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I'm Allison and I love planning for Christmas. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the holidays, never having enough time to enjoy the season, consider a new approach.

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Get Your Advent On

My friend Ruth creates the most amazing advent calendar for her family that truly embodies "Christmasing." She was kind enough to share the details with us, check it out! Next year, I'll prompt you well in advance of December 1 if you'd like to create something similar. This year, well, you just might have to hit the Hallmark store today. - Allison (original post, 12/16)

Advent calendars… Growing up we had the grocery store kind—numbered doors you rip open to find tchotchkes or chocolate. When thinking about traditions that I wanted to establish with my family, what I like about Christmas and what I don’t like—I love the idea of extending Christmas over more than one day, the lights, the songs, the charitable feeling; I don’t like fostering the expectation of receiving, much less the collection of stuff—I decided our advent calendar should be centered on activities, family experiences.

We’re a blended family, there’s a 6-year difference between our 2 kids, and Lindsey also celebrates Hanukkah with her mother, so there are several considerations that go into making the annual advent activity calendar. Which days is Lindsey with us, when is Hanukkah this year, when are the kids off of school (it’s not always the same), are there any school plays or concerts…

So, every year, during the weekend after Thanksgiving, I break out a couple of notebooks, a calendar, my computer, and plan out each daily activity. I list out each day on a separate line. I note which are Fridays and Saturdays. I note which day of the week the first falls on. I ask my husband, “What else is already scheduled?” (This year it’s junior prom.) I start to fill in the easy stuff: 24, Christmas Eve Service. I check local Christmas event calendars online. We love the annual lighting of the Washington Monument and the Mayor’s Parade. I look at the school calendars. Every year we participate in a Christmas Basket/Giving Tree activity through Riley’s school, where food and gifts are donated to local families in need, so I figure out which day that happens.

We’ve been doing this now for 5 or 6 years and the kids love it. In fact, this year, we were thinking about breaking with tradition and traveling to Florida to see my sister—we would drive and would be away from home for 2 weeks—but, when we proposed it to the kids, they nearly revolted. “We wouldn’t get to do our regular Christmas stuff?” So, this past weekend, as I’ve done for the past several years, I broke out my notebooks and started putting the advent calendar together.

Obviously, school nights can’t contain big activities… I fill in activities that can be done after homework and before bedtime—drink hot chocolate with a candy cane, write a letter to Santa, cut out snowflakes and hang them, make Christmas cards for friends.

For the most part, I really try to focus on activities that don’t cost any money, but will usually include 2 to 3 activities that include an entry or ticket fee—a play, a jazz band, a garden with an amazing light display.

Also, I’ve learned, plans change. I try to create a list of activities that may not get scheduled, but could be used as backup if something else won’t work on a given day.

Once I’ve got a fairly solid listing of activities for advent (handwritten in a notebook), I write each one on an individual slip of paper and place it in the corresponding slot of our advent calendar. The kids never know what the activity of the day will be until they open the calendar door and read the paper. The listing in my notebook travels with me because I frequently forget what’s coming up.

It’s definitely some planning work, but I’ve found that I enjoy Christmas more as our family, through a small celebration of Christmas each day, extends our joy through the advent season.

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