Our (mindful, minimal) Advent

(all photos in this post are from years past)

When my daughter was just shy of three I decided on the eve of December to put together a simple little advent calendar for her.  It was the first year I felt she was really of an age to get into the anticipation and celebration of the season, and I wanted a simple way to pull more from the short and darkening days as we approached the winter solstice and Christmas.  Parenthood certainly amplified the seemingly light-speed passing of time, so I welcomed most anything that helped remind me to put on the brakes, slow down, and be in the moment.

When I say 'on the eve of December' I literally mean that I was sitting in the hall just outside her door quite late at night on November 30th cutting and fastening and decorating and hanging little colorful paper pockets numbered 1 through 24.  I'd seen all sorts of ideas about ways to put together a simple little calendar- from small packages strung from a branch to paper stars stitched shut with a little trinket inside to toilet paper tubes filled with treats and sealed over with tissue paper to wee little gnomes carrying scrolls of paper- ideas aplenty abounded on the inter webs, each one as lovely as the next.  Drawn as I was personally to the brown kraft paper and twigs look, I ended up going with brightly colored paper hoping to catch her two year old fancy.

Well, it worked.  That first year I often tucked a small treat inside the pocket- a candy cane maybe, or a new ornament.  A gift of a book or some other such thing with the paper pocket from that day clipped to it.  Those little capsule things that 'grow' into animal-shaped sponges when placed in warm water.  Treasures.  More often than not though, what was tucked inside the pocket was a note with a suggestion for something we could do together.  Sometimes service or community oriented, often a small way to mindfully yet meaningfully celebrate the season together.  In the mornings she would wake and we'd hear her run over to the calendar and reach her little toddler fingers into the pocket for the slip of paper for that day and come pitter-patter-stomping into our room for us to read it to her.  And a sweet and simple (and certainly a favorite) holiday tradition of ours was born.

At the end of each December day there comes the second part of our advent calendar tradition- my favorite part, the part that has the magic and the staying power for me as a mama looking back over the years.  Beginning that first year, when she was still so little, I'd ask her to tell me something that she was grateful for, thankful for, something that made her happy.  And then I'd write it on the back of the slip of paper and clip the paper atop the pocket from that day (which made it easier for her younger self to find which day came next).  Over the years (6!) since I first made this humble little advent calendar, I've kept all of those little slips of paper and I am not sure I have the words to describe how very much I love looking back over the gratitudes on the backs of those little slips of paper.  From that first year :"the cheepy sounds the birds make", and "gorillas".  From the past few years there have been all sorts of favorites ranging from "warm, snuggly mama" to "Ollie" (our handsome grey feline), "the land, the planet", "the air we breathe", "our good, happy life "our town, and our walk to town today" and so on.  They don't look like much, just colorful little scraps, sometimes bent up and crushed a bit.  But they're like magic to this mama's heart.

The things I write daily for the calendar- they aren't grand gestures.  Sure, there are a few pretty special ones each year like going to the Nutcracker and getting our tree and things like that.  But so many of those slips are filled with the simplest of suggestions for things that, honestly, we often do anyway.  They're just dressed up a bit for the advent calendar, is all.  Drawn from a little colorful pocket, they become special and are promoted to an almost ritual-like status. The joy that she gleans from these simplest of things shows me that, simply by being mindful and deliberate in how we go about our days, we can elevate our experiences and enjoy them even more- even if only because we decide that we will.  There is power in that, I think.  Power, and peace and hope.

Here are some of my favorite advent calendar suggestions:

*cut paper snowflakes
*set up our advent spiral
*make swags, garland, wreaths (bring some to neighbors and friends)
*string pinecones and orange slices for decorations
*bake cookies (deliver some to the library, to friends, to family)
*bring a box of groceries or other needed items to the local food pantry (truly, straight up money is probably the most helpful there as they can likely stretch it further than we can in purchasing)
*make treats for the birds (we often do this on the solstice)
*hike to 'Gary's Tree' and add a decoration, bring hot cocoa and a book with us (this is a random tree just off the path on one of our favorite local trails that folks have been decorating for years)
*go to the town Christmas parade
*get our tree
*decorate it (of course)
*hot cocoa with breakfast
*library trip for wintry books
*walk to town for hot cocoa
*candlelit solstice dinner
*crafting with friends (making cards, bird treats, ornaments, anything!)
*visiting with friends and family
*go see The Nutcracker
*plant narcissus bulbs
*watch a movie together
*make gifts for friends
*caroling party at a dear friend's house

There are endless options, really.  You can make just about anything feel special and meaningful with a little bit of time and intention.  And the added magic of pulling it out of a taped together pocket of bright construction paper, of course.

Cheers to you and yours this holiday season!

Here are links to some holiday posts from years past:
Winter 2016
Thanksgiving to Advent, 2015
Joy and Cheer 2014 
Advent Activities 2014 

1 comment:

  1. Don't you love the story, the magic, the peace, and the hope that all happens in the month of December? I most love this month through the eyes of children, bother mine and others, though mine are no longer in that age category.

    I love this post. And thank you for the beautiful Christmas card! You're all now on the side of my fridge.


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