable it is for everyone

So, make it fun for yourself, keep it light-hearted and simple, and it can be a really lovely family tradition that helps to spread out the season and mark the s-l-o-w passage of the days for the wee ones.

On Wednesday you'll get a very long list of ideas for things to put into the calendar, some of which we've tried in our home and some of which I just thought of as I was preparing these posts. Enjoy!