Advent: an easy list of activities to usher in Christmas with your family

“Aren’t you getting a bit old for it now?” I asked him skeptically.
My thirteen year old son looked at me aghast, “Mum. It’s Christmas. I will never be too old for Advent.”
”But what about Christmas craft?” I raise my eyebrows.
”I’ll still do Christmas craft,” he’s earnest, and it’s sweet, but I’m undecided.
”But you don’t want to write cards for your friends anymore. You didn’t last year.”
”I’ll write them to like, Granny and Grandpa instead, if it’s card writing.”

Our conversation went on like this, as I was stirring the dinner and he leaned his elbows on the island bench, watching me. I was smiling to myself, proud that we’d been able to create solid Christmas traditions that an almost 14 year old boy didn’t yet want to let go of.

I smiled even more when he reached for a piece of paper and began listing our every-year-without-fail Christmas Advent activities.
”Watch Elf, drive and look at Christmas lights… um… oh! Gingerbread houses, I can’t wait to do those again… And you have to use the calendar that we always use, with the pockets mum. Don’t get slack.”

There were years when the kids were little, and I was the driver of the Christmas Spirit, the creator of things I hoped would one day become tradition. Well, a decade later, and I’m sitting in the back seat—the wind’s in my hair and there are three kids in the front whooping with glee, directing and leading.
”Mum! Don’t forget the Christmas pudding candle that you always light!”
”Don’t forget we have to have a Home Alone movie marathon!”
”Mum! It’s time to get the Christmas mugs out!”
”Mum I created a new playlist, with Mariah and Michael Bublé”

You guys. I feel like I’ve made it.

And to celebrate, I’ve compiled our Advent activity list, thanks to my 13 year old who has written them all out so early.

Our advent calendar is one I sewed years ago, and what do you know, after a little bit of Google searching, I found the instructions (on the off chance you feel like making a tiny quilt from scratch right before Christmas, ahem). These types of advent calendars are easy to find in the shops now though, and Pinterest has a host of inspiration for you to create something with 24 activities.
I write our activities on little tags and tuck them in the pockets. The best thing is that you can move the activities around to suit—a movie marathon for a Saturday, writing cards for a week day after school. On days we’re pressed for time I’ll pop in an easy activity. On days I’m completely lazy, they’ll find a little chocolate each. I love that it can be completely simple.

For us, it’s not about extravagance. They don’t have to be expensive or over the top.
It’s about simply anticipating a day that is deeply important to our faith, and creating traditions of celebration and togetherness for our family.
Traditions are the foundations that memories are built on.
The way each and every year the kids remember dad decorating his gingerbread house with only icing and chocolate Freckles.
The way that I have to make rice pudding with vanilla ice-cream when we watch Elf.
The smell of a balmy summer, rising from the bitumen as we drive local neighbourhoods in our pjs, to search for the houses with the best Christmas lights.

Most of these ‘activities’ we’d do together anyway. Putting them in an advent activity calendar just makes them a whole lot more fun.

So here’s our (not exhaustive!) Advent activity list. I hope this helps you to prepare for your own memory-making!

1. Put up the tree
2. Write Christmas cards to friends and/or family (I bought these ones from Kmart this year, I don’t think you could find any cheaper than that!)
3. Create snowflakes to bluetack to your windows. There are heaps of tutorials like this one online.
4. Have a Christmas movie marathon. Our favourites are Elf, Home Alone, and Home Alone: Lost in New York. Last year my husband introduced our then 12 year old to Die Hard, oh gosh.
5. Bake Gingerbread. (My recipe is here, it is the BEST and easiest, and there’s a link to our little bitty Gingerbread house pattern that we use every year too.) This is usually two activities in our calendar – one day we make the dough and bake the gingerbread, the next day is for building and decorating.
6. Go to the city at night. There’s something about our little city, and the Christmas decorations and the carols playing in the department stores. The City of Perth says their Christmas Lights Trail will be even better this year, too. We loved it last year.
7. Santa photos. We vowed never to get Santa photos again, after they were terrible a few years ago. Instead we set up a tripod to get a cheesy family photo in front of the tree. This also doubles as a little Christmas gift for all the great grandparents.
8. Put candy canes on the tree. They’re $1 a bag at Kmart. When visitors come over, they get offered a candy cane from the tree.
9. Write a letter to Santa. Only, since they stopped really believing in Santa, it’s not really a letter to Santa anymore, it’s more a re-cap of the year. Favourite memories, accomplishments, things they’re looking forward to for next year. This is pretty sweet to stash away and read the following years.
10. Donate food. The kids schools do food donation drives for our local favourites SOUL Soup Patrol. We go to our local IGA and do a little grocery shop, especially to donate.
11. Go gift shopping. Each of the kids has a set amount to spend on their siblings. We take them shopping and they get to buy each other their presents. This is super fun, especially when we split up, each of us taking a child or two, and then having to hide their purchase/bags from the others when we meet up again. They’re always so excited about their choices.
12. Wrap the gifts they’ve bought or made for each other, and for others.
13. Drive around our local areas with the best Christmas lights on the houses, blaring Christmas carols of course.
14. Salt dough ornaments. These are great teacher gifts, and gift tag/decorations.
15. Create a wreath out of branches from the garden for the front door.
16. Bake/make Christmas treats and invite friends over to share them.
17. Go to Carols by Candlelight or a church Christmas production.
18. Decorate the house with Christmas lights.
19. Have a picnic dinner on the floor in the lounge room by the tree.
20. Have a hot/iced chocolate in a Christmas mug after dinner (I think I need to try this one, omg).
21. Make thank you notes, and deliver them to houses with beautiful Christmas lights.
22. Bake shortbread for an elderly neighbour.
23. Read your favourite Christmas picture books.
24. Christmas Eve for us is always unwrapping one present. And it’s always summer pyjamas with a little chocolate. It’s not a surprise anymore, but still something we all look forward to (yep, Daniel and I get new pjs too!)

