Upon opening the last present Christmas morning, my then 5-year-old uncle famously walked over the Christmas tree, pulled the plug, and announced, “Christmas is over.”
It was probably 8am.
Don’t we often feel that way? Not only has advent been replaced by a frantic countdown calendar entitled “Only – Shopping days until Christmas!”, but the concept of “The 12 days of Christmas” has been completely forgotten.
Somehow, the entire Christmas season has been reduced to that single moment of our families running down the stairs and saying “OOOOOHHHH” at the magical bounty we’ve created for them under the tree. Starting the season early just means getting a jump-start on locating, purchasing, wrapping, and cooking the items necessary to create this snapshot image.
Trying to save money, reduce waste, and spread contentment and gratitude under this mindset is almost impossible, because we’ve created this formula:
Christmas = room full of gifts, therefore fewer gifts = less Christmas = deprived kids.
Many of us add an hour of church on Christmas Eve to this equation, plus nagging reminders to our kids about the Real Meaning Of Christmas, the Joy of Giving, and the Threat of Coal in the Stocking, but we all know the above formula is the dominant one.
But what if we gave ourselves and our family an entire SEASON of authentic, sustainable gifts, and then made Christmas morning last for days and weeks, rather than an hour? Sound exhausting and expensive? Exactly the opposite.
Through trial and error, and some stumbling across wonderful advice from friends and authors, I’ve compiled a list of inexpensive and even FREE ways to help us celebrate Advent as an entire season of sustainable joy, abundance, and gratitude rather than a frantic race leading to a fleeting moment of indulgence and entitlement. Many of these tricks are for families with young children, but can be adapted to any situation.
3 Fun Ways to stretch out Advent:
The Bean Jar: Starting December 1st, set out an empty jar next to a bowl of dried beans. For each good deed done in our family, a bean goes into the jar. Yes, it works the other way, too, in our house, at least. Christmas night, Santa replaces the beans with jelly beans (therefore knowing how Good or Bad everyone was), taking the dried ones back to make soup for the tired elves.
The Book Basket: This involves wrapping up 25 Christmas or winter-themed books and letting the kids unwrap one per night. I use books we already have, but throughout the year search thrift stores and library sales to add a few surprises. My kids LOVE this tradition, and even though they read chapter books independently by now, they cuddle up next to me (yep, even my 11-year-old) and allow me to stretch out a little more childhood in our family. Plus, they get to unwrap 25 presents before Christmas morning!!
The Activity List: Starting NOW, start brainstorming fun things you’d like to do this Christmas season. Put a price limit on the entire thing, and treat the budget like one of your Christmas gifts…opened early! Make sure many can be done spur-of-the-moment. I seriously urge you to involve your kids in this list, because when I asked mine what they wanted to do, the simplicity of it often shocked me: Draw a picture of Santa Claus. Make a paper chain for the Christmas tree. Sing a song. These are the things kids treasure, and we often miss them because we’re trying to give them a Barbie Dream House.
The best part of all three ideas is they give us practical and teaching methods to get the season in line with our values. The Bean Jar encourages us to help others, recognize good behavior in our kids, and begin a healthy dialog about right vs. wrong. The Book Basket can start the habit of a nightly devotional with our family, especially if we choose our Christmas books carefully. And the Activity List can encompass service projects, educational opportunities, and time for fellowship.
With all of this, the Christmas season is already looking pretty good, and we haven’t even gotten to Christmas morning…that’s next week!