Less than a week to go until the beginning of Advent! Though since it starts in November this year, you have a few extra days until you need to have your Advent calendars ready. Whether you are feeling stressed out because you haven’t even started planning your calendar and don’t know where to take the time from to rustle one up in time, whether you are wracking your brains to think of alternative calendar fillings to endless sweeties and chocolate (we’ve only *just* finished all the Hallowe’en goodies), or whether you are looking for a way of keeping the costs from spiralling out of control, why not consider doing an ‘activity calendar’ this year.
We did this last year for the first time. Though actually, it was in addition to our regular Advent calendar, because Mr Fox had just been born and it was a way of giving big brother a few extra treats and a little project of his own so that he wouldn’t feel too left out when the baby was getting all the attention. It went down really well, but to be honest one calendar would have sufficed – on some days he had to be reminded to open both – so this year I am thinking of combining the two, i.e. mixing a few ‘activities’ in with the regular calendar instead of just filling it with toys and sweets. Of course, I could just ditch the regular calendar and *only* do the activity one, but our calendar was hand embroidered by my mum over 30 years ago and has been used every year since (she only stopped filling it when I had finally had kids of my own, bless) so it’s kind of a family tradition to have it.
Anyway, back to the activity calendar, for those of you who want to try it. What exactly is it? Well, it’s really simple. You take 24 envelopes and 24 cards that fit inside, then on each card you write an activity to do. Anything from really simple things like ‘make paper snowflakes’ to some more indulgent treats like ‘a trip to the cinema’. We had included some ‘dates with daddy’ in ours, to create some special ‘father and son’ time while I was nursing the baby, but you can vary it to suit your needs. The special treats aside, one thing that kept the costs down on this calendar, was including things we would have been doing anyway (e.g. buy a tree, make Christmas cards), things that cost nothing (go for a winter walk, play board games, dance to Christmas songs), and things that you probably have at home anyway, e.g. ingredients to make waffles or hot chocolate. Kids don’t care that these things would have happened anyway (well, at least our 4 year old didn’t), they just love the excitement of getting a surprise in their calendar each day. I scheduled things like buying a tree and writing a letter to Santa early on in the calendar, and also paid attention to what would work better on a week day or a weekend.
One more tip I found, was to not seal the envelopes, so that I could change things around if our plans for the week changed. For example, we had scheduled some of the activities so that there would be time to do them after nursery, but then they went on a Christmas outing where they would be getting back late, so I swapped it for something else. Or we swapped some of the ‘dates with daddy’ around when we got unexpected guests, as obviously we wanted to do something with them instead that day. I stuck the unsealed envelopes on a wall in the living room with washi tape, so it was very easy to carefully remove them and swap the cards around if need be (I also kept a list, which I updated accordingly), so that I knew in advance which activity was due to happen each day.
So are welcome to copy our ideas, or perhaps you want to make up your own. Here is what we did:
1. Make paper snowflakes – easy, all you need is white printer paper in the house and a pair of scissors. Would probably have been making some anyway.
2. Buy & trim a Christmas tree – would have been doing this anyway :)
3. Visit Legoland Centre – this one was a special treat!
4. Make Christmas cards – requires card, scraps of paper, scissors, glue. Though we usually don’t make our own cards, we did need cards, so this killed two birds with one stone.
5. Watch a Christmas movie & eat popcorn – just picked one of the movies from our movie library and threw a handful of popcorn from the larder on the hob.
6. Make orange pomanders – okay, so this was one of the ones we would not have been doing were it not for the calendar, but I needed to come up with 24 things. It was fun, and made the house smell nice.
7. Bake Christmas cookies – we do this every year anyway, and in fact I did bake more on other days, but The Boy didn’t care, because on that day they were ‘calendar cookies’ so somehow that made it more exciting.
8. Make spiced cider/ apple juice – Nigella’s recipe is a Christmas staple in our house, so I included it in the calendar to make up the numbers :)
9. Write a letter to Santa – this was a given, obviously!
10. Make paper chains – probably would have made some of these anyway. I got gifted some self adhesive paper chain strips the week before, which made it all the more easy, but you can also just use glue or a stapler.
11. Make salt dough ornaments – this was a ‘just for the calendar’ one. The idea was that we then paint them later on and hang them on the tree or give them as gifts. Neither of that happened. Would probably not do this one again, to be honest.
12. Drink hot chocolate with cream & candy canes – the trickiest part of this, was finding peppermint candy canes in Berlin!
13. Play family board games together – easy, peasy. Open cupboard. Take out games. Play.
14. Go to the cinema – this was another of the special treats.
15. Read a Christmas story – I kind of felt like I was cheating a little on this one, since we were pretty much reading Christmas stories every day at bedtime anyway. But The Boy still fell for it :) You could make this one more special by accompanying it with a new book.
16. Do science experiments with dad – I included this because I had a set of science experiments instructions, together with the bits and bobs needed for them, left over from something else.
17. Make chocolate bark – super easy: melt chocolate, spread on grease proof paper lined tray, sprinkle with toppings, leave to set in fridge. Eat.
18. So, you may notice that Nr.18 is missing. We never did get round to making those bird feeders. I eventually gave the bag of birdseed to a friend six months later, for an art project.
19. Make waffles for breakfast – as long as you have flour, eggs & milk in the house, this is easy. If you don’t have a waffle iron like we do, just go with pancakes instead.
20. Go for a winter walk – we didn’t feel like going out in horizontal sleet and hailstones, so we postponed this until another day :)
21. Visit a Christmas market – would totally have been doing this anyway!
22. Play & dance to Christmas songs – we actually combined this with a trip to the record store, to add Elvis to our collection, but you can just go with music you already have to keep costs down.
23. Visit a museum – this was another special treat. Visiting museums is actually part of our regular family life, but going to one on his own with daddy was special because that usually doesn’t happen.
24. Decorate a gingerbread house – we usually make one of these every year anyway. Confession time: we actually completed this *after* Christmas, as The Boy wanted to do it with granny, who was coming to visit for New Year.