Sunday, November 24, 2013

Advent Preparations

Can you believe this week is Thanksgiving week?!  And this year Thanksgiving falls late, so Advent starts in one week.  One week.  When I realized this on Friday, I also realized I needed to get to work on planning our Advent activities!

Advent is a big deal around here.  This will be our third year using our Advent bags.  Two years ago I made 25 small fabric bags (I don't know why, but I included one for Christmas morning also).  I intended to add felt numbers to them, but the thought of cutting out that many numbers isn't all that appealing to me, not to mention all the other crafts going on around the holidays...so needless to say it's not happening again this year.  We pin each bag on a piece of rope and each morning we take an activity out of a bag.  The first year the activities were very simple since the kids were only one and two, but last year we did a lot more crafting activities.  I didn't want our countdown to just be a small piece of candy or include 24 small junky toys.  I wanted the activities to inspire giving, creativity, and the spirit of the holidays. 

 
This year Mannchen and Töchterchen are more capable artistically and in other ways and we're in a new location, so I've kept a few favorites, but also made quite a few changes.  We will not visit Santa this year.  I have no problem with the kids believing in Santa - I love the element of magic and wonder he adds to the holidays.  What I don't like is he becomes a symbol of wanting/wishing/begging for more material gifts.  I think too much focus on Santa and the gifts he's going to bring detracts from more important aspects of the season - the birth of Christ, giving to those in need, and spreading our joy.  Besides, our kids think Santa only brings one gift to each child and I'm trying to keep out influences that ask "What do you want for Christmas?", after which they respond with one item, and then the adult follows up with, "That's it?  What else?".  Sorry folks, money doesn't grow on trees and that's not what Christmas is all about.

Another thing we've changed this year is we will only put our homemade ornaments on the Christmas tree.  Since we are in a small apartment, I thought it would make the set-up/clean-up easier if almost all our decorations and ornaments are ones that we will make as the season progresses.  When we celebrate Epiphany, we won't have much to pack away (my least favorite part). 

Without further delay, here is the list for this year:

1 - Decorate for Christmas! (i.e. Put up the tree and lights)

2 - Make Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments.  This is an activity we've done since year one.  We keep it a little bit more simple than Martha - just cut out various Christmas shapes and leave them plain.  My sweet friend Elizabeth introduced this craft to us and it is delightful.  While the ornaments bake in the oven, the entire house (or compact apartment) is filled with a wonderful Cinnamon aroma.

3 -  Spread Christmas cheer with a random act of kindness.  I still haven't decided what we will do, but it will probably involve sharing baked goods or purchasing an Angel Tree gift.

4 - Make Gingerbread cookies.  We will use some to make our Gingerbread mobiles and we will decorate some for St. Nicholas.

5 - Make snowflake ornaments.  I wouldn't say this was an all time favorite, but it was simple and I happen to have all the supplies leftover from last year.

6 - St. Nicholas Day!  It also happens to be the Christmas parade.  We will go to the parade, then come home to read St. Nicholas stories, drink hot chocolate, and leave St. Nicholas and his horse cookies.  The kids also put out their shoes and a letter for St. Nicholas.  During the night, he comes and leaves a small gift for each of them and a reminder to spread love and share their giving spirit all season long.

7 - Make Gingerbread Houses.  Last year my MIL gave us two kits.  The kits were very convenient, but we may strike out on our own this year and make them from scratch.  I highly recommend having the house pre-made and just letting the little ones decorate it.  The prep work was fun to do with the hubby.

8 - Make outdoor ice ornaments like these or these.

9 - String together a button garland or felted wool ball garland (if I can find our already made wool balls).

10 - Make salt dough ornaments.  We make the ornaments in the morning and paint them in the afternoon.

11 - Make natural garlands using cranberries, apples, and oranges.

12 - Birdseed birdfeeders using apples and pinecones.

13 - Beeswax dipped pinecones

14 - Another random act of kindness day

15 - Beeswax star bunting

16 - Handprint nativity craft...because you need at least one handprint craft each year to look back on years from now and remember how sweet and little their hands once were.

17 - Make Grandparent gifts - no peeking Oma, Mimi, Baba or Papa!!!!  This is a bit ambitious for one day, so maybe I should say we are going to start making this gift!  Luckily tomorrow is a low key day, so it can carry over from one day to the next.

18 - Make hot chocolate "to-go" and drive around looking at Christmas lights

19 - Make holiday soaps.  We have a wide variety of essential oils, but the peppermint and rosemary is a favorite during the holidays.

20 - Visit a live Nativity

21 - Celebrate the winter solstice!  I haven't completely settled on what our traditions surrounding the solstice will be but I think it may include ice lanterns (make them in the morning, use them in the evening), take a hike (to soak in the winter weather), and a warm hearty soup/stew for dinner.

22 - Make a snowman pizza and watch a Christmas movie. 

23 - Make Gingerbread pancakes and wrap family gifts...or if we had skip any other days, make up for it today

24 - Bake Christmas cookies and open an early gift (Christmas PJs, a book, and maybe Christmas mugs if I can find child size ones at the thrift store by then).

25 - CHRISTMAS!!! and family time!

Sometimes life gets the best of us and I have to go easy on myself for a day here and there.  Last year I realized planning ahead helped a ton, but there are still unexpected difficult days.  On those days I'm thankful my kids can't read and I can swap out the planned activity for something easier (like hot chocolate with LOTS of marshmallows! or go to the library and find as many Christmas books as possible or make Christmas pancakes for dinner).  But all in all, this is quickly becoming my favorite part of the holiday season and I love the memories we are making!
 
How do you celebrate Advent and the holiday season?  I'd love to hear about your family's traditions.  Do you celebrate St. Nicholas Day or the Winter solstice?  If so, how do you set those days apart from the rest of the seasonal excitement?