It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
We are upon the Christmas season. By the time it hits December, most of us are already listening to festive music, decorating our homes, planning our baking, and wrapping presents. It’s easy to get pulled along in all the high energy and high stress activities that go along with the celebration of Christmas. Since becoming Catholic in 1999, my family has learned to embrace the fullness of these weeks before December 25th because we have discovered Advent. For those of you who are not Catholic, allow me to briefly explain the difference. (Don’t leave yet, this blog won’t stay heavy for long.) Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Sure, it’s been commercialized with the jolly man in the red suit, but most people understand the true meaning of our celebration. But for Catholics, the celebration of the birth of Christ begins on December 25th, not the weeks before. From Thanksgiving to Christmas is a time called Advent. In this time we focus on preparing ourselves to receive the Christ child into our hearts. Though Advent is filled with great celebrations and excitement, it can be experienced in a similar way as Lent, before Easter. I have come to cherish the focused readings and prayers that lead up to the grand party of Christmas.
Now that said, I am not a scrooge. I LOVE Christmas in all it’s expressions. I have found that my family has been able to balance the holy reverence with the childish magic that seems to permeate this time of year. My little kids believe in Santa. We hang stockings, make cookies, move an Elf around the house, sing Christmas carols and fill the ground under a lit tree with colorful presents. Yet, we still know how to pray and offer works of mercy. My older children look back with great pleasure at the experiences they had in both the magical and holy moments of Christmas.
A few years ago, I wanted to make my attention of Advent a bit more organized. I created an “Advent board”. To keep it simple, I started the Advent count down on December 1st. I planned activities for each day of the month. This was a HUGE success! In this blog, I wanted to share with you some moments from past years and give you the agenda I have created for this year’s Advent.
This is the board I created about 3 years ago, followed by the next year’s display. I filled each bag with the contents needed for the activity of that evening. As you can see, some where much more involved than others. In these bags were books, movies, supplies to make S’mores, craft supplies, and decks of cards. Each evening after dinner, the kids couldn’t wait to open the bag and see the surprise within. I kept a master list hidden in the kitchen so I knew what was going to happen each night. This whole process took me weeks to organize and put together. The following year was a bit more relaxed, but still required me to hide a box of supplies that were going to be used each night.
Here are some snap shots of the memorable moments that were created for the sweet hearts of my children.
Making cards to take to nursing home. Making napkin rings to use for Christmas breakfast.
Family game night Stringing popcorn for the tree
Decorating a gingerbread house Wrapped boxes of goodies to give to our neighbors
Making our own trail mix from a selection of treats Making paper mache covered ornaments
This year I came close to not doing this. My kids had asked several times and I told them that I would probably not have it in me because of the move and the chaos of project after project. But then, the spirit of the season struck me and I couldn’t resist.
My original Advent board did not make the move. The clips fell off and the paint chipped; therefore, I had to rethink the form in which I was going to present them with their nightly activity. Well, luckily, I happened into a Target one day (on the hunt for my favorite iced coffee) and I glanced at the dollar section. I found cute little draw string bags for a dollar a piece. I knew right then and there what I was going to do. Here is this year’s Advent calendar.
As you can see, the bags are not big enough to hold vast supplies; therefore, I just printed out little clues telling the children what the activity will be. I have shopped for my supplies and will store them in a hidden box. I originally thought I would make a scavenger hunt for each activity, but alas, my exhaustion took over, and I decided to keep it simple. Maybe next year I will include a scavenger hunt.
Another difference for this year is the inclusion of this book.
I like the simple one page reflections. I think (or more accurately, hope) that my kids are old enough to sit through a little reading and simple prayer before breaking out the bags.
Below is the list of this year’s Advent activities. A few are family favorites, so they get included each year, such as the dance party, family game night, and making snowflakes.
Advent Activities 2015:
1. Choose secret Santas, make popcorn and watch a Christmas movie.
2. This is my son’s birthday, so we will have a small birthday party for him.
3. Write letters to Santa.
4. Make sugar cone Christmas Trees. http://www.freefunchristmas.com/christmas-recipes/christmas-tree-cones-recipe/
5. Family game night
6. Make paper snowflakes
7. Christmas movie night.
8. Christmas story night.
9. Homemade hot chocolate and marshmallows. (making homemade is much more interesting than opening a paper packet. I have also wanted to try making homemade marshmallows, so this gives me a good opportunity to do it.)
10. Make twig tree ornaments. (possibly to give away later)
11. String popcorn for the tree
12. Ice skating
13. Dance party (literally, we just plug in some fun tunes and dance away for about 15 minutes, or until the adults collapse.)
14. Make homemade egg nog and watch a Christmas movie.
15. Read Christmas books.
16. Make Christmas treats (not sure of which recipe). I will allow them to partake in a few, but they will be told that most of them will be given away.
17. Deliver treats to shut ins.
18. Christmas shopping as a family to get our Secret Santa gifts from 5 Below.
19. Candy cane hunt. (It’s like an Easter egg hunt, but with candy canes.)
20. Call grandparents. (We usually try Skype if we can)
21. Family game night.
22. Wrap our Secret Santa gifts.
23. Book and movie night.
24. We save our favorite movie for this night and we chow down on the delectable treats I had spent the day baking.
Like I had said earlier, we start the night with a reflection and prayer. Of course, I know my family well enough to know that some of these prayer times will be loud, non-reverent, and even cut short. Life happens, we must go with the flow. Also, I am not that neurotic of a type A to have to stick to my agenda. I have been known to switch bags at the last minute due to a change in our schedule. Furthermore, you can see that I have mixed in easy nights with more energetic nights. There is no way I could maintain a high energy of productivity for 24 days straight. As for the movies, I have collected my favorites over the years. In these days, when Christmas movies are played over and over all day long on TV, I have to fight hard to hold them back. I want to enjoy these classics as a family. They were such a part of my childhood and I want them to be remembered as special moments for my children’s too. It’s the same with Christmas books. I save them for special evenings. Again, the moments of intimacy as a family are what I am looking for, not necessarily the literary exposure.
Through my years of self discovery, I have come to recognize myself as an adventurer. I love experiencing things. I would much rather be out doing something than reading about it or watching it on TV. This need for experiences shows up in my motherhood. I desire my kids to have memories connected with experiences and magical moments, and I want to be found in those memories as much as possible.
I hope you find this information helpful. Even though you may reading this after the month has started, you can still make it work. As I always say, “Something is better than nothing.”
To all of you and your families, I wish you a happy Advent, followed by a joyous Christmas season. May you find peace, hope and love. May your evenings be filled with a bit of magic, mingled with holy reverence for this special season. God Bless.