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You don’t need me to tell you that this has been one strange year. Now, December is approaching, many places are back in lockdown or heading that way, and much of the normal holiday season fun is simply not-accessible. With that in mind, we came up with a list of family activities for Advent 2020 and are happy to share it with you.
A Family Activity Advent calendar has been a family tradition pretty much since we had children. We like the idea of doing things together and making memories year after year. This calendar can be a stand-alone thing or an addition to a typical Advent calendar.
We divided the activities into 6 categories: make, cook, decorate, do, give, and get outside. Altogether, there are more than 25 so you can pick and choose what works for your family, your climate, your living situation, etc.. Also, we find that repeating certain ones twice in the same month is perfectly fine.
Our kids really like seeing us make our own things, not just help them with theirs. We’ve found out it’s a great opportunity to model dealing with things turning out less than perfect.
An ornament. The possibilities are endless. You can use store-bought baubles and paint fingerprint reindeer on them. You can make the good old popsicle Christmas trees. Or you can pick something from this list of 50 different options.
A card. There are so many cool options for different ages/ability levels out there! Here are some of the ideas we’ve used in the past: paint chip cards, thumb print lights cards, and fabric scraps cards.
A paper snowflake. Go for a classic design if you have younger kids (this one is good) or an intricate character one if you have older kids (we love these designs). If your family really loves a challenge, check out these amazing 3D snowflakes.
A gift. Even very young kids can make these painted cork trivets, decorated candles, and painted dish towels. You can always make more ornaments as gifts as well (our kids made a ton out of air-dry clay one year).
We bake more in December than during all the other months put together. This year there may not be any cookie exchanges and potluck parties but one can always half the recipe and make the favorites anyway.
Bake (and decorate) cookies. Our experience shows that you can separate baking and decorating into 2 separate days. Here are some of our favorite recipes: sugar cookies (and this site has the best info on royal icing), Olive Oil & Sea Salt cookies (SO good!), and gingerbread cookies.
Make truffles. Full disclosure: we only make Oreo truffles and use this recipe.
Bake sweet breads. Yes, there is always the banana bread but we feel like holiday season is a perfect time to add cranberry orange, blueberry gingerbread, and pumpkin bread to one’s repertoire!
Make marshmallows. Did you know you can make them at home? We’ve been making ours for the past 10 years or so and they are always a hit. We use this recipe and have modified it when necessary (you can omit peppermint, and use honey or golden syrup instead of corn syrup) but heard great things about this one as well.
Roast chestnuts. And listen to The Christmas Song while doing so, of course 🙂
We usually choose not to do ALL the decorating on the same day because we find it prolongs the fun for our kids. They really enjoy adding special touches here and there.
Hang lights. Self-explanatory!
Set up the Nativity. If you don’t have one but would like to set one up, check out these free printable ones: Paper City Nativity is black-and-white, can be colored or left as is, and requires very little work to assemble. The Nativity Story is full color, has quite a bit of detail and would take some time to complete.
Decorate the windows. When I (Jenia) was little, my mom used to draw wintery scenes on our mirrors with… bar soap. You can do the same with the windows! If you (or, more likely, your kids) want more color, you can use these kid-friendly window markers. If your kids are older and you would trust them with a (glue) gun, check out this idea as well.
Decorate the door to the kids’ room – or any door, for that matter. We usually give our kids a huge piece of paper and they draw a life-size winter-ey character on it. This makes for a good family project because the picture is big, and it takes a team effort to finish coloring it 🙂
It’s the small things that make all the difference. Our kids look forward to hot chocolate with candy canes every December.
Watch a holiday movie. The Christmas Chronicles is a new favorite in this house but there are so, so many good movies and cartoons to pick from! If you are looking for something for younger kids (think shortish and gentle), check out The Snowman and The Snowman and the Snowdog (based on this beautiful book).
Drink hot chocolate. To be quite honest, this is reserved for those days when we just.can’t.anymore. Extra points for candy canes or whipped cream – and what a good way to use those homemade marshmallows.
Light Advent Candles. The 4 candles of Advent represent hope, peace, joy, and love – four things we all could use a little more of. The first candle is lit on the first Sunday of December and the following ones are lit on the following Sundays.
Make gingerbread houses. Make your own gingerbread, or buy one of the numerous kits, or do the new thing and use Pop-tarts instead (apparently, they work better).
Dance to holiday music. This is another “easy on the parents” one. Clear off some floor space, turn up the volume, and forget about that bad knee!
December is often seen as the season of giving. If you aren’t sure just how to breach the subjects of philanthropy, charity, and poverty with your children, here are some resources: a PBS video, an article on raising compassionate kids and an article on conversation starters about poverty.
Donate toys and/or clothes. You can involve your children into buying new items for families in need, or help them go through the items they outgrew and then take them to a charity thrift store/list them for free on Marketplace.
Donate food to a local food bank. Feeding America has some great information on different ways to help. Here’s their article on what to give and not to give to a food bank.
Send Christmas cards. You can brighten the day of deployed troops (send cards via USASOA or your local Red Cross), hospitalized children (via Cards for Hospitalized Kids or online at St. Jude), or the elderly (via the Angel Card Project).
Knit or crochet for a charity. Granted, this isn’t something you can have your toddlers do. If your kid is 7 or older though, it’s a fairly quick skill to learn. You can send squares that will be made into blankets for the homeless to WarmUpAmerica or hats and/or scarves to The Seamen’s Church Institute to be distributed among mariners who are not home during the holidays.
Yes, it’s 2020 but unless you are in the middle of a big city there may still be ways to leave the house and do something different.
Drive around and look at the lights. It can be a drive around your neighborhood or a trip to a drive-through display at a park.
Go on a hike. Or at least a nature walk. Find a small State Park and go spend some time in nature.
Make a fire and roast some marshmallows. There is nothing like sitting around an open fire when the weather is chilly. Feel free to substitute the marshmallows for pineapple, hotdogs, or whatever your heart desires.
There are numerous ways to create an Advent calendar. A Google or Pinterest search will provide you with hundreds of ideas. The cheapest and easiest option we’ve ever used was a paper chain made with wintery/Christmasy paper, with 24 links, each with the activity for the day written inside. Envelopes would also work. If you go that route, here are some beautiful printable tags.
If you would like more creative ideas for family activities for Advent, please read my friend Mackenzie’s post. If anyone knows about creativity and nourishing it in one’s children, it’s her.
Please let us know if you use any of these ideas and/or share your own!