It’s true, Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you’ll find you’ve created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.
~Caroline Kennedy

I love Christmas. The lights, the music, the food, the smells, the decorations, the anticipation and, especially, the traditions. We play board games and eat chili at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve, get a new ornament to signify something important from the year, new pajamas to wear on Christmas Eve, special movies we always watch together, etc. My favorite tradition is our annual countdown to Christmas. Since the kids were small, probably around 2 and 3, we’ve done some variation of advent activities. We haven’t been consistent in all of the activities, when we begin, how we display the list or how we choose the order of activities but,  for about a decade now we’ve done something.

The first few years were pretty simple, I just wanted to do something each weekend in December; things like decorating the tree, driving around to look at lights, letters to Santa and making cookies. Looking back I’m pretty sure that’s all I would have been able to manage at that point since I was working full time, R was working 7 days a week, I had two toddlers and was living with, then undiagnosed, clinical depression. (I mention this not to complain but because I think it’s important for people who may read this and want to try it for themselves to figure out what works for their family at this time.)

Then, when the kids were about 6 and 7, we expanded on the idea and did the 12 days of Christmas. For 12 days (including Christmas Eve with my parents and Christmas day) the kids got a gift. The first 10 were small, activity based gifts. Cookie cutters and aprons for making goodies, Christmas themed books to read together, puzzles and games, etc. The next year we didn’t have gifts to open every day because we reused some of the same things we’d unwrapped the previous year. The tradition changed a bit but the sentiment behind it was the same, doing things together and stretching the Christmas spirit all month long.

Making cookies with Dad

Silliness ensues…

While some things are constant (decorating the tree, mailing Christmas cards, cookies) others come and go. Last year we added a special trip to Kansas City to see the lights at Country Club Plaza. It was something I’d always wanted to do so I finally did.

Our mode of transport around The Plaza

 Other things become such big hits that we decide to do them year after year even if they aren’t things we’ve always done. Floating wish lanterns on solstice were new last year but we are so looking forward to doing it again.

I think the reason this tradition still works for us is because we haven’t been rigid. We used to have a paper chain with the activities typed on the back; we still have the activities typed out on paper but now they are hanging from string so we can pick and choose what we want to do each day instead of feeling obligated to do something we may not have time or be in the mood for. We also allow ourselves to skip a day if we need to and then just do two activities some other day to make up for it. Flexibility is key, as it usually is when it comes to parenting.

So, we’ve already begun our big, flexible, fabulous list for this year. Today as we were decorating the tree I told my kids that I love the Christmas season, this time leading up to Christmas, more than the actual day. They thought this was so weird (and was further proof that I’m 0-l-d). I didn’t tell them that its because I feel time slipping away. They are growing up, busy and more private than than they once were. I know there will come a time when I won’t be the person who knows them best or even talk to them every day. But for this month I’ll have time with them each day to take a moment and make a memory.

I’ll leave you with our list for this year in case you’re looking for a few ideas. We started the day after Thanksgiving this year so have 33 activities on our list. Please keep in mind that this tradition is about enjoying the holidays, not demanding more from them. Make some memories but make sure they’re happy ones!

Our 2012 Christmas Advent List

(in no particular order)

~Put up tree/indoor decorations
~Make ornaments
~Outdoor decorations
~Address and mail cards
~Elf movie night (with a feast from the four elf food groups- candy, candy corn, candy canes and syrup!)
~Make cookies
~Deliver neighbor gifts
~Toy donation
~Gingerbread houses
~Polar Express movie night (with a hot cocoa bar)
~Go see Christmas Lights
~Grinch movie night (with Grinchy green shakes)
~Homeschool Solstice Party
~Make luminaries
~Release wish lanterns
~Go to Mamaw Phyllis’s
~Give Mom final wish list
~Watch Christmas specials on TV (with popcorn and cocoa)
~Snow Day!!! (if we don’t get snow we can make paper snowflakes for the windows)
~Make a birdfeeder
~Doctor Who Christmas Special (with Dalek-table treats to celebrate Oswin’s arrival)
~Jack Frost or Frosty movie night (with snowman sundaes)
~The Santa Clause movie marathon (make snow globes)
~Start a Christmas Village to add to each year
~Make a Christmas simmer pot
~Have Christmas pizza for dinner (pizza in shape of tree or snowman)
~Make handmade gifts
~Christmas shopping
~Wrap gifts
~Donation for soldiers~Christmas Mad Libs
~Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa’s