Christmas...what other holiday evokes more anticipation in children and nostalgia in adults?! For many of us, this is the most exciting time of the year! For kids, it's that one time a year where they're showered with presents up to their ears, eagerly anticipate the arrival of a chubby beared man dressed in red, and have an enormous number of days off of school! Who wouldn't love it?! But after all those things come to an end, what are we left with? Bags of garbage filled with boxes and wrapping paper that was ripped off of presents at lightning speed, toys that may or may not have been neglected after a few uses, and bills piled upon bills from all those presents we thought our kids absolutely needed to have.
As a mother of two young children, I get it-- we want this time of year to be memorable, fun, and exciting for our children because the joy we see in their eyes creates such a fond feeling of nostalgia of the times when we were younger and felt that same eager innocence. It's one of the greatest gifts of being a mother-- to see my children light up with happiness. But there's got to be more to Christmas than oodles of presents and magical flying reindeer, right??
There is! And that something is someone who will not be gone after Christmas day is over or leave us disappointed that we didn't get just one more item on our Christmas list. It's easy for me to get caught up in all the busyness that Christmas brings-- planning out my list of to-do's and gifts to buy, wondering if we got enough presents for our kids, and trying to cram as many Christmas activities and parties into those few weeks leading up to Christmas. In the midst of it all, I have to stop and remind myself that all of these traditions and activities are not wrong, but if I neglect to remember the true reason why we even have such a joyous holiday, then the point of Christmas is merely lost-- it's through Jesus' birth that we can celebrate Christmas and carry that joy with us all year long.
So what is Advent Season and an Advent Calendar? Advent comes from the Latin word that means "coming". In the Christian church, this is a time of preparation and waiting for the birth of Jesus. There are many different ways to celebrate Advent, but one common way for children to recognize and celebrate this season is to do an Advent Calendar. Of course the Advent calendars where children open a piece of chocolate each day are a lot of fun, but the calendar that we started doing goes beyond that and incorporates bible verses of the nativity story along with a special activity or experience each day, starting with December 1 and ending on Christmas. Each of the 25 bags are filled with a bible verse card that is simple and easy for young children to understand and learn. These are the verses we use. In future years we'll incorporate longer passages each day, but for a three-year's limited attention span and understanding of tricky terms, I think we'll stick with the basics! To make an advent calendar, you'll just need 25 bags, boxes, or something else small that you place that day's item in. I used small brown bags and glued these number cards on the front. Then I hung the bags on twine with little clothes pins and strung them on an old window frame. There are so many neat ideas of how to set up an Advent Calendar, just take a look on Pinterest!
In addition to learning a verse each day, we've also included a fun item, activity, or experience that adds to the excitement of celebrating the season. I should note that we are not against Santa, but feel as if the main focus should be on celebrating Christ, so none of these activities include Santa. I came up with each day's special item by thinking about what I remembered doing at Christmas time when I was young, searching around for local activities and events going on in the community, and LOTS and LOTS of Pinterest searching! Some days involve a little prep work with getting a craft or activity ready, and others are more simple. Do what works best for your family and schedule, where each day is not burdensome but rather a chance to build excitement and engagement with the nativity story and anticipate the coming of Christ. Here's a list of what we are planning for our 2018 Advent Calendar with a one and three year old. Throughout December I'll share some highlights of how we do our Advent Calendar on my Instagram stories. You can follow along with me @molliedonghia.
December 1- Manheim tree lighting in the town square
December 2- Open a new Christmas book- The Story of Christmas: Story Book Set & Advent Calendar- I liked this one because each day there's a little book to read and then your child can hang the book on the tree as an ornament. This could even be a stand alone Advent Calendar if you wanted to keep it more simple!
December 3- Make a "Countdown to Christmas" paper chain
December 4- Make and decorate Christmas cookies with cousins
December 5- Paint glass ball ornaments for the kid's tree- Not sure how this one will go, but we'll give it a try! We'll use these glass balls from Hobby Lobby, paint, and some glitter.
December 6- Christmas movie night with a hot chocolate bar- I found this cute idea of adding a hot chocolate bar here!
December 7- Make a nativity scene- I found these nativity foam stickers at Hobby Lobby for less than $3.
December 8- Elizabethtown Library Christmas Train Display and hot chocolate at Folklore Coffee Shop- We saw this train display when we were first married and lived in E-town and know the kids would love it! Check the calendar here for their dates and hours. And of course hot chocolate at one of our favorite coffee shops afterwards!
December 9- Make and decorate salt dough ornaments
December 10- Make a star ornament for the tree- We're going to do this simple ornament with beads, pipe cleaners, and a bell this year.
December 11- Open a new Christmas book- Everyone Is Invited to Christmas- This is such a sweet story about a raccoon who feels different from everyone else but learns that the best part of Christmas is finding the warmth of Jesus' love and friendship. The text is very relatable for young children.
December 12- Hand out Christmas cards and cookies to our neighbors
December 13- Trip to the Great Wolf Lodge!- Since we're not getting our kids big gifts for Christmas, we thought this would be a fun family trip that they both would love!
December 14- Christmas movie night with a hot chocolate bar
December 15- Visit a live nativity scene- I haven't found many local ones but the one we're planning on going to this year is at Faith Baptist Church in Lebanon on December 15 & 16
December 16- Make gingerbread houses
December 17- Make a stained glass nativity ornament- This ornament is really pretty and Sophie would be able to do most of it herself. If you don't have contact paper, wax paper works too.
December 18- String popcorn and cranberries on pine trees for the birds- I remember doing this as a kid and loving it! Not sure how the actual threading of the popcorn and cranberries with a needle is going to go, but we'll try it!
December 19- Donate canned goods to a food pantry
December 20- Visit Koziar's Christmas Village- I remember going here in high school and think the kids would enjoy it! I heard it gets super full and there is a long line to get in, so make sure you arrive early or avoid weekends!
December 21- Sleep underneath the Christmas tree in sleeping bags
December 22- Drive around to see Christmas lights
December 23- Christmas service at church
December 24- Candlelight service with family
December 25- Sing happy birthday to Jesus!- We'll do a nice breakfast on Christmas morning and incorporate a little birthday party into it with party hats and candles!