The word advent, from Latin, means “the coming” and this period – the four weeks or so before Christmas, beginning on the Sunday closest to the 30th November – can be seen as one of joyful anticipation as well as (spiritual or personal) reflection. Although we are not a religious family, I love the advent period for building anticipation for the festivities of Christmas. In fact, I love the gentle build up for the month or so before far more than I love the day of Christmas itself. Frida can’t wait for the 25th and all of the presents which that entails (though she’s also excited to open her advent calendar; more on this shortly). But for me, the traditions – the decorating, baking, carols and candlelight – is what the Christmas period is all about.
It’s a time when I plan special activities, we’re more intentional about crafts and baking, and the eager delight of my daughter as she drinks in the delights of the season is palpable. But it’s also a time when I work hard to really protect our space and our calm. It’s a busy time of year for us, so that means planning in a lot of downtime around our festivities, quiet time to sit beside the tree with a cup of coffee, to bake cookies at home, to have daytime baths, to take frosty walks to forage for holly, or simply play long games on the floor with the fairy lights twinkling overhead. Bliss.
We’ll also be sticking to our usual rhythms as much as possible, whilst slowly building our traditions for this time of year a little each year. (A mantra for me: there’s no need to rush.)
If you’re looking for some inspiration for a calm advent, here are some of our plans for this year. If it sounds like a lot, remember that we are homeschooling Frida (4.5) and that I plan to basically dedicate the whole of December to advent, working in our usual rhythm to fit the theme (think carols and trips to the ballet for our music study, writing Christmas cards for literacy, reading piles of seasonal books, and studying the wildlife we see outside in December).
The advent calendar
Advent calendars have been used ever since to mark down the days between the start of the advent period and Christmas day, and they are wonderful to help children visually understand how long they have to wait. I have really noticed that there is a growing trend away from the more traditional pictorial advent calendars towards calendars including chocolates, books (usually a Christmas-themed book to read each day, often re-wrapped year after year), gifts, and prompts for activities. I’ve also seen lovely advent spirals, based in the Waldorf tradition, which can either be bought or simply made with air-dry clay to move a marble around (see here for a beautiful example from my friend Rowan).
Whilst there is nothing wrong with any of that (and a part of me lusts after the simplicity of the advent spiral), my heart belongs to the traditional picture calendars. Last year I bought Frida’s calendar from Wynstones Press and we were both delighted with it so I’ve done the same this year (last year’s choice / this year’s choice) and I can tell it’s a tradition I’ll be sticking to for years to come.
I have steered clear of gift, book and activity advent calendars mainly to avoid overwhelm; mine and Frida’s! I feel like receiving so many new books or toys each day for such a long period could be quite overwhelming for young children, and can also develop a sense that new gifts should come every day after the advent period is over! But just as importantly, it feels like this would place extra pressure on me during an already busy time of year. We celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah as well as our wedding anniversary in December, and a full-on advent calendar just feels like too much for our family during that time.
(I should stress here that if you are excited about making an all-singing, all-dancing advent calendar for your child, with activities and gifts galore, and it will fulfil some of your creative needs, then of course go for it! But equally if the season is already feeling like a lot then consider this your permission to buy a chocolate or picture calendar and leave it at that.)
This year I have also bought her a Playmobil calendar. She is SO into Santa (which is funny as we’ve never made a huge deal out of him) so I thought she would really enjoy playing with this, and we will hopefully get a few year’s use out of the toys each Christmas before passing them on to younger children. And I’m pretty sure my mum has bought her a chocolate one too (grandmother’s prerogative hey?)…
This year I have bought this sweet book. It has 24 short chapters, and we will read one every day. I can’t wait to add this to our morning time! I hope Frida enjoys it.
I’ve planned a special trip for each week of December and early January (this feels like quite a lot, and I didn’t really mean to book so many things, so I’ll reassess at the end of the period and if it felt like too much I’ll re-think next year). I really like the idea of Christmas being about family experiences as well as gifts, and these trips will be a big part of our homeschooling for the month. I booked all of these quite far in advance – some in August! – which means the ballets were more affordable as there were still cheaper seats.
We’ll be going to:
- The Snowman
- The Nutcracker
- Christmas at Kew
- Me (I wouldn’t have chosen this as I wonder if Frida is a bit old for it but she wanted to go…)
- The Pixie and the Pudding
My friend Jamey and I are also going to together to take our children to a Santa’s Grotto near us. I’ve never taken Frida to one before and I’m sure she’s going to love it, it looks pretty fun.
Decorating our home
After we have done a big clean over the next few days, we will forage (responsibly!) for foliage to decorate our home and make beautifully scented pomanders and dried orange decorations. Our winter flower fairies will come out, and we will change our celebration ring decorations to reflect winter, perhaps adding four candles in a nod to an advent wreath (although we are a secular family I feel like this beautifully represents the wait for Christmas). And I’ve already stocked up on my favourite beeswax candles, and if Frida fancies we’ll make some paper chains or garlands too.
