The advent is one of my favourite things about Christmas, which is why to me, Christmas begins on December 1st and so dear God help Joel if he ever suggests otherwise. “The house had to be liveable by December first,” he recounts to a friend while discussing our hugely stressful renovations three years ago. There is a hint of a raised eyebrow and a rather flat tone to his voice, if you ask me, as he goes on. “You know, because Christmas begins then.” The friend remains silent, which is probably best for him.
“How far away is Christmas, mum?” the kids ask. “You know, the county thing?” The county thing. Yes, the county thing. I’m so proud I’m raising them right.
Each morning, the kids wake up to a new slip in that day’s pocket alerting them to a new activity or experience, and I make up our advent based on all the Christmassy things we love to do together anyway. Rolling beeswax candles, making paper snowflakes, hot chocolate and Christmas movie nights – the list generally remains similar each year, but we swap some things out if traditions don’t fit anymore. The goal, always, remains the same: To foster our family’s togetherness. So I think about my kids and what they love to do, coupled with myself and what I have the energy and inclination for. Also what Joel could possibly tolerate. He does have limits, you guys. I do have to remain somewhat respectful.
Anyway, here is our advent this year if you are looking for some inspiration: 24 Christmas activities that bring us together (with a couple lazy ones thrown in for those days you just wanna nap).
ORNAMENT GIFT: We decorate the tree together on the first, and the kids always get a new ornament to unwrap and add to it — something that represents what they’ve loved or been into that year. The kids love looking back on their past ornaments and remembering different phases as we decorate the tree. (“Billy!” Ella says, “Remember when you loved the garbage truck!”). This year, Ella is getting a sparkly unicorn because she’s been so into glittery, girly stuff this year. Billy is getting a ninja warrior ornament because he forever has a sword in his hand and generally wants to kill me at all times, and Georgie is getting this sweet little ornament that says FREE HUGS because she is the cuddliest, smoochiest child I’ve ever known, truly. Always with an arm wrapped around your neck, squeezing right in. So lovely.
ROLL BEESWAX CANDLES: A super easy craft for kids to do (there are many kits online), and you can either keep them to cosy up to at night, or gift them to teachers or neighbours as a sweet homemade gift.
WIGGLES CHRISTMAS CD: My kids love music and we are in the car a lot to and from Ella’s school, a one and a half hour round trip each way. So, we stock up on audiobooks and CDs whenever one catches our eye. This one will be perfect as they always ask me to put on Christmas music this time of year and our stash is pretty low.
MAKE PAPER SNOWFLAKES: Always a favourite tradition and they look so pretty strung from windows.
WRITE CLASS CHRISTMAS CARDS: Another thing my kids love to do.
DO A CHRISTMAS PUZZLE: I scoured the net for the perfect vintage-y Christmassy 80 piece puzzle we could do together (my kids love puzzles) and found this one.
MAKE GINGERBREAD COOKIES: This tends to always be messy and labour-inducing so I reserve it for a day I have a lot of energy. Always a must-do Christmas thing my kids love me doing with them.
WRITE LETTER TO SANTA: My kids have been assessing and reassessing their Santa wish list since, like, two months ago, and so they are always desperately excited when we finally sit down to write their official letter to Santa requesting their very favourite wishes. Last year, we were dealing with tattoos, guns and high heels so I’m hoping this year might be less gangster and more childhood innocence.
GO ICE SKATING: Since we had a euphoric experience in Japan at a local ice skating rink, we thought it would be fun to go together as a family again back home. Dressing in warm clothes, smuggling in some hot chocolate. We can totally pretend we’re having a northern hemisphere Christmas.
DECORATE A PAVLOVA: This one’s great to tie into a Christmas party or gathering you might be attending – a really easy “baking” activity that is relatively stress free for the parent. Just buy a store-bought base, whip some cream, then have your kids top it with all the usual pav favourites: berries, cherries, passionfruit. My kids love doing this each year.
