DIY Advent Calendars: Togetherness and Kindness over Chocolate
You may think it’s a little early to be writing about Advent calendars, but I’m trying to really stay on top of things this coming holiday season. Starting at the beginning of December, we have 6 weeks of celebrating. My son’s birthday is December 2nd and then comes Nikolaus (St. Nicholas Day) on the 6th, then of course Christmas and New Years, but we’re not finished yet because my daughter’s birthday is January 14th. I’m determined to not leave planning to the last minute this year!
One of the things I’m thinking about first is Advent calendars since they need to be up by the beginning of December. They are a big deal here in Germany and the typical ones are filled with chocolate or even Legos or Playmobil. Those are fine, but I feel that these six weeks are filled with GET, GET, GET for my kids. It seems that every day they some treat or another at school or one of their sports or activities. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Scrooge. I think it’s nice that everywhere they go they get a little treat. But it’s already so much that I don’t need to add to that by having them open a door filled with chocolate every morning at breakfast. I’d rather have an advent calendar for DOING.
Last year I put together this cute envelope advent calendar and I’m so happy that I can re-use it again this year. The envelopes are numbered 1 to 24 and I fill each one with a little paper that has a Christmas-y activity that we do together each day.
I really mean put it together because I certainly didn’t make these envelopes, I bought the packet on Amazon (here is this year’s version). The woman who makes them has the cutest website called Papierdrachen and tons more similar Advent calendars to fill yourself.
You could fill the envelopes with chocolate or sweets, but as I said above, last year we did the activities and it was really nice so we’re going to do it again this year. I found a great, long list of family activities here and I picked 24 that fit our family. I just printed them out on regular paper and cut them into strips.
The lesson learned from last year is that the simpler, the better. We already have a full schedule and if we try to add something time-consuming or complicated to each day, it just won’t happen and then I’ll feel bad about it. Activities like “Drink hot chocolate” or “Draw and color a winter wonderland” or “Have a dance party to Christmas carols” were the best for busy weekdays. I look at the calendar while I’m filling the envelopes and put activities like “Make Christmas cookies” or “Go ice skating” on the weekend.
I’ll be honest, we weren’t completely successful with it last year. There were days when we didn’t even manage to open the envelope! But life is too busy to aim for perfection. On most days we did the little activity after school or after dinner and it was fun. It was a little bit of family togetherness.
Last year this was a new idea, so of course I put it together spontaneously the night before December 1 (I had ordered the envelopes on Amazon Prime the day before, LOL). This year, since I’m a bit more organized, I am also going to write the activities into my calendar as I fill the envelopes. That way I will have a little overview of what we’re doing that week and can plan ahead, like make sure we have marshmallows if we’re making hot chocolate!
A good friend of mine suggested doing an advent calendar with acts of kindness. I LOVE that idea, but when I looked into ideas for kindness activities I realized this might be more wishful thinking for us than reality. Most examples of nice things to do for others were obviously done outside your home, examples included “Volunteer at a local soup kitchen,” “Take a meal to a family in need,” “Bring cookies to your local fire station.” I love these ideas and would be so happy to do these things with my kids, but realistically these kinds of things will just not happen during the week. There are days when we don’t get home until after 6 pm from sports and then we need to do dinner, homework, baths and get to bed. I was picturing myself making such a calendar and then feeling guilty because we didn’t manage to do the majority of it. Then the kids would lose interest and I’d feel like “Why did I even bother?”
Not one to give up on a good idea, I gave it some thought and came up with another plan. I had bought this cute wall shelf from the Ypperlig collection at IKEA and I was thinking it would be fun to decorate it with kids stuff for Christmas. In addition to Christmas books and decorations, I got the idea to have 4 special bags, one for each Advent weekend leading up to Christmas. Each bag will be filled with a few treats for us and a kindness activity for us to do as a family. I’m thinking of it like a Karma bag: a little getting and a lot of giving. The important thing for us is that it’s realistic: there are just four things to do and it’s done on the weekend when we have more time.
You can see I hung the bags up, but haven’t actually closed them because I haven’t filled them yet. I found some good ideas for acts of kindness here. So far these are my ideas:
-Deliver sweets to fire or police station.
-Make presents and write thank you notes for teachers.
-Write thank you notes and/or give sweets to trash collectors.
-Make Christmas gifts and write letters to all the grandparents.
I want to do a combination of acts of kindness for strangers and people we know (like teachers and grandparents).
I found the bags, stickers and clips at DEPOT. They have everything you need to create any kind of advent calendar.
I realize that doing two different advent calendars is a lot. It’s only because the owl envelopes with the activities was purchased and put together last year and is all set to go this year that I had time to think about doing another one. We’ll see how it goes this year. I don’t have the expectation that we’ll do everything, but even if just on some days we have a little fun and create some memories I will be more than happy.
And if your kids love the chocolate-filled advent calendar, don’t feel like you have to give that up to do one like this. Do them both!
Do you usually have an Advent calendar? I would love to hear what traditions you have with your family during this time of year!