I’ve been searching for meaning. Meaning in a season that seems to revolve around Santa, elves that do the parenting for you for a few weeks, spending money you may or may not have, stress, weight gain, zero downtime, and a lot of musts and shoulds and expectations. I know that it’s supposed to be magical, but it hasn’t felt that way for me for a long time. Christmas seems less about Christ’s birth than ever. Ask my husband and he’ll give you a spiel about Paganism, Saturnalia, fire hazards and lying to your kids about a fat man breaking into your house. Sorry for anyone who has been to a Christmas cocktail party with him in the last, er, lifetime, he can be a bit of a (historically accurate) buzz kill.
When I had children, I resolved to resolve some of the inner turmoil I was feeling. I felt that, in order to be a good parent, I had to really believe in the season, and strive to create traditions for them that would feel like…home. I wanted to be able to explain to my kids why we celebrate the way we do, and why we are celebrating in the first place.
Whether you eat braised short rib lasagna on Christmas Eve (looking at you Gina, and wow was that a Christmas Eve to remember), or Chinese food after Mass, or whether your traditions revolve around Santa, cookies, Jesus, elaborate gifts or more, your traditions must mean something to you. You must be able to defend them.
Why are those traditions important to you?
Growing up, Advent was synonymous with a chocolate calendar with little perforated doors. My sister and I alternated days of putting that little wafer of molded milk chocolate on our tongues. When I started my own my family, I identified Advent as a season of anticipation, and I have always been an anticipation-junkie.
For me, waiting for a vacation, or anticipating a reunion has always been as sweet to me as the actual event, so it makes sense that Zac and I have centered our traditions around Advent, as a way to reconnect around the values that matter most to us: togetherness, undivided attention, quality experiences, memory making and giving back to the people who hold up our little family.
Your calendar can be elaborate, it can be virtual, or it can be a small DIY project that you put together during a naptime. My friend Starr has an Advent calendar that is an elaborate wood structure, hand-painted, a work of art. My friend Katharina has a gold and white inspired tree with sachets attached that glitters in the way only German Chirstmas decor can do. My friend Megan made one herself that matches her stunning winter white and gold decor scheme. My sister-in-law Carey made one from solo cups once that inspired me before I even had kids. Mine is from Pottery Barn kids, and takes two seconds to hang and fill with paper. Because our advent season centers around experiences, I don’t need for it to hold much.
What follows is a template for advent, should you choose to take on this tradition with your family. You can mix and match these to create a calendar that works for you and your family, and I’ll let you in on a secret, you can switch up the papers/days as the month goes along – the key is being flexible. This is not meant to be something that adds a lot of extra work to your plate – if it does, it shouldn’t be a tradition in your family. I want you to revel in your traditions, question them, reform them so they constantly work for you, and include your family in them as much as you can as they grow. As a mama, it can feel like the work of the holidays falls straight onto your shoulders alone, and that can be really lonely.
The mix that I’ve come up with has 6 categories. Use these 6 categories to choose your activities, and assign them to days. If you are working parents with kids in school, the bulk of your experiences will fall during the weekends, where the weekday activities will be light. If you are home with kids all day and looking for ideas, you may center more of your experiences during the week and keep the weekends light, as holiday month weekends are always busy on their own. As the month goes on, you can always adjust these. In our home, the majority of our celebrating will be done in the days leading up to Christmas, and the day itself will be mostly lazy, with 1-2 gifts, and a lot of snuggling and eating, playing and FaceTiming with family.
- Making Things: clove oranges, popcorn garlands, cotton ball snowmen, homemade snow globes, cutting snowflakes, signing Christmas cards, coloring wrapping paper, painting ornaments, watercolor place card settings, or any number of crafty crafts you can find – this is not my forte, but I can google stuff and if it’s not too messy, I can roll with it. I love to host these as play dates so there are more adults around and the supplies can cover multiple kiddos
- Baking Things: holiday appetizers (to be frozen and popped in the oven for impromptu guests), your family’s favorite cookie, classic sugar cookies, instant pot lemon curd, freezer biscuits, monkey bread for Christmas morning, rolling pigs in a blanket, making egg nog, making a gingerbread house or scene
- Giving Things: cookies for the mailman, goodies for the UPS/FedEx delivery men, teacher gifts, assembling kits for the homeless, shopping for kids for the Angel Tree, sending care packages to the military stationed abroad, delivering gifts to those in need, volunteering at a local shelter
- Dollar Store Things: dollar store, dollar section at Target – I’m talking stickers, window decals, light up necklaces, gold chocolate coins, coloring books,
- Big Days Out: tickets to see the Nutcracker, plans to see a Christmas parade, attending a Christmas concert, caroling, a wagon stroll to see Christmas lights, visiting Santa, attending a live Nativity, ice skating
- Chill Nights In: decorating the Christmas tree, unwrapping and setting up the Nativity, opening up the box of Christmas books, reading Twas the Night Before Christmas, watching a Christmas movie with popcorn, dancing in the house to Christmas movie
Here are a few of our Advent highlights from last year:
Opening new ornaments
Making a Christmas appetizer together
Holiday cookie baking (peppernuts!)
Wrapping for military kids
Caroling at a Nursing Home
Seeing Madeline’s Christmas
Making pine cone ornaments
Hot Chocolate for breakfast
Holiday Light Stroll
Ornament Making with friends
Seeing the Nutcracker
If you’ve read this far, hopefully you’re thinking about the traditions that are important to you, and if Advent is the one that resonates with you, I hope you’re inspired by these ideas. I’d love to hear how you anticipate Christmas in a meaningful way – let me know in the comments or on the Facebook Page.