Monday, December 12, 2016

Our Plan for a Simple Advent

We're all familiar with the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season and how it basically steals our joy and completely redirects our focus from the real meaning of Christmas - celebrating the arrival of our Savior. When our girls were born, I became determined to instill in them the idea that Christmas is about Jesus, first and foremost. I also want to teach them that it's about giving, caring for others {especially those in need}, and love. We've really enjoyed using an Advent calendar over the past several years to celebrate each day by doing something together as a family. But the last thing I want to do is add to the chaos and scramble of the season by over-scheduling Advent or holding myself to impossible Pinterest-level crafts and activities. Let's face it, those are way more about us than about celebrating Jesus, anyway, aren't they?

To avoid that trap, I've planned a calendar of simple Advent activities for each day so that we're still preparing for the birth of Jesus without sending ourselves {me} into a total frenzy. It's true that some of the things we do require a little planning or purchasing supplies, but many of them are also free and as utterly simple as having a Christmas song dance party or hot cocoa night. While those particular examples are admittedly not entirely Christ-centered, they're still something fun and memorable to do together as a family, which is also an important part of the Christmas for us.

I plan out our simple but meaningful Advent using my super simple and easy-to-make Advent calendar...

It is quite literally a piece of foam board with small envelopes glued to it. {I'm not even giving you a tutorial, because this is NOT Pinterest-level ;) } You can see I fancied it up with some sparkly scrapbook letters to spell "advent" at the top. I pretended the asterisks were snowflakes because my creativity knows no bounds.

I used an elegant command hook to hang ours, because #rentallife.

Since the girls are 1, 3 and 6 our activities are somewhat suited for younger kids, but many of them can be done with kids of any age. As our girls grow up we'll add in more in the way of serving others. Keeping things age-appropriate and in line with the kids' interests is key to keeping them on-board and excited about Advent each day.

Here's our countdown, in the order that we'll complete the activities, since some lend themselves better to being done earlier/later in the season...
25. Write letters to Santa. I like to maintain a format of something you want, need, wear, read. The open letter of "everything I can imagine wanting" sort of steers away from the direction we're trying to take them.
24. Visit Valley View Farms. This is a local nursery/garden center that turns into a Christmas wonderland at the holidays. We wander through looking at all of their dozens of pre-decorated trees and thousands of ornaments. We let each of the girls pick out an ornament for our tree before we leave.
23. Christmas movie night. I do this on Friday nights because that tends to be our family's Friday night go-to activity anyway. We take turns choosing the movie.
22. New Christmas Jammies. It's like a little Christmas present early in the season. Our girls love this tradition.
21. Choose 3 toys to give to needy children. We always need to purge a few toys before Christmas and I love that this gets our girls thinking about others in need.
20. Craft: Gingerbread Garland. Use cookie cutters {or whatever you have} to trace and cut out Christmas shapes on brown paper. String the shapes onto some cute string or ribbon and you're done! 
19. Read Luke Ch.2. We have the Jesus Storybook Bible and really love it for telling stories in a way kids can understand. I chose to do this earlier in the season so we can refer to it as a reminder of why we're celebrating.
18. Nativity Memory game. Found this on Pinterest, and my kids love playing memory. This helps familiarize them with the different people who are part of the original Christmas story.
17. Christmas shopping. Now that 2 of our 3 girls are old enough to understand gift-giving, we like letting them pick out a gift for their sisters. We also have the cousins in our family {13 of them} draw names and choose a gift for each other.
16. Christmas movie night #2. Second Friday night of the season, next person's choice.
15. Read: The Story of Christmas. This is another book that tells the Christmas story in a kid-friendly way.
14. Christmas song dance party. This is a great way to get some of that excited energy out {therefore, you may want to have more than one of these, like once every afternoon?}
13. Make a birthday card for Jesus. After all, his birthday is coming up.
12. Craft: Coffee filter snowflakes. Play some carols while you cut, and make your home feel festive :)
11. Make gifts for grandparents. Grandparents love a hand made gift from their little cherubs, and the children benefit from thinking of putting a smile on their grandparents' faces as they carefully craft something special for them.
10. Hot cocoa night. This is best done by Christmas tree light. Get creative with some yummy add-ins and make it more special than just a cup of Swiss Miss. Play some carols or read special stories and just spend some cozy time together.
9. Christmas movie night #3. Third Friday night of the season, next person's choice.
8. Bake Christmas cookies. This simple tradition is a classic memory-maker for kids. Make some extras, wrap them up and take them to a neighbor or friend!
7. Decorate "trees" at Nana's. We spend Sundays at my mom's with my siblings and their children, so it's fun for the kids to do a little special craft or snack together at the holidays. And what's more festive than decorating a Christmas tree??
6. Craft: "Gingerbread" houses. This is another classic tradition. However, if you don't want your children having all the sugar, you can make them out of cardboard, cotton, gems, beads, and glitter. All the fun without the toothache :)
5. Make a Christmas treat to share. Make or bake a simple treat and take it with you to visit a friend, or drop it off to a neighbor or someone in need.
4. Christmas mani-pedis. We're a girlie household, and mama sells Jamberry, so we love doing our nails for Christmas!!
3. Go see Christmas lights. When I was little my mom always used to take us out on a drive one evening through a bunch of different neighborhoods to check out all the Christmas lights. I always loved that and enjoy taking our girls, too.
2. Read: The Night Before Christmas. I have the actual book that we read when we were little kids, and while this story is not Christ-based, it's still a classic and I love reading it with my girls. One day I look forward to passing the book on to them :)
1. Prepare Christmas breakfast. Since Christmas morning is always such a rush of excitement {though we work really hard at making it calm and peaceful, no one wakes up at 5am or anything like that, and no one goes downstairs without mommy & daddy}, I like to have a special breakfast prepared in advance and ready to pop in the oven before the present-opening even begins. This helps minimize the crazyness and makes sure we have a hot delicious breakfast. The smell of baking cinnamon rolls ain't too bad either! ;)

In the past we've done some other activities like seeing a live nativity and making Christmas cards for soldiers over seas. We may still do some other things like that this year, but I try to change up our plans a little each year. What are your favorite advent activities?

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