Advent is Latin for “coming”. Originally used by Christians to mean “the coming of Christ”, it is now widely used as the countdown to Christmas/winter festivities – whatever your beliefs.
When I was a child, we had cardboard advent calendars that we opened to reveal a different picture each day. The calendar was usually a beautiful illustration of the nativity. It was very exciting to guess what would be behind each window. A simpler time!
Chocolate advent calendars made an appearance when I was around the age of ten. These were the topic of many a playground discussion. What was the picture on the front? Which brand of chocolate was it? How many did you have? Yes, that’s right – some people had more than one calendar! For counting down to the same day multiple times! It was the rise of commercialism at its best.
Fast forward to 2017 and advent calendars take whatever form you can think of – luxury chocolate, candles, Lego, makeup. Some cost more than we would spend on the average Christmas present. Just for counting down to the actual day!
Some are lots of fun and, depending on the contents, can be worth the spend. We bought our biggest ray a Playmobil pirate one when he was five. We had earned vouchers for an online shop that we had to use (they had an expiry date) and as he had been given the Playmobil pirate ship for Christmas the previous year, we thought it would add to his playset. Behind each door were things like little gold nuggets, a small rowing boat, and (my favourite) a message in a bottle. He still has everything from the calendar, and now his sisters play with the set too.
Although we all enjoyed opening the calendar, I’m not sure it’s something we would have bought if we hadn’t had the vouchers. We’re all big Lego fans in this house, and have looked at their range, but they are so expensive. With four children, it would cost us over £100 in advent calendars if we were to go ahead!
The latest trend is to make your own calendar. These take many different forms – boxes with a little drawer for each day; small bags; stockings; crackers. The idea is that you fill them with whatever takes your fancy. Some people stick with chocolate, others with small themed gifts. I saw a picture of a beautiful calendar this year that was made up of lovely paper bags, filled with the gorgeous Ostheimer wooden toys. So beautiful, but again, so expensive. Especially if you have more than one child. DIY advent calendars are a lovely sentiment, but the price can quickly spiral. If money wasn’t an issue, I’d do it every year, but sadly that’s not the case.
Before we had children, I bought a fill-it-yourself advent calendar. It consists of a wooden Santa and has lots of hooks, which hold twenty four little red felt bags. For the first couple of years, it was just my husband and I. We would buy a big tub of chocolates and put two in each bag. The year our biggest ray had the Playmobil calendar, we set up the DIY one with a Duplo set for our biggest-middle. Each day she got to build up another part of the set. We reverted back to the generic bought chocolate advent calendars after that, but this year I wanted to move away from them.
I decided to pull out the wooden Santa one again, but what to fill it with? After a lot of pondering, I decided that instead of filling the bags with sweets/gifts, it would be nice to write out a Christmas activity for each day. Something that we could do as a family. My reasons for this were twofold:
- It would reinforce the idea that Christmas isn’t all about receiving.
- We could have family time, doing some of the activities that we mean to do every year, but never get round to.
We explained our idea to the children, and rather than be disappointed that they wouldn’t be getting their daily chocolate fix after breakfast, they were really excited about it. It was definitely a proud parent moment! My husband and I set to work, thinking up different activities/tasks to write down, and working out which days to match each one to. This was vital in ensuring that we would complete each day’s task, as we didn’t want to miss doing one because we had a busy day. For example, on Wednesdays after school our biggest ray has his swimming lesson, so we couldn’t do anything that would take up lots of preparation or time to complete on those days.
Our list of festive activities is as follows:
- Watch A Muppets Christmas Carol. (A firm favourite in our house, plus my in-laws were seeing the play in London that night -it seemed appropriate that we watch it too.)
- Make a Christmas stocking decoration. (We used patterned paper, oil pastels and felt-tipped pens.)
- Make snowflakes. (White paper, blue tissue paper and glow-in-the-dark paint.)
- Draw your own Christmas comic. (These are likely to be ongoing throughout the festive period – my kids like details!)
- Finger painted robins.
- Write three goals for 2018. (Good for sparking ambition!)
- Watch Elf. (First week in December – it has to be done!)
- Watch The Grinch. (Plus celebrate Mr Sunbeam’s birthday!)
- Visit Santa. (The children don’t know about about this yet, so we thought it was a good way to surprise them.)
- Make a wintry picture.
- Bake Christmas biscuits. (We have the IKEA 3D biscuit cutters for this.)
- Make a Santa picture. (Paint, draw or collage.)
- Write a Christmas wish and perform a wishing spell. (This will be our first ever spell!)
- Make and decorate a 3D Christmas/winter tree.
- Christmas jumper day. (The children will be wearing one to school and then we’ll be going to a pantomime in the community centre at night.)
- Bake and decorate a gingerbread house. (Then eat it!)
- Make yuletide cards.
- Make glittery garlands and hang them up.
- Watch Arthur Christmas.
- Make and drink Christmas mocktails. (My biggest-middle will be in her element!)
- Celebrate the Winter Solstice. (Food, stories and another spell.)
- Bake mince pies. (Then eat them.)
- Make Christmas dinner place cards. (Plus celebrate our littlest-middle ray’s 5th birthday!)
- Hot chocolate and a Christmas film. (Still to be decided – although the three that have been shortlisted are It’s A Wonderful Life, The Polar Express and Miracle on 34th Street.)
Just writing these down again has got me feeling all warm and festive. Plus, there’s so much scope in this list for sharing on future Whimsical Wednesday posts!
What would you include in your advent list? I’d be interested in ideas for next year, as I see this becoming a family tradition. Feel free to share in the comments. Happy festive countdown!