As a little girl, I had one of those nets full of stuffed animals hanging in the corner of my room. I can remember laying in bed on many nights afraid to move because I was convinced that once I was asleep they came to life and I wanted to see if it really happened. Of course I could never fool them, so I was never able to prove if they did or not. And porcelain dolls or baby dolls with eyes that open and close? I’m pretty sure they were always watching me and I think I even saw their eyes move and follow me around the room always.
That’s one reason why I could never do the whole Elf on a Shelf thing. Aside from the fact that the dolls creep. me. out, there is no way I would be able to 1.) be creative enough to come up with new ways for the elf to be mischievous each day, and 2.) I would never remember to move it. So in our house, it would become a fixed inanimate object on a shelf, sitting in the exact same spot even past Christmas.
But, when they really started to gain popularity several years ago, I knew I wanted to start a tradition with our kids that they would enjoy, remember, and possibly do with their own children someday.
I scoured Pinterest for days trying to find just the right thing. After what seemed like an eternity, I found a couple different ideas I liked, so I decided to create our own version and combine a couple of the ideas I had come across.
And so our family Advent tradition was born.
To start, I came across THIS Just a Girl blog post where she shared her advent jar. The idea was so simple and adorable, I immediately knew I had to do it too! The calendar uses matchboxes that have been wrapped in scrapbook paper (she also painted the boxes, but I never did ours). To make them, I bought matches, emptied the boxes, and then wrapped them in scrapbook paper.
It’s been at least 6 or 7 years since I made ours (I truly think I did them within a week after seeing that post), and they show some signs of wear on the inner “drawer” part, but the outsides still look great!
Like the original post, our boxes contain family activities inside of them. Each activity is something that doesn’t cost much, but is intended to be something that is out of the ordinary, and is something we can all do together.
While I liked the idea of the activities given in Just a Girl’s post, I wanted more. Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to get bored with things and like to change them up often. I mean, I used to rearrange our living room every couple of months; my husband made me start doing it within a layout program first so it would save time and he wouldn’t have to move things multiple times during the rearrangement. So I knew I wasn’t going to want to use the same small set of activities every year. Thankfully, Pinterest abounds with ideas for these, too. Every year we switch up what we do, with a few favorites that are always present (such as read Christmas stories, family game night, do a Christmas craft, bake Christmas cookies, Christmas movie night, and a few others). Our boxes contain a combination of THESE cards from A Little Delightful and THESE cards from Design Dazzle.
My boys still get super excited to start them. We haven’t made it past Thanksgiving usually when they start asking “when do we start the boxes?” I love that they get so excited! It’s exactly what I had hoped would happen when we started them.
So far this year*, our activities have included:
- Going to a Christmas program.
- Sleep under the Christmas tree.
- Decorate the Christmas tree (Our main one was already up, but so this one was for “mommy’s” tree, which is one I usually do on my own. They were really excited to get to do it for me this year.)
- Read Christmas stories.
- Breakfast for dinner.
- Make a Christmas dessert (we made s’mores mix).
- Play Xbox with daddy on a school night.
- Get Starbucks.
- Make homemade pretzels.
- Make Christmas fudge.
- Christmas movie night.
- Make some Christmas cards.
- 5-minute back rub before bed.
- Dinner from anywhere they choose.
- Attend a Polar Express night out.
- Do some Christmas shopping.
- Nothing. We had an all day Lego League tournament so there wasn’t time. 🙁
- Family game night.
- Make gingerbread houses.
- Make a silly video.
- Look at Christmas lights (our local zoo does a special lights display, so we visited that, too).
- Make some yummy Christmas cookies.
- Open some presents.
*Updated as we go.
Seeing the excitement on their faces when they hear what the activity is never. gets. old.
Since they are a countdown for Advent, I wanted to be sure they also had meaning for why we celebrate Christmas. I came across THIS Happy Home Fairy post that contained a scripture countdown to Christmas. Her free printable scripture cards were perfect for inside of the boxes! It was exactly the extra addition I was looking for our boxes. Keeping the focus on why we celebrate Christmas, and what gives Christmas it’s meaning, is extremely important to my husband and me. This very point was the inspiration for the free printable at the bottom of the page.
Now that the three olders all read, they rotate who gets to read the scripture and who gets to read the activity.
If I were to go back and do it all over again, I would choose this “calendar” and countdown all over again. If you follow me on social media, then you saw my handpainted tin I made to hold the boxes this year (and if you don’t follow me, feel free to check out the Instagram post in the sidebar). We had been using the same little metal plate for all of these years, but we’ve had so many near misses with lost boxes that I knew as soon as I saw the tin that with a little time investment it would be the perfect container for them. I took a few hours and an idea and painted the advent wreath, with a baby Jesus in the manger instead of the final candle. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out!
The one thing I would change, though, is to purchase empty matchboxes; here we are 6-7 years later and I still have a hoard of matches from when I bought them to make our boxes. I also thought it might be cute to decorate them with Washi tape instead of scrapbook paper, but I don’t have any idea how well that would hold up in the long run. If this is an idea you’re interested in doing, I’ve included some links to products I’d suggest using below.
Have you ever stopped to think about the way that Christmas and Easter are both so vitally important? It’s kind of like the age old “which came first” question regarding chickens and eggs. Without the chicken, there are no eggs, and without eggs, there are no chickens. The same is true with Christmas and Easter. Take one away, and the entire Gospel message changes, and even loses all meaning. So I turned one of my own quotes on the topic into a printable, which I am sharing with you below. Simply click the image of the version you’d like, and the full size printable version will open in a new tab.
So what about you and your family? What Advent or Christmas traditions do you have?