This is what has happened the last couple of years: November comes and I am so excited for Christmas. I think about making an advent calendar, and even talk with one or two of my wonderfully crafty friends about making plans to do so… And then it’s December. We get a Christmas tree, and enjoy our advent readings, but the craft ideas go the same way used wrapping paper goes with Dan’s side of the family: saved for next year. (By the way, does anyone else’s family save wrapping paper?)
This year, I wanted things to be different. I feel like Aubrey is at this magical age in which she understands and grasps so much, and her imagination and sense of wonder are just bursting out of her– and neither one of these qualities (can I call them “knowledge” and “faith”?) diminishes the other. Essentially, it is the perfect combination for “getting” Christmas. So I set out to actually follow through on my crafty advent plans. My main goal was to create tangible, kid-friendly tools to help my family understand and celebrate Christmas. I also hoped they would be fun & cute!
I began by thinking about making an advent calendar like this one. I talked with my crafty friends, and after drawing up a sketch, I realized this might be a bit too ambitious. Thankfully, my sister Val came to the rescue with a very simple and lovely alternative! She even bought all the materials and set up craft time.
We started with burlap canvases (pre-made), then laid out a grid with string, and stenciled in numbers 1-25 with red paint. I hot-glued two nails to a “Star of Bethlehem” shaped cookie cutter, and we move the star to whichever day it is (the nails go right through the burlap– easy peasy).
I originally thought I wanted an advent calendar with pockets. You can put all kinds of fun things in the pockets– ornaments, gifts, a daily scripture reading, a wintry activity for each day (like ice skating or making a gingerbread house, etc). After some consideration, however, I realized what would happen to a calendar with many pockets: each pocket would be searched each day. Pockets are irresistible to children! If I had a calendar with pockets for each day, I would only put something in the pocket of the “assigned” day anyway, so now that I had the calendar part done, I decided to make one big “pocket” to go along with it.
I am not much of a seamstress, so I thought a basic drawstring bag would be the best solution. I already had the linen fabric, and I knew I wanted a star shape on the bag as the counterpart of the calendar. I bought some shiny embroidery floss, and went for it. It was my first embroidery project, and I’m so happy it turned out really looking like a star!
All the meanwhile, I was searching for an advent devotional that was relate-able (simple, meaningful, fun) for our young kids. I found a wonderful resource through a sweet friend, and decided to make ornaments that correspond to each day’s theme.
I didn’t even realize until I put them together for this picture- but I love that one is a map of following God across the world (“The Way” theme), and the other is a family. Just right for us!
(you can click on any picture in the blog to get a bigger view)
I was amazed at how fun it was to paint each one! It was very relaxing, and I found myself doing my own devotions as I worked on each theme.
Aubrey and Thatcher have really loved our “Advent Time” so far. Every day, usually after dinner, Dan or I reads a short verse, and then we talk about it in a very simple way. We sometimes do a related activity– I think my favorite so far was pretending to be Mary and Joseph on our way to Bethlehem. As soon as I described the “special activity” Aubrey jumped up and said “I’m Mary! Daddy, you can be Joseph. Mommy, you are the donkey! Thatcher can be the baby donkey.” Aubrey stuffed a doll under her shirt, dumped all her pretend food into her duffle bag, and rode on my back from her bedroom all the way to Bethlehem (aka the living room). Originally, she tried to pack her pot and all her plates in the bag as well, but Dan/Joseph explained it would be a long journey, and we wouldn’t be able to bring everything.
Each night after our reading (and activity if we come up with one), Aubrey and Thatcher open up the star bag to find a surprise. As “surprises” we have been giving them elements of the nativity set as they relate to the theme of the day (an angel on the day we talk about the angel bringing the news to Mary, a sheep on the day we talk about the shepherds, etc). And come to think of it, I’m glad I ended up making the star bag, because I don’t think the stable would have fit in one of those calendars with 25 pockets! We have included a few little treats every now and then. This is also where the ornaments come in handy– since we don’t have a nativity piece for each day. To be honest, it’s a bit anti-climactic for Aubrey when she only finds an ornament as the surprise. She was excited to hang the first few on our Christmas tree, and she seemed really impressed with the donkey (“Mommy, how did you get the donkey on here?” “I painted it on.” “But how did you paint it like that?”)… But after the first few days she started telling me “You can do it” when I asked if she wanted to hang the ornament. She’s ready to move on to the next thing (which is most likely whatever Thatcher has already moved on to :)).
And that’s okay. I’m happy that our kids are having even a little bit of fun with the things that brought me joy to make! They don’t need to treasure each little moment. I think I may be doing that enough for all of us. And every night when we tuck Aubrey into bed, she asks “What day will it be tomorrow?!” wondering which number the star will move to next on the advent calendar. It is so neat that she gets excited each night– that she is eagerly anticipating the day that is coming, wondering what might be planned, already celebrating what she hopes for… And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?