These are things we do each year. But there are hundreds of other ideas for advent activities across Pinterest.

Tell me what some of your favourite Christmas traditions are?

xx

PS our tree has been up for almost two weeks already. Shhhh.

journal | end of year reflections

It’s the time of year where I start looking forward to a new beginning. Reflecting on the old and ready to usher in the new, the fresh, the clear and the promising. Something in me wrestles to not let another year go by without taking steps towards the things I’ve put on hold. 
This year in particular has been very full.
Bustling and busy, I studied full time in the first semester and I spent a lot of time juggling this with ministry, and family.
Chewing over this year though, I realised I have been letting my yesses to some good things prevent me from being able to say yes to the best things.* The things on my heart. The things that will take guts and intention, planning and hard work.
Because this: good planning and hard work lead to prosperity.** I need to do the hard work part.
I can plan, and write lists and draw mind-maps like a boss. But I am not so good at the doing. 
I’m great at dreaming and envisioning.
But my steps are slow and my mind overthinks and my perfectionist self hesitates in case what is produced is not good enough.
I am not great at shitty first drafts. ***
I am not great at putting it out there if it’s flawed.
I am not great at keeping myself accountable. 
I get discouraged quickly.
Apathy is all too familiar… and is the absolute enemy to the life I know I’m called to live.
Full and bustling and bursting, yes. Yet settled and still and resting in grace.

Maybe I have to hustle to fill in the gaps. Hustle to avoid procrastination… and then the rest comes in the real doing, the graced doing. Maybe there’s a hustle to get to the grace?

And this time of year I’m pressing in to work it out. 
Waiting for the answers to the unanswered questions. 
Believing for completion of the untied ends and frayed edges.
Hoping to finish strong, but still feeling weak and needy and unsure.

For now, I’ll write more lists, and scribble more dreams with the hope that He writes on my heart, and breathes in His purpose.
Because the new year is beckoning, just like He is.

xx

* John C. Maxwell
** Proverbs 21:5
*** Anne Lamott
 

[If you are wanting to do some real retreating + reflecting I’d strongly encourage you to download Amanda Viviers’ New Year Vision Book – it’s free!]

start with just today

 

Yesterday I folded those itchy plastic branches into their box, and tied it up tight, for next year.
I found the floor in the girls bedroom. 
We found places for new treasures to belong and I carried a garbage bag for those things that aren’t so loved anymore. I filled it up and took it outside before any of us could hesitate.
Because my mind has been swirling with words like
simplify
declutter
minimal

Because I don’t want a life full of stuff but to live out an existence full of experiences.*
Because I know that when I exist in a minimalist-like interior, my own inner life has real breathing space that can explode with possibility and creativity. 
I know it’s not possible to live always in that zone; there will often be dishes in the sink and toys on the floor, but as much as I can I want to have a fresh and clear heart and head.
And living in a space that doesn’t feel stuffed to the brim of things I keep simply because I might want to use them someday actually gives me the ability to be truly present right here.

I’ve been asking myself just what it is that steals my focus, and clutter is one of the thieves. 
What else can I tweak to bring about more peace to my days? 
I gave up on resolutions. But tiny baby steps in the right direction? I can do those. 
I started running in November 2013, and I kept running. Not daily, but regularly.
I ran my way through last year, and managed to reach a 5km goal I’d set.
Not in leaps and bounds and amazing achievements, but in quiet consistency. 

I can do quiet consistent baby steps towards a more minimal home, more purposeful days, a fitter body and a less distracted me.
I won’t let the new year remind me of the accumulation of years I’ve failed, or how long it’s taken me to get here. It’s a reminder of a fresh start, a celebration of life, and anticipation of the goodness the next twelve months will bring.

Lets tiptoe tiny baby steps, they’re so very achievable. I’ll start with just today.

xx

* and also because I just can’t handle mess. I try and fail. Let’s just make it easier all ’round huh?
 

thirty-nine sleeps

The thyme warmed, and the strawberries turned to a hot syrupy mess on the stove as I stirred.
One friend sliced apples, chills and capsicum; another settled herself under the kitchen window sill to feed her tiny one, and the other rinsed jars, readying them for our concoctions. 
If we gather, just once a week in these pre-Christmas days to create gifts, we will have tiny bounties to give away, and pieces of us to share. 

This year we bottle jam, and chutney. I dye fabric to make napkins and tea towels. I stitch quilts and bake gingerbread and I determine that our very simple and very hand made presents are more than enough. Want, need, wear, read.

My hope is that the memories of Christmas that make their place in my kids minds won’t only be of a bright shiny abundance of toys. But of the smell of pine, the way gingerbread dough rolls out beneath the pin, and the warmth of the shoulders that squeeze them in as we watch Home Alone again. The sparkle of Christmas in drowsy eyes as we drive through neighbourhoods adorned with lights, the warm summer nights outside with a myriad of family and friends always welcomed, always loved. They’ll remember beach days, slow mornings, and making, painting, creating things for the people we love. 

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I’m gathering with a handful of friends to get making. 
Simple, joyous love.
The most wonderful time. 
Thirty-nine sleeps.

xx