By year three of our Family Christmas Countdown, it had already become a firmly established tradition.
Our oldest son, then six, talked about it all year long. I guess when you’re six, a three-year-old tradition adds up to half your life, and all of your remember-able life.
The evolution of our Family Christmas Countdown
The first year involved a frugal-crafty creation combining an old cookie sheet with magnetized calendar squares for each of the 25 days leading up to and including Christmas Day. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but Malachi loved it.
The following year, I simply wasn’t up to recreating anything remotely involved. So I printed the activities on white computer paper, cut them into strips and placed each strip in its own basic, white, mailing envelope. I sealed the envelopes with Christmas stickers and wrote each day’s number on the front of the envelope.
The entire thing was completely and utterly NOT Martha Stewart or Pinterest worthy. But it worked. Malachi was five. He didn’t know about Martha Stewart OR Pinterest.
All the while, I was on the lookout for a suitable wooden advent calendar with doors or drawers, hoping to come across one on a thrifting jaunt, or pick up one at a post-Christmas sale.
No dice. So the following year I broke down and ordered one online. And we’ve used this sturdy wooden Advent house ever since! (Here’s a similar wooden Advent house.)
Sometimes the task of planning out 25 days of Christmas activities and events feels overwhelming, and I’m tempted to throw in the towel on this family tradition. In fact, our first Christmas on the new farm felt so stressful for me that I told Greg that was the end of the Christmas Countdown.
But as the next Christmas season approached, life felt a bit calmer and I had a change of heart. My boys adore this tradition, and there are definite advantages for me, too.
5 reasons to love the Christmas Countdown:
1. The Christmas Countdown means that December is all planned out.
For me, this is a win. Once I get the countdown planned out—usually between Thanksgiving and December first—I can sit back and enjoy the activities as they come along.
2. The Christmas Countdown ensures that no tradition is left behind.
I don’t have to worry about squeezing in our annual cookie-baking session or taking the boys shopping for Greg or driving around to look at lights. Each tradition has been penciled in somewhere between the first and twenty fifth of December.
3. The Christmas Countdown eliminates badgering questions from the kids.
This is seriously one of the best parts of the Christmas Countdown! The kids can rest assured that each treasured activity will come along sooner or later.
They do sometimes wonder aloud when certain events will take place, but they don’t pester me about any of it. My boys honestly love the mystery of it all and don’t want to spoil the surprise.
4. The Christmas Countdown establishes our family identity.
The tradition itself doesn’t matter, but repeating any family tradition year after year cements the idea of family into all of our hearts. My boys know that we do our special Christmas Countdown every year. They expect it, look forward to it, and savor it with gusto. It’s part of the Henderson experience.
5. The Christmas Countdown allows us to celebrate intentionally.
Personally, I want my kids to have a deep connection with the true meaning of Christmas. Our Christmas Countdown allows me to emphasize our family values over a mass produced and over-commercialized version of Christmas.
We can plan in traditions like “shopping” from the Samaritan Purse Christmas catalog, treasuring our Nativity sets, observing our Jesse Tree tradition, and focusing on Christmas carols with rich doctrine.
Christmas Countdown activity ideas:
I try to keep our Christmas Countdown activities as simple as possible. Several are as easy as reading a favorite Christmas book–of which we have many! We also incorporate events like Christmas parties or visits to relatives. While we don’t do every activity every year, there are definite favorites that must be included. Here are some of the countdown activities we’ve done over the years.
- Cut down our Christmas tree.
- Decorate the Christmas tree.
- Begin the Jesse Tree Advent readings.
- Get out our nativity sets. Over the years, we have collected a few special sets. We get out the sets early in December, so the boys can play with them all month long. When they were small, they liked to “act” out the story with the nativity figures.
- Gather pinecones & pine branches. We often use these to decorate the porch.
- Get out our Christmas matroyshka dolls. Years ago, I found a special set of Russian nesting dolls at a thrift store. Over the years, I’ve added two more special sets in order to have one set per child. We get them out only at Christmas time, and I’m always amazed at how much the boys love this tradition.
- Bake and decorate Christmas cookies.
- Nutcracker day. We listen to the Nutcracker music, read our Nutcracker book, and hang our Nutcracker ornament on the tree.
- Drink hot cocoa.
- Watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
- Sing Christmas carols. We have enjoyed several volumes of Hymns for a Kid’s Heart: Christmas Carols. Some years, we introduced one new carol each Sunday and then practiced it during the week.
- Receive new Christmas PJ’s. When they were smaller, the boys wore their new Christmas PJs to drive around looking at lights, as well as on Christmas morning. I always buy their PJs the year before, and try to get them on sale.
- Read a favorite Christmas story.
- Receive a new Christmas book.
- Assemble gift baskets. We exchange gifts with two special families, and the kids love to be involved.
- Deliver neighbor gifts. When we had neighbors, we often hand delivered our Christmas card and a jar of our favorite salsa from Texas.
- Deliver gifts to friends. One family lives far away, so this involves a trip to the post office. The other family is local and we often plan a time to get together.
- Christmas craft. Crafts with small children always stressed me out. My oldest son has always loved crafts, though, so I always tried to incorporate one when he was younger. Now that he’s old enough to do his own crafts whenever he wants to, this tradition has faded away to make room for new traditions.
- Make Christmas cards. We used to do this for close friends and family members to whom we give or send gifts. My oldest son would use construction paper, glue and recycled cards from years past.
- Look at our family Christmas scrapbook. This is a collection of our annual family photo card and letter. It’s such a fun way to celebrate the growth of our family.
- Watch Charlie Brown Christmas.
- Look at Christmas lights. We usually wear Christmas PJ’s for this, and sometimes I remember to bring a special treat to eat in the car.
- Make wassail.
- Put up Christmas lights on the house.
- Get out our collection of Christmas jigsaw puzzles. Two of my three boys are avid puzzlers and over the years we have amassed quite a collection!
- Attend a special Christmas performance.
- Receive new Christmas socks. Like their Christmas PJs, I often look for these the year before and wait for them to go on sale.
- Shop for siblings. We used to go to an actual store, but it became stressful. Now we shop online, and it works perfectly!
- Shop for Dad. We usually still do this at a store, namely Home Depot.
- Shop for Mom. Greg takes the boys to dinner and to a few stores.
- Wrap family gifts. This is getting easier as the boys get older. When they were small, I would have them help secure the Scotch tape, choose a bow, pick out a to/from label, and write their name.
- Candlelight Christmas Eve service plus dinner out. One year we ate at the Cheesecake Factory, and it turned into an annual tradition.
- Watch Home Alone. This often goes against my best judgment, but the boys get such a kick out of this movie. When they were younger, we watched Frosty the Snowman instead.
- Listen to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I highly recommend the audio version of this book over reading it aloud. Unless you happen to be very good at British accents.
- Listen to The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. We own this audiobook and listen to it every year. The boys also love to listen to it throughout the year. It’s hilarious and so good!
- Give hope. Every year we “shop” from the Samaritan Purse Christmas catalog.
- Receive a new Christmas CD.
Does your family do a Christmas Countdown? Which are your favorite countdown activities?
Kathleen Henderson is the yankee behind the homestead. Follow along as we grow real food and three boys while renovating a 20-acre farm in northern Virginia. Do you love homegrown food, Paleo-ish recipes, and natural living? You’re in good company! Let’s grow together…