Counting Down to Christmas

When I was a kid my mom made a lovely advent calendar that hung on our wall. There were 25 small rings and from each dangled a treat or a small wrapped toy for me to open daily as we counted down to Christmas. I loved this tradition, and was thankful my mom saved that sweet calendar for me years after I'd outgrown it.

A few years back, when my daughters were 3 and 1, I decided it was high-time we start an advent countdown ourselves. That year we were temporarily residing with my mother-in-law, so unfortunately my homemade calendar was tucked away in storage. So instead I found an idea in the blogosphere, and was able to recreate it with some cheap brown paper sacks, ribbon, and a free printable for the numbers.

Every morning the girls loved going downstairs to open the day's bag as each contained a treat, a small present (one for each girl), or a slip of paper detailing a fun activity we'd do that day. It was a fun way to be intentional with them as we celebrated all-month long, and kept my sanity when my oldest kept asking "how many days until Christmas?"

The following year we were happily back in Kitsap County, and in our own home. Christmas decorations came out of storage, and with them, that advent calendar! But as I prepped that year, I realized how hard it would be to hang 2 treats/toys on each day, and I still wanted to include some days with activities. 

So I created a small bag of treats for each girl, and hung little wrapped tags on each hook. Some tags said "gift bag" and others had activities written. When that day was a gift day, each girl would go to her bag and select a toy to unwrap. Brilliant.

Except, it wasn't. I was so discouraged at how sad the girls would get on "activity" days because they didn't get a present, or how they would fight when the present selected by one child wasn't the same or "as good" as the one selected by the other. And while the calendar helped the girls know "how many days until Christmas", it really only discouraged me when it came to how we were celebrating that month.

So the following year, I got rid of the gifts and treats and ONLY had activities. I bought some small clothes pins, printed out 25 activities, and made myself a master calendar. The nice thing about the clothespins: when something didn't work out for a particular day (like when one girl got sick and we couldn't go see Santa that day), I would be able to shift some things around before they opened the paper for that day. 

It wasn't hard to come up with 25 activities: the internet (and pinterest!) is full of great lists. (I'll put mine at the bottom.) Some activities were small (color a Christmas picture, have hot cocoa) and others took more planning (make a gift for your teacher, visit Santa). 

The other day, as we talked about the upcoming Christmas season at dinner, the girls both got excited about their countdown calendar. They started listing out all the fun things we would do as a family: memories we would make together as we celebrated these traditions. And it made my mama heart grow two sizes larger.

It took a little doing, a little trial and error, but I think we've got one tradition to keep.

What about you? What are your "countdown" plans this year? Chime in with a comment below.

If you're looking to start your own countdown tradition, here are a few great calendars you can create...

Marcia mentioned in her talk the simple idea of using socks and clothespins to create a Christmas countdown. Adorable and easy!

Here are some more cute (and easy!) countdown ideas that include a little treat or activity.

Advent Christmas Countdown Calendar (includes free printable!)

Not interested in doling out treats or attempting 25 activities? How about these simple countdown alternatives?

Fabric Christmas Countdown Chain (or just make a paper one!)

Santa Beard (glue on a cotton ball for each day)

Here is my 2012 activity list. I took advantage of a few parties we were invited to, and included those on the list. I knew my husband was going to be gone for a few days, so worked that into the fun. (Yes, we had dinner out one night while he was away. And yes, that definitely served two purposes!) This year my kiddos are in school for the first couple weeks in December, so I'm sure we'll make our activities low-key on school nights. And I'll be sure to consult the newspaper for ideas of fun and cheap (or free!) events to take the kids to as well.

Saturday, 12/1 - Pick out our tree!
Sunday, 12/2 – tree lighting at church
Monday, 12/3 – set up our Christmas village
Tuesday, 12/4 – Eat dinner out and have a special dessert
Wednesday, 12/5 – Make Christmas crafts/decorations
Thursday, 12/6 – Decorate Papa’s desk. Surprise!
Friday, 12/7 – Write letters to Santa Claus
Saturday, 12/8 – TWO Christmas Parties!
Sunday, 12/9 – Port Gamble Country Christmas
Monday, 12/10 – Make gifts for teachers
Tuesday, 12/11 – Buy a new Christmas Book
Wednesday, 12/12 – Make wrapping paper
Thursday, 12/13 – gingerbread house decorating!
Friday, 12/14 – check out Christmas lights
Saturday, 12/15 – make a present for your sister
Sunday, 12/16 – What to do with our $5? How can we serve others today?
Monday, 12/17 – Time to decorate cookies!
Tuesday, 12/18 – Make snowman pancakes for dinner, eat in our PJ’s
Wednesday, 12/19 – Pick out a present for baby sister
Thursday, 12/20 – YFC Foster Care Christmas Party
Friday, 12/21 – Family Movie night! Christmas movie, of course
Saturday, 12/22 – Christmas carol to the neighbors (and bring them gifts too)
Sunday, 12/23 – Act out Christmas story
Monday, 12/24 – open one present early, Mama & Papa get to pick, Christmas Eve service, picnic in front of the tree

Deanna Gemmer is a busy wife, Mama, foster Mama, photographer, writer, crafter, MOPS publicity team-er, and follower of Jesus. She used to write regularly at her blog, This Could Take All Day, but lately the posting has been less-than-regular. She blames that on three little people whom she adores.


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