Our advent calendar & thoughts on good deeds

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I’d been itching to make an advent calendar ever since seeing a few examples on Reading My Tea Leaves. I appreciate the advent period as a seasonal call to contemplation and anticipation, even without belonging to an organized religion. So I tried to create a simple calendar with some really easy things we could do as a family, or that I could do alone, to savor the season. At first I laid out 25 new exciting Christmas-y activities to do and then realized that sounded miserable and overwhelming. So I swapped some out for things we’d already be doing, like reading The Snowy Day or making donations to causes close to our hearts. We’re halfway through the calendar and I’m happy to report that we also just absolutely bailed on some of these. “Have an indoor picnic” sounded easy because it’s literally just eating dinner on the floor, but nope, it didn’t happen. We read exactly three sentences of The Polar Express before Clark requested a book about dinosaurs. I haven’t send out our Christmas cards yet and we’ve switched some other ones around too. It’s delightfully low-pressure.

Clark is only two, so we have at least another Christmas before he’ll understand what this all is, but I’ve been thinking about the difference between acts of charity and acts of justice. So many of us enter the holiday season with beautiful intentions of “giving back”, but many of us don’t quite get it right. Consider the shift from thinking of a donation to Toys for Tots as a “good deed” to understanding it to be a small step towards a fairer, more just world. A reminder that it’s usually not about a family being “less fortunate” than it is about structural racism or other discrimination along with a broken economy, health care system and government. I’ll admit that I’ve really enjoyed filling the Christmas wish lists of some of our neighbors, but I’m trying to see it not as an exceptional act of generosity but as the only responsible way to move through this gift-giving season. Once I began to see my role in those forces that contribute to “less fortunate” situations, I had to start shifting away from the “good deeds” mentality to one more akin to reparations and justice-building actions. So, all of that to say, this has been on my mind as we move through the holiday giving season.

Back to the list. Here are our advent calendar activities. Family ideas with a toddler can be tough, so some of them are just for Chris and I, some are for all three and some are just for me. I think I’d love an advent calendar with ideas just for me, but I’ll save that for another year.

  1. Go to a holiday market

  2. Dry orange ornaments

  3. Deck the halls

  4. A midweek holiday feast

  5. Have an indoor picnic

  6. Christmas coloring

  7. Make a pot of mulled wine or cider

  8. Buy a Christmas tree

  9. Sunday soup

  10. Buy gifts for neighborhood friends

  11. Read or watch Polar Express in pajamas

  12. Make cards

  13. Mail cards

  14. Watch a Christmas movie

  15. Bake Christmas cookies

  16. Feed the birds

  17. Read Snowy Day

  18. Buy extra fresh veggies and donate

  19. Have a phone-free evening

  20. Donate to provide life-saving medical care around the world, including in Yemen

  21. Celebrate solstice

  22. Wrap presents

  23. Sit by the fire

  24. Nothing yet! Something festive. Something leftover from earlier in the month. Cookies for Santa. Staying up late to look at the Christmas tree.

Do you have any advent calendar ideas or traditions to share? As I mentioned above, this one borrows heavily in both style and substance from the ones that Erin has shared over on Reading My Tea Leaves (an updated clutter-free one, a peace and justice one and her original). I love their simplicity and thoughtfulness.