Advent Calendars: A Holiday Tradition for Almost Anyone

Hacking the Holidays

An advent calendar shaped like a Christmas tree.An advent calendar shaped like a Christmas tree.

Image via Wikipedia (CC Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license)

One of my fondest memories of celebrating the Christmas season when I was a kid was using advent calendars. It was a countdown to a fun celebration that, for our family, meant time with loved ones, great food, a festive atmosphere and gift giving and receiving. We didn’t have a lot of money, and so we only had two or three calendars that we used year after year. I wish I knew what happened to those, as I don’t remember what they looked like. One special year, though, we got a non-reusable one with chocolate inside each day! These days those types of advent calendars are commonplace, but back then, for us, it was an incredibly special treat. My sister and I took turns eating the chocolate inside.

Since having my own kids, I have made an effort to make the Christmas season special for them and for me. I’ve included advent calendars in that tradition. We often end up with chocolate ones, since most of them are so cheap. But over time, I’ve tried to accumulate some reusable ones that are a lot of fun. The first reusable advent calendar that I got was a Playmobil one. It includes some farm animals, a small parade of children with lanterns, gifts and, of course, Santa. More recently I have acquired an advent “house” with a small door for each of the days of December leading up to Christmas. So far I’ve filled those compartments with little toys or candy, but this year I’ll be putting two small ornaments in each one, one for each kid, that we’ll use to decorate a mini metal tree.

There are so many different kinds of advent calendars. There are religious ones, gorgeous architectural ones, picture ones and even a wide variety of toy ones put out every year by companies like Lego and Playmobil. I pore over them, wishing they could fill my house. Not all advent calendar options fold flat, however, so this can take up a lot of room in the off season. But I would still like one or two more to add more festivity to the season. It brings me, and my kids, great joy.

As families grow, you end up forming your own traditions. Sometimes you follow the mom’s family traditions, sometimes the dad’s. Usually it is some combination of the two, plus your own new traditions that you’ve started together. Having multiple advent calendars that actually do something is one tradition that I’ve started for my family. Also, I’ve been wanting to make my own advent calendar. It might be the softie on the tree type, or a fantastic wooden spool treasure hunt type, with each spool giving you a clue as to where to find that day’s treasure.

Advent calendars were originally a German tradition from over 150 years ago, but they can become a tradition for any family to do together. To make the most of your experience, you can learn a bit about their history, or visit an online museum.

Using advent calendars to count down to Christmas is just one holiday ritual in my house. What are your favorite holiday traditions?

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