When I fell in love and moved to Canada a few years ago, my new husband Nick and I joined our families to create the big beautiful blended family we have right now.
The joy is bigger, and the challenges are bigger too– and those challenges turn up with extra intensity around the holidays. Different beliefs around Santa. Different foods. Different memories.
When you’re blending families you’re also blending holiday traditions, and at first it was tricky to make sure that everyone was getting what they need…and that we parents weren’t losing our minds trying to remember it all and fit it all in!
Enter the modern-day family advent calendar.
Each day, we pull a slip of paper with one small family activity we do to make merry or prepare for the season.
It’s fun, the kids love it, but it also serves an important purpose of making sure that everyone’s favorite moments get honored. Everyone feels seen and supported in a time when things are busy, emotions are running high, and it’s easy for things to get overlooked.
(And just quietly, this advent calendar also works as a planning and organizing tool for the kids. But shhhh! Don’t tell them!)
How we use our refillable advent calendar
Before I load the calendar each year, we have a family meeting (or I put out post-it notes for them to fill out) where we learn what things matter most to them.
The answers are often surprising: The laborious cookie-making? Not even on their list. The Christmas movie I thought only I liked? They all requested it.
The activities in the advent calendar either:
a) move us closer, logistically, to Christmas
shopping, decorating the tree, wrapping presents, decluttering our rooms to make space for new things
b) help us celebrate the season and feel more festive and merry
drinking hot chocolate, ice skating, watching a favorite holiday movie
I look through their answers and write one activity per slip of paper for those 24 days leading up to Christmas. Then I start filling our calendar with the “fixed” holiday stuff, the things that are happening on a specific date – school holiday concerts or the neighborhood holiday party.
After that, I fill in the gaps. Hopefully, each person in the family will be able to do one or two of their most favorite things. We try to include a few things that aren’t just about consuming or receiving – dropping off canned goods at the food bank or buying gifts for a family in need.
Even better? Each year you use your advent calendar it gets easier. When you tuck the calendar away for the year, you can just leave the slips in their drawers. Next year when you pull it out, you’ll have a whole collection of kid-suggested, parent-approved activities to choose from!
This one tradition will bring more cheer, more joy, and more SANITY to your holidays and give you permission to do all those sweet, slow, lovely things you enjoy doing during the holiday season.
Ideas for Christmas activities to include in your refillable advent calendar:
- Reread a favorite Christmas book
- Watch a favorite holiday movie
- Go sledding as a family
- Go ice skating
- Build a snow fort
- Drive around and look at lights
- Make hot chocolate
- Bake Christmas cookies
- Make a favorite holiday recipe that reflects your heritage
- Donate to the food bank
- Spend an hour decluttering your room to make space for new gifts
- Have a Christmas carol sing-a-long
- Go snowshoeing
- Make ice lanterns
- Cut out and hang paper snowflakes
- Donate pet supplies to your local animal shelter
- Write a thank-you card to someone who’s made your life better or easier this year
- Go window shopping
- See a holiday parade
- Decorate the tree
- Drink egg nog
- Decorate a gingerbread house
- Play a favorite board game
- Wrap presents
- Write a letter to Santa
- Make your own “ugly Christmas sweater”
- Build a snowman
- Write Christmas cards and send to friends and family
If you try this, dearheart, please share it and tag me! I’d love to know how it goes for you and yours.