Growing up in a Thai family, Christmas wasn't a thing. But as a Thai-American kid who wanted so bad to be "American", I made my parents get us a Christmas tree and celebrate because I just thought that's what people did! My parents happily obliged, but we never grew up with things like Santa and stockings on a chimney or advent calendars. Regardless, I didn't miss a thing because my parents still made it special in their own way.
Fast-forward to today, I have been slowly defining what the holidays mean to me and my now young family. I don't have Christmas traditions passed down from generations, so this year I tried to work on beginning what our traditions could be going forward. Especially since we can't travel to Philadelphia for the holidays to see our parents like we always do, I wanted to start something new that felt special for my kids with all this extra time at home. So, this was our first year having an advent calendar!
My friends at Gathre so kindly send me this beautiful advent calendar which began my journey into thinking about what I would create for my kids to discover every day. I fielded questions on Instagram stories to see what you all do (or did when you grew up) and got a TON of suggestions. In the end, I decided to focus them on a mix of: family experiences/activities, acts of kindness/service, and small gifts that could be used again. I didn't want to add candy because my kids get plenty of treats, and I didn't want crappy throw-away junk toys (unless I already had them laying around :P).
Here are the things we did this year in case it inspires your future advent calendars...or even simple activities to do with kids at anytime. I've noted ones that were big hits and ones that I would skip next time!
1 - Wave this around and tell us what you're grateful for!
This had ribbon wands for them to dance around with which made a fun start to the month of activities.
2 - Use this to create something you want for Christmas!
This one included a jar of play-doh (which I already had) and was a fun way to get excited for Christmas with an item they have used tons of times but they loved the activity attached to it!
3 - Use these for a solo activity with Mommy and Daddy!
This one was a fail. Not that they didn't enjoy the idea but it wasn't as immediate as the others and anti-climatic. Plus, they usually get solo time with us anyway, so I realized I didn't need them to have a coupon for it!
4 - What would you do if you were home alone?
We watched Home Alone which I haven't seen in years. It was probably too intense for my 6-year-old but my 9-year-old loved it.
5 - Let's drive somewhere to see some sparkly lights!
This one was a drive to an outdoor, drive-through light show. This was fun because it got them out of the house and was a surprise adventure!
6 - Let's see if you can build a house without eating it!
These were a clue for gingerbread house kits which we do every year and they love.
7 - Create a picture with these showing ways to be kind!
This came with a couple sheets of stickers and they had to create a scene using the stickers where the characters or objects needed to show kindness. Then they presented the drawings to us which were VERY sweet.
8 - Use these to write a letter to your sister!
I included a couple new, fun pens here. This was super sweet and made them think about each other. We needed this especially this year with them spending the most time together ever (and bickering the most ever, too!).
9 - Pick a friend you miss to send these to with a letter!
This one included fun patches and they could choose which one(s) to send to a friend. This was about not keeping the gift for themselves but instead choosing someone else to send them to.
10 - Find a spot on the tree for these!
This one included an ornament for each of them to hang on the tree.
11 - Let's make some fancy nails!
We had some fun doing mini manis with nail stickers.
12 - Who wants some hot cocoa like an Elf?
Hot cocoa and movie night! Elf, of course!
13 - Let's wrap some presents for kids who need our help!
Every year, we get matched with a family through Baby2Baby and shop for them for Christmas. It's a mix of clothes, toys, and basic necessities. The kids get to know a little about them and their interests, and then they help wrap their gifts. In past years, we have met the families we were matched with but this year we couldn't obviously, so the gifts were dropped off at Baby2Baby who would then distribute to the kids. I always love this as a way to show our kids how much joy it can give to think of others first.
14 - Tie up your hair and do the craziest dance!
This one included scrunchies which they can use again and again.
15 - Use these to play your favorite Christmas song!
I put in two kazoos which were the closest to a "junk toy" but I already had them so I was okay with it. The kazoos didn't work SO great, but the kids still had fun with it!
16 - Create a mini restaurant!
I had some mini food toys and used them for this activity. It was fun for pretend play, but wasn't anything over-the-top special.
17 - Tell us why you love your name!
This includes a C and R iron-on patch I collected a while ago. It gave them a chance to think about their name and chose a fun place to add the patch to iron-on.
18 - Let's celebrate the beginning of Winter Break!
This includes a small bag of confetti to toss in the air.
19 - Life is sweet! Decorate some cookies!
A clue for a cookie decorating kit!
20 - Let's make some balloon magic!
Our friend gifted the kids (for Christmas) a zoom show with a balloon artist, so I saved it for one of the days later in the month.
21 - Splish splash! Let's take a bath!
Bath bomb! They now take showers so baths are a rare treat.
22 - Pick a treat you want to eat!
This included a couple pins with cotton candy on them to symbolize treats to let them pick something special for the day.
23 - Take photos of things that make you smile!
I included a pack of Instax film so they could take some photos on their instant camera. These will be fun to save as memories of this year as well.
24 - Wear these for movie night!
This last one has reindeer headbands to wear for our last night before Christmas while watching a movie, Jingle Jangle.
I was super proud of myself for coming up with a mix of things that felt both fun and heartfelt. Overall, I saved the bigger activities (cookie decorating, gingerbread houses) for the weekend and left the weekday ones more simple and something we could all do together after dinner. The kids looked forward to it every night and never forgot about it. There were some things I thought my kids would think weren't that exciting because the object wasn't anything new (like Play-doh) but I found that because it was reframed through a very specific activity, it felt fun and new to them! In some cases, we (the parents) also participated—like why we like our name or something we're grateful for.
I hope that was helpful (and interesting!) for you. Next year, I'll start a little earlier and share my new ideas with you before it's time to get them started for December 2021!