My favorite Christmas memories revolve around our advent calendar. Every night after dinner, we would take turns picking the advent for the day. My mom made our advent super special because instead of getting a piece of chocolate, each advent had a slip of paper with a special activity or surprise on it.
When I was only 7 or 8, I remember that my advent was that I was going to get a surprise the next day. During school, when I came back to my classroom after lunch, there was a paper grocery bag filled with TWO big bags of Cool Ranch Doritos (my favorite). I remember feeling so special and wondering how my mom had managed to get them on my desk!
Another year, after a very difficult move, one of the surprises was my mom checked out me and my best friend, Han Shi, from school to go to lunch. My mom had secretly called Han Shi’s mother (who didn’t speak English, so I imagine that was an interesting conversation) and got her permission. That memory is absolutely burned into my memory since I was was bullied a lot those first few years after our move and that little outing was a huge bright spot in an otherwise terrible school experience.
As we got older, the activities evolved. We could have a friend sleep over, or maybe invite a friend to the movies.
Even after we were grown up and out of the house at college, my mom would mail my brothers and I our own advents every Christmas – all the way until we got married!
Now, I have passed the tradition on to my children, and it is also their favorite part of the Christmas season.
Preparing this advent calendar will take you a couple of hours to do. You will have to sit down with your calendar and plan carefully to make this a success.
I’ll walk you through the process so you can create your own advent calendar!
- Get a blank calendar page – make your own or print one.
- Sit down with your scheduling calendar and your blank calendar. I still use a paper calendar, but most people use their smart phones.
- Divide up the 24 days of advent between your participants. 24 is such a great number because it has so many factors. The only tricky number is 5, so you might want to add an extra person to make it 6 so everyone gets the same number of turns.
- I recommend writing down all of the activities you want to do. For me, all my kids get the same kinds of activities. Since I have 3 kids, I come up with 8 activities and each kid gets to do each activity once.
- Start placing activities on your blank calendar, keeping in mind when they are going to be opening their advent. We open ours after dinner, so if the activity is to pick a movie to watch, I would put that on a Friday so we can go to Redbox on Saturday. Most of my activities are for the next day. Some exceptions are “Stay Up Late” or “We can go out for ice cream tonight.”
- As you place an activity on the calendar, cross out the ones you have used to keep track of what is already scheduled.
John Jane Sam
Pick Dessert John Jane
Invite a Friend Over John
- It is very likely that you may have to shift things around as you work through the calendar. I like to put “Pick Dinner” on the night before my grocery shopping day so that I can buy the correct ingredients without an additional trip to the grocery store. Also, if we are going to “Ding, Dong, Ditch” someone, I may put that the day after “Pick A Dessert.” I will make extra dessert that night so I am ready to go for the Ding Dong Ditch the next night.
- On super busy days, I will put “There is present hidden for you” because I can hide the wrapped present earlier in the day and it is ready to go that night when they open their advent.
- Even with the best planning, sometimes you have to switch things around. I always put the date and the initial of the person on each slip of paper. Then, if I have to go in and change something during the month, it helps me double check that I am getting the right one to change!
The best activities are ones you know your kids will enjoy. Here are some ideas of things you can put on your slips:
- Pick dinner
- Pick dessert
- You can have a friend sleep over
- You can pick a movie to watch
- You will have a surprise tomorrow (I usually do something fun for them during the school day on this one – meet them for lunch at school, check them out for lunch, include money for ice cream in their lunchbox, etc.)
- Invite a friend to the movies
- Stay up late
- Gift hidden in the house
- Pick a place to have impromptu dessert
- Pick someone to Ding, Dong, Ditch
- Have a friend over to play
- Go to a fun location (Grandma’s, park, Christmas lights, mall, indoor pool, etc)
- Special outing with Mom/Dad
Since you are just making slips of paper – you can pretty much use any advent calendar that you like. The one that we use is one my mom made years ago and gifted to me.
Even though this takes a bit of work up front, the dividends are worth it! I hope you’ll give this new tradition a try and that your family enjoys it as much as we do!