We will of course also be decorating the Christmas tree! For the last few years we’ve had a tiny fake tree but this year after a huge amount of deliberating (which I’m sure my husband is totally sick of!) I’ve decided to order a sustainably sourced real tree (I ordered if for delivery through Patch. I’ve used them before for plants and the delivery is so good, you can use this link for 15% off and then I think I get money off future orders! Win win!).
I’m still not sure if it’s the best thing to do but we’ve never had a bigger tree around our cat, so I really didn’t want to buy a big fake tree only to find out the cat climbs it all the time (apparently you need to use them for at least ten years for them to be more sustainable than cut trees, and I’d guess that the bigger the tree the longer that period is). Our tiny tree will still get used, either in Frida’s room or outside our house with some outdoor fairy lights.
As part of my own advent tradition, I will make time to walk around the Liberty Christmas section and look at all baubles. A small pleasure I enjoy every year.
I talked about this a little at the beginning of the post, but it’s important enough to talk about again. Whilst we have some special activities planned, I am also scheduling a LOT of downtime with zero plans into our diary. This is the perfect time of year to lean into rest and quiet, and we need it to balance all the excitement and festivity. Sometimes – often – this will mean saying no to things we’d usually love to do so that we can honour our yearning to slow down and snuggle on the sofa or curl up in bed. That’s ok. Saying no to things means saying yes to rest and replenishment.
Personally, I’ll also be intentional about making time for regular yoga, swimming, and walks in nature as well as lots of early nights, water, phone-free time, probiotics, and veggies.
We bake all year round, but there is nothing better than something sweet fresh from a hot oven on a bitterly cold day. We’ve already made our Christmas cake, but I’m looking forward to getting into the kitchen with Frida and making gingerbread (using this recipe, we’ve made it several times before and it’s SO good) and marzipan (to top our cake! Using this recipe. ). We’ll also be baking bread, and I’d like to make lemon curd.
We’ll also be making lots of soups and leafy veg-packed stews to go alongside all of the baked goods!
Writing letters and sending Christmas cards
Frida is really into sending cards and letters to people at the moment, so I’ll be glad of her help in sending cards and drawings to some of our nearest and dearest (and it’s wonderful, meaningful work for Frida too!)
We will also make wrapping paper; we have a huge roll of brown parcel paper which Frida can go to town on however she sees fit. I can’t wait to see what she makes.
Finding ways to serve others
We will collect food for a local food bank, and bake cookies to share with our friends and neighbours. We will also make bird feeders with apples, seeds, and peanut butter, and keep our bird feeding table topped up. I’m also going to be intentional about having conversations around kindness, giving, fairness, and privilege (in an appropriate manner) during this time of year. I will suggest to Frida that she may wish to donate toys or some pocket money, but there will be no pressure for her to do so and no shame if she chooses not to.
Listening to seasonal music
I’m still working on our advent morning time playlist on Spotify but you can listen to a rough version here! We will also learn some new winter verses and songs. I was really tempted to book onto a Christmas Bach to Baby concert but it felt like too much on top of everything else we have planned. Next year, perhaps.
Pulling out our stacks of Christmas and winter books
Our homeschooling morning time is going to get seriously seasonal in December! You can find some of my past book posts here. We are currently reading Moominland Midwinter which is a perfect chapter book to enjoy as the weather gets colder (and even more perfect when read in warm cafe’s over steaming mugs of hot chocolate).
Getting outside into nature every day…
…even if it’s just a short walk to the park or half an hour in the garden. It’s good for us in every possible way, and I am really aiming to be intentional about doing this now that the colder, darker weather is whispering to me to stat indoors. We never regret going outside.
Some more resources for you if you want some inspiration for the advent period:
- My friend Abi has just released a sweet, heartfelt guide to having “A Gentle Advent” with your young children, full of stories, poems, crafts and activities
- My friend Rowan will be running “24 Days of Advent Magic” with daily prompts landing in your inbox for the whole of the advent period
- Meagan at Whole Family Rhythms has a beautiful *free* Christmas guide here full of crafts, stories and recipes
- These books: Winter (full of songs, poems and stories) / Around The Year (lots of crafts and recipes) / The Christmas Chronicles (for foodies; I love reading this to get in the mood for Christmas!)
- My Rhythm in the Home course. Not just for advent, this course helps you grow strong daily, weekly and seasonal family rhythm which will help you live a more joyful family life which is aligned with your unique needs and values.
Crafting meaningful family rhythms around seasonal celebrations can form the basis of a truly beautiful childhood. Lovingly crafting and refining our winter rhythm is something I take so much pleasure in each year. This December I will be running Rhythm in the Home for the ninth time, and there are just two days left to grab your place! Read more about it and book onto the course here.
Wishing you a beautiful advent period if you are celebrating! I’ll be back soon to share our plans for Chanukah.