Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tomorrow being the last day of advent, I thought I would post what our actual advent calendar looked like this year. Since I have included little snippets of our Christmas traditions in posts from past years, and a pretty detailed explanation of why we love advent, my aim is to not be redundant, but to lay out what our activities really look like. And to hopefully provide some ideas & resources to help others love the advent season as well!

As I mentioned in a past post (the one linked above), my goal is to do "...special activities during the Twelve Days of Christmas in celebration, keeping advent as more of a time for reflection, anticipation and serving others." More info on our Twelve Days of Christmas celebrations to come in a future post. 

In conjunction with our advent activities we continued the tradition of doing the Jesse Tree as a devotional every morning (or every three mornings, or so....). We really love this tradition and the preparation it gives us for celebrating the coming of Christ. 

Our first Christmas related activity was actually pre-advent, and it helped kick things off on the right note:
For the first time I actually got organized enough to participate in Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan's Purse. Our kids chose to pack a shoebox for a little girl, and we had so much fun shopping for little fun & useful items to send. The kids were really so excited about this idea, it was very much a blessing to see their joy as they chipped in and made cards and notes to include in the box. We dropped it off at a designated local church and all the kids got stickers for participating, win win!

And without further ado, here is how our official advent calendar shaped up this year:

Day 1: Do nothing because I wasn't actually organized enough to start advent on this day.

Day 2: String lights on the tree and begin to listen to Christmas music!
(After going shopping because I realized that our tree lights from last year no longer worked. And buying the kids gatorade because I was feeling guilty about my lack of preparedness...)

Day 3: Decorate the tree.
In the past we have trekked through the fields to choose out the perfect farm cut cedar tree. Even taking Fritz the Fritzinator along one year to help drag the tree. This year it just so worked out that we were able to pick a lovely pine tree out from my dad's u-cut farm after our family Thanksgiving celebration. Chosen in record speed as I jogged through the tree fields at night in the rain with a flashlight while the kids slept in the van. It worked out pretty well, and it's quite a beauty!

So we got our tree up a bit earlier this year than usual, but it stayed simple & green for a few days until we were ready to decorate it. 

Day 4: Make Pepernoten cookies in preparation for St. Nicholas Day. 
(Recipe & a bit more history on why we celebrate St. Nick's Day here.)

Day 5: Friend's birthday party.
Yes, I included this in our advent activities. :) I knew about it far enough ahead of time, and knew that after a very fun birthday party that happened right after a long day of school at Ozarks Academy there would not be enough time or energy to do anything else. And no need! It was all the fun we needed for that day, so I took advantage.

Day 6: Live Nativity.
We tried out this live nativity at the fairgrounds last year, and the kids loved it so much (and started asking about it as soon as December rolled around again) that we took them to see it again. A fun, free way to see the Christmas story acted out. 

Day 7: Collect Cedar Boughs with Horse & Wagon. Put shoes & carrots out for St. Nicholas Day. 
Also, attend local Christmas Parade.

Okay, so this day got a bit more ambitious than I originally planned. But it was fun! Since we didn't cut a farm tree this year we decided to still go out and collect sweet smelling, juniper laden cedar branches for wreath making and other decor purposes. They make the house smell so fragrant & Christmas-y, we love having them around. And since we have a great old harness horse to cart us around this year -- voila!

That evening, after attending the short & sweet Fair Grove parade (just my style), we prepared for St. Nicholas Day. The kids picked carrots from our garden (check out the whopper in the picture below!) to leave for St. Nick's reindeer/horse. And we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (and also, our new favorite "Ozark Night Before Christmas", which makes me & Clay chuckle...).

Day 8: Celebrate St. Nicholas Day.
Kids woke up to shoes filled with pepernoten cookies, clementines, and chocolate coins. We managed to read a few story books about the life of St. Nicholas before heading to church for the rest of the day! We also presented them with the Blue Planet, a new Attenborough nature movie to add to our collection. It being Sunday - a feast day in advent - we like to have something special to give the kids, in preparation for the main gift giving on Christmas day. Sundays are also usually our family movie night -- after a big day at church with lunch and afternoon fellowship it is nice to come home and crash with a simple supper in front of a good movie. And Attenborough is our favorite for watching with the kids.

Day 9: Host a Family.
Originally we intended to host a family at least once a week during advent. What better way to serve & love others as we reflect on how Christ came to serve & love us! But we hit a bit of a roadblock with this great idea.... that is, the fact that advent is also a season of sickness. So, we considered it a success that we managed to have one family over, out of the multiple invitations that we sent out. In the end I just shifted activities around as plans changed throughout the month.

Day 10:  Make a Wreath.
Time to use those fragrant cedar boughs! I used one of our ginormous cast iron skillets to trace out an appropriately sized circle on a cardboard box, cut it out, and then used yarn to tie on the branches with help from the kids. I think it turned out lovely!

Day 11: Make crafts for gifts.
We celebrate Christmas early with Clay's side of the family, so in preparation we set this day aside to get the kids' homemade gifts finished. This year they used perler beads, plastic canvas with yarn and painted on wooden ornaments (according to age & ability).

Day 12: Christmas Movie Watching with Hot Chocolate under Blanket Forts. (Very cozy!)

