Five years ago, I enlisted my creative friend, Brooke to join me in a crafting adventure. I cannot sew to save my life, but I’ve been known to make curtains and entire Halloween costumes with a hot glue gun. Sometimes, you work with what you’ve got. Am I right? Brooke and I had a vision for our Advent calendar. I wanted it to be meaningful, and she would be able to guide me as we turned my ideas and my roll of felt into something beautiful.
I showed up to her house with my glue gun, some ribbon, and the infant I was nursing after we’d both put our preschool aged children to bed. Brooke had purchased the most festive red and green fabrics! We had a wonderful time piecing our Advent Calendars together while eating something yummy from Brooke’s kitchen. In retrospect, I don’t remember what she cooked at all, but it was likely homemade soup or cinnamon rolls from scratch. Soup, I think. Brooke was always feeding me soup in that season of our lives.
I had plans to make every Advent season so elaborate as my children grew, but I only knew life as a mom of preschoolers and babies. At the time, I didn’t know life as the mom of school-aged children. While I, once, may have envisioned that Christmas would be most special if our traditions were elaborate, I now know that Christmas is most special if our family traditions are simple. I have learned the art of slow and the beauty of a simple Advent Calendar.
Even now, I’m reluctant to add one more thing to your to-do list as I tell you about my Advent calendar, my Jesse Tree, or my favorite Christmas Devotional Book. May I encourage you to pick one special thing? May I encourage you to do only what brings your family joy? Perhaps I can share how you might make this Advent Calendar tradition both simple and sacred for your family.
The physical calendar itself can be done in a variety of ways. I cut 25 squares of fabric, hot glued them on 3 sides (leaving the top open) to a thick piece of red fabric, and added white, foam, number stickers for each day of December. Next, I hot glued the top of the calendar over a dowel rod and attached a long piece of ribbon to the back of the material to slip over a wreath hanger or a nail. Voila!
Pinterest or a quick google search can help you find an easy solution to work with what you have. I’ve seen paper bags, muffin tins, wreaths, and checklists printed from computers. These days, I’d probably just print something off the computer. I crafted our calendar during a season when my children were tiny and I was a stay-at-home mom. It was easy enough for the season I was in at that time, and would probably be impractical in this particular season. There’s grace here, friends. Do what works for you.
The purpose of this calendar reaches far behind the aesthetic appearance. Traditionally, an Advent calendar counts the days from December 1st to Christmas Day. As families, and specifically children, anticipate the days toward Christmas, they may open a flap, box, burst a balloon, or something else that holds a piece of candy or a surprise. I wanted our Advent calendar to be less about what we receive and more about what we experience.
It was my dream that our Advent calendar would prepare room in our hearts and our schedules for more of Jesus, more celebrating His birth, and more loving our neighbor. The calendar hanging on the door of our coat closet would count down the days to Christmas with more giving, more loving, and less of ourselves. It began rather simply and has become more and more simple with every passing year.
In my home, I write Christmas activities on small pieces of computer paper or construction paper. I don’t type them out. This is for my children and my family. It isn’t for Pinterest. My focus is on the functionality and not the perfection. Allow yourself to forget any unnecessary expectations for social media. This is for our own people. Allow it to be simple. I slip the tiny pieces of paper into each individual square for my children to pull out of the pocket on that day of December.
Even simpler, I no longer make up extra activities to “fit into” our already full Christmas schedule. I actually write down the activities on our family’s literal December calendar and add them into the appropriate days of the Advent calendar. For example, our children may have a Christmas program on December 7, so I write “Today’s the Christmas program!” on a piece of paper and put it in the pocket with the number 7. Perhaps, my family has signed up to ring the bell for the Salvation Army with a group from church on December 14. I would write “Ring the bell at Walmart” on a slip of paper and place that inside the pocket marked 14. My husband is our church’s worship pastor, so I always incorporate the annual Christmas Cantata into our Advent calendar. On Christmas Eve, I simply write “Go to Grandma’s House for Christmas!” My husband and I have learned that this Christmas tradition is the most sacred and the most simple if we make it work for our real schedule, which is already full of wonderful Christmas activities in December.
The extra days are my favorites! They are few and far between, so I enjoy adding the special activities to the December evenings that our schedules are free for family time. You might wonder why I wouldn’t want to keep those days open in December, but I actually make those evenings extra restful and peaceful with movie nights such as The Nativity or simple activities like “Drink hot cocoa,” or “Drive around to see Christmas lights on the houses in town while wearing your jammies!”
Even more helpful to the cause, I give myself the freedom to look ahead and switch the day’s activity if I so choose. I’m the parent, after all. Feel free to make a night scheduled for cookie baking into a movie night to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas just because you want a little extra rest. Switch the slips of paper and call it good. Parents get to make these decisions, I tell you.
It was my dream that our Advent calendar would prepare room in our hearts and our schedules for more of Jesus, more celebrating His birth, and more loving our neighbor.”
Here’s an example of the types of activities I write on the white slips of paper for our Advent calendar.
1. Begin reading Advent Devotional at dinner!
2. Ring the bell at Walmart for Salvation Army!
3. Eat cookies and cocoa for dessert!
4. Sing Christmas carols at church today!
5. Preschool Christmas Tree lighting tonight!
6. String popcorn and listen to Christmas tunes!
7. School Christmas Program is tonight!
8. Movie: Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!
9. Make a gingerbread house with brothers!
10. Help Mommy mail the Christmas cards!
11. Christmas Caroling with church friends!
12. Read the Polar Express!
13. Bake Christmas cookies!
14. Decorate Christmas cookies!
15. Deliver Christmas cookies to teachers!
16. Drive to see Christmas lights in jammies!
17. Christmas shopping for bros at Dollar Tree!
18. Popcorn, hot cocoa, and Christmas movie!
19. Christmas Cantata at church
20. Wrap Christmas presents!
21. Family Movie Night: Watch the Nativity!
22. Pack for Christmas!
23. Read a Christmas book!
24. Christmas Eve service with Nana and Pa-pa!
25. Christmas at Grandma and Pa-pa Steve’s house!
Friends, I have had years where I’ve written several slips of paper to say, “Enjoy tonight’s Advent devotion!” I’ve done numerous movie nights: Muppet’s Christmas Carol, The Nativity, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, The Polar Express, Christmas on the Banks of Plum Creek, The Homecoming (Walton Family Christmas), Elf, and a whole collection of Christmas specials recorded onto VHS tapes by my parents in the nineties. Yes. I do watch these every year. Here’s looking at you, Kenny Rogers Christmas in Branson, Barbara Mandrell’s Home for Christmas, and Dolly Parton’s Christmas in Pigeon Forge. If this is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I digress.
Sweet friends, pull your favorite Christmas books and write them on pieces of notebook paper. Turn your busy family calendar into anticipation for the whole family. Use this Advent Calendar as an opportunity to number your days and value the time you’ve been given in this Advent Season.
Make it simple.
Just don’t miss it.
Don’t let the days pass by in a flurry or frenzy.
May this Advent be the most sacred.
From my heart to yours,