NEW CHRISTMAS OUTFIT: Okay, so it’s not exactly a family bonding experience but it’s one for the lazy days when you can’t even bear to make them lunch, let alone some elaborate craft. Maybe some new pjs or a sweet Christmas dress. It’s fun to unwrap gifts as well.
HOT CHOCOLATE AND CHRISTMAS MOVIE NIGHT: Dim the lights, light a bunch of candles, make it special.
NEW MEMORY GAME: I made a Christmas-themed memory game about five years ago from social print studio’s double sided square prints, and thought I’d update our game adding new photos and memories for this year. We are a game-playing family, so this will definitely be a hit with the kids, and they love seeing photos of themselves. (Picture above)
MAKE HOMEMADE ORNAMENTS FOR GRANDPARENT’S TREES: This can be adapted to really suit any kind of homemade ornament. Last year we made salt dough ornaments for grandparents. My kids speak fluent craft so they always like a fun little arty activity. This year I collected DIY clear baubles for the kids to make their own Christmassy scene inside.
HIGH TEA IN A FANCY HOTEL: I did this last year with Ella and my mother-in-law, though not at Christmas. It was so fun to get dressed up and head into the city, dining for high tea in a fancy hotel. Even more fun at Christmas when there are big decorated trees in hotel lobbies and a general air of festivity.
CHRISTMAS COLOURING BOOKS: I found this sweetest vintage colouring book for Ella this year, and for Billy I found an add-water paint book because he doesn’t love colouring in and has a shorter, sloppier attention span. This will be perfect for him.
MAKE CHRISTMAS CHOCOLATES: This is another really easy way to bond in the kitchen with kids: Melt cooking chocolate, pop them into Christmas-shaped moulds, harden in the fridge and gift to friends or family (while keeping a few treats for yourself).
GO OUT FOR PEPPERMINT ICE CREAM: For us southern hemisphere folk.
SANTA PHOTO: These are some of the only family photos we get, and I love seeing how the kids change with each passing year. Joel hangs these photos above his desk at work, adding to his display each year. This makes me happy.
MAKE A HOMEMADE GIFT FOR TEACHERS (OR NEIGHBOURS) (OR FAMILY MEMBERS): It’s always a nice idea to get children involved in gift-making, not only to feed their little creative spirits but because it makes the gifts extra meaningful and special. They are so proud when they make something! We’ve gifted lots of homemade presents in the past to teachers; beeswax candles, sugar body scrubs, lemonade, soaps. This year we’ll be making beeswax food wraps, and I’ll put together a little tutorial on the easiest way I’ve found to make them sometime next week.
MAKE A DRIED ORANGE GARLAND: Really simple and cheery, and looks so beautiful strung up at a kitchen window. Just slice up your oranges, dab as much juice from them as you can, then bake in a really low oven for many hours, around 8 or so until the moisture is out of the orange slices. Kids love helping with the slicing (if they’re a bit older), the dabbing (if they’re a bit younger) and everyone loves to thread them once they’re dried. These orange slices also look so sweet threaded in twine and used as present decorators with a sprig of rosemary.
NEIGHBOURHOOD CHRISTMAS LIGHTS DRIVE: Extra special with a great Christmas carols playlist crooning in the car, plus a thermos of hot chocolate taken with you.
MAKE REINDEER FOOD: The kids love this so I put out a station of kitchen bits like oats, sultanas, flour, crushed up potato chips, and throw out some glitter, and they make up their own reindeer food jars ready to sprinkle on our driveway Christmas eve.
OVERNIGHT STAY IN THE CITY: This is a tradition of ours that’s been going for three or four years now. We stay with friends for one night in a fancy hotel in the city, usually the night before Christmas eve. We go out for dinner together and take in the city lights and cheer and watch the parade if we can stomach the crowd and it’s always such a delightful way to mark the official start of holidays.
My children are officially on the “sleeps-until” countdown to advent starting, because I assume they inherited my Claus bloodline DNA and have no choice in the matter.
Happy nearly December, friends.