I started out as an advent calendar skeptic. My wife came home from the store with a beaten up old window frame, some twine, tiny bags, and stencils. “It’s for the Advent calendar. Remember?”
I tried to act excited but she could tell, that first year, that I wasn’t super into it. (Maybe it was the deep long-suffering sigh I let out when she wouldn’t let me leave for the morning without reading the next note.)
Most of the time, we read a Scripture, some notes and do some activities for the day. The first week, I thought it was a bit of a chore. Life was crazy. Our three-month-old son had crazy colic and cried constantly. Did we really have time for this? But she had a vision for it and by Christmas week I had to admit it was a nice morning ritual.
By the second year, I was sold. Now I’m advent calendar apologist.
Why An Advent Calendar?
One of my wife Jenn’s goals was to create a ritual for us as a family. She wanted to build a ritual into our Christmas to keep us focused on the birth of Christ and all that meant for us. I love that.
In a way, an Advent calendar is just a creative way to apply two principles from the Old Testament. The first principle is that God often used striking symbols and rituals to reinforce key messages to his people.
For example, every year the Passover was to be remembered through a feast as a reminder of Israel’s redemption (Ex 12:26-27). Adding specific “memorials” to the season we remember the birth of Christ can help us intentionally remember key Scriptural truths.
But the second principle is that God commanded families to take advantage of teaching moments in the everyday stuff of life. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
God’s people were not asked to add something new to their calendar but simply to be intentional about the “normal” moments happening every day. In the same way, an Advent calendar can take just a few moments a day but still be a way of “teaching…diligently” from God’s Word.
How Can I Make My Own Advent calendar?
Let me just say that you don’t need to be the next Martha Stewart or HGTV star to make your own Advent calendar. In fact, just google it and you’ll get a dizzying array of options (places like Parents, Pinterest, even Buzzfeed). But the point is that you can do this. And I think when you make it yourself you really own it and it’s much more meaningful.
Here’s how we made ours:
- An old window from a wrecking yard (really)
- Some twine glued across the frame with a hot glue gun (but you can always staple or attach it another way)
- Little bags that Jenn stenciled numbers on (just big enough for a small note or a hershey kiss or something like that)
- Clothespins that we used to keep the little bags on the string
That’s it! Ours got a bit beat up in our recent move but it’s survived the last four years. Plus, when it’s not used for Advent we’ve taken to using the clothespins to keep postcards or photos there. So you can make it as elaborate or simple as you want it to be. I’ll bet you already have some materials around your house you could use.
What Kind of Stuff Should I Put In My Advent Calendar?
The short answer is: Whatever you want! (Just make sure you get the meaning of Christmas in there)
The longer answer: Write up one “activity” each day using these categories…
- Scripture: Jenn started writing a short Scripture on the back of the note for each day. I love that because they’re short and easy to read out loud with the kids every day (and have the needed effect on our own adult hearts too).
- Longer Readings/Stories: We also broke up longer readings on some days where we retold the story of Jesus’ birth either through the Bible or a kids version. We have a giant Bible I’ll get out sometimes for the reading because my four-year-old is at the age when “Giant Bible = Extra Important.”
- Simple Christmas Fun: Write a note that says “hang the Mistletoe,” or “Make hot chocolate,” or “Take a drive to see Christmas lights.” Don’t get overly ambitious but do push yourself to create some moments and memories.
- Surprise Gifts: Hide some chocolates or an early Christmas present for the family in some on some of the days. (Jenn, if you are reading this please put some of that extra dark chocolate in there.)
- Bless Others: Set aside a day to bake cookies for your neighbors or write an encouraging note to a friend or donate money or supplies to a family or person that could use some help. It’s a great way to remind yourself and your family to be outwardly focused during the season.
- Parties/Activities: Got a Christmas party coming up? Write it down as your “advent activity.” This way you don’t forget about it, but you also don’t overload your calendar rushing from Christmas party to Advent activity.
That’s where we started but once you get rolling I’m sure you’ll find your own style and stumble onto your own annual traditions. The point is to make it fun, achievable, and meaningful. It doesn’t have to win an award on Pinterest, just win the attention of your family for a few moments for something that really matters.
Anyone can do that, even a grumpy Advent-skeptic like me.