Day 13: Make saffron pastries in preparation for Santa Lucia Day.
(Recipe & a bit more history on why we celebrate Santa Lucia Day here)

Day 14: Dodson Family Christmas. Also, Springfield Symphony's Christmas Matinee.
A lovely morning spent with family.
The Symphony matinee was another spontaneous activity that we threw in last minute. Margaret's cello teacher is in the symphony and so we looked into going and realized that the matinees are free!! I was so excited to find this out and plan on attending as many free matinees in the future as I can. It was a fun concert, even with exhausted children, and especially fun to see Margaret's teacher and my former violin teacher up on the stage where I used to perform in college. Ahhh, such fond memories....

Day 15: Santa Lucia Day.
Woke up super early to squeeze in the celebration before getting to church. I keep thinking one of these years I'll actually just get to lounge in bed while my daughters do all the work.....still dreaming of that day! But the sweet beaming faces and a cozy family breakfast in bed (yes, crumbs and all) makes it worth every bit. The fact is, I enjoy helping them get their outfits just right, braiding their hair, brewing coffee by the light of the Christmas tree and singing swedish songs. Such a lovely morning.

We have started presenting the children with nightgowns and pajamas (for William) on Easter, instead of doing Christmas pjs. That has allowed me to keep the girls supplied in beautiful white nightgowns (that I found on Etsy) which also double as Santa Lucia gowns when the time comes.

While we eat lussekatter rolls in bed, sip creamy coffee and listen to swedish music, we also read about St. Lucia and a few swedish stories to the kids. I also make sure I say a few extra "uffda"s for good measure. It's basically become our "pretend we're very swedish" day. (We do have some swedish heritage there, afterall.) Some of our favorite book titles, so far, are:
The Tomten and The Tomten & the Fox
Peter & Lotta's Christmas
Christmas in Noisy Village
Per and the Dala Horse

I'm also loving this cd of swedish fiddle music I came across. It has renewed my interest in practicing my hambos, polskas & schottisches.

Day 16: Nutcracker Day.
Read stories about the Nutcracker, watch the Nutcracker ballet, let William crack peanuts with his toy Nutcracker, and watch the kids act out the ballet for the rest of advent as we listen to the Nutcracker soundtrack. This is a huge favorite in our household.

Day 17: Make cranberry & popcorn strings for the Christmas tree.
Hot tip: Make 1-2 extra bowls of popcorn for nibbling on while working.

This day also included a final rehearsal for the Church Christmas program and a spontaneous restaurant dinner with friends -- more advent fun! And for the record: it is possible to eat out with twelve children, all under ten years of age, and still have a good time!

Day 18: Make Christmas cookies.
This definitely took a whole day. We made dozens and dozens of gingerbread men and sugar cookies so we could have enough to share at school and with neighbors. The kids love rolling out the dough and pressing the shapes, and we had flour on the table, flour under the table, flour on the rug, flour on all our clothes, and flour in our hair.

Day 19: Play Hide & Seek.
Self-explanatory. Though, for your consideration....trying to hide while holding a squirmy one year old can complicate things a bit.

Day 20: Decorate Christmas cookies.
Frosting & sprinkles, hurray!

Day 21: Deliver cookies to Neighbors.
(See how I played this one out? One theme....three days....) It being a beautiful day we walked to our neighbors' houses, said some friendly hellos and tried to act neighborly.

This day I also made a crazy trip up to play at a Christmas ball with my sibs. I love Christmas ball decorations (& food), music, dancing, playing music with my family, and silly photos. Lovely time.

Day 22: Christmas Program at Church!
A day that was much anticipated with many choir & music rehearsals. A lovely program, and it was a treat to be a part of it.

The perks of being on communion prep duty at church - we get to bring the flowers home afterward! Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming....

Day 23: Make crafts for gifts.
This time for my side of the family.

Day 24: Make paper snowflakes.
We used this easy tutorial. Two of the kids are finally getting old enough to do their own folding & cutting, hurray!

And here is the same shot as the one above, with the mess on the table included. Keeping it real. This is what it looks like right after four children help make paper snowflakes. (And the baby has lunch.)

Day 25: Make tin lanterns.
In past years we have made lanterns out of emptied tin food cans (family sized tomato soup cans work great!). We simply removed the labels, cleaned them, froze water in them, used a sharpie to draw a design on them and then used a nail and hammer to tap holes along the design. Originally we then just placed some tealights inside, secured a wire handle to the top (using two nail holes on each side of the rim) and they were ready to go. Our project this year was to fill the bottoms of them with candlewax and wicks so that they work a bit better.

Day 26: Christmas Eve.
Night hike to a tree in our fields with our tin can lanterns. Hang the lanterns on the tree and sprinkle some bird seed and animal friendly treats around the tree (as inspired by the "Night Tree"). Sing Christmas carols.

Day 27: Christmas!



  1. You have so many inspiring ideas, Elissa! I particularly related to your first day of advent ;) We have the Jesse Tree Mum made a few decades ago, and did one day of crazy catching up when I searched online for the readings! Maybe tomorrow we'll finish the other half of it! So we have a ways to go in getting organised for advent, so I appreciated both your great ideas and keeping it real! :)

    1. I don't think I realized your mom made your Jesse Tree, how fun! We definitely had several "catching up" days with the readings :) but at least we're still doing it, right? Hope you guys have a wonderful, peace-filled Christmas tomorrow. Much love to you all!

  2. You have so many inspiring ideas, Elissa! I particularly related to your first day of advent ;) We have the Jesse Tree Mum made a few decades ago, and did one day of crazy catching up when I searched online for the readings! Maybe tomorrow we'll finish the other half of it! So we have a ways to go in getting organised for advent, so I appreciated both your great ideas and keeping it real! :)