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advent calendars

This is what I wanted to do for my kids for our advent calendar this year:

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I was going to make bags like I did for Audrey’s birthday favors using my chevron printable paper, then create cute number stickers and hang them as a banner in the kitchen.  I would fill them with trinkets and treats and they would open them with delight each morning.

Instead, they are getting these:

store bought advent calendar

Store-bought $2.99 calendars with a crazy looking Santa on them and cheap chocolates hiding in each cut out.

To tell you the truth, they will probably adore the chocolates and won’t know the difference between a handcrafted advent calendar and one that I picked up at the craft store. The point is, it’s a countdown to the best holiday of the year and gives them something to be excited about each day. 

This blog post was not supposed to be about my deep thoughts around crafting advent calendars. I was going to show all kinds of great advent calendar ideas in case you wanted to put one together before tomorrow. But sometimes you just have to go with it when your heart takes you elsewhere.

Here’s the thing: I know my kids appreciate when I put extra effort into creating things for them. But most of the time, they could not care less if their gifts are wrapped beautifully or their birthday treats for school have hand-painted fondant flowers on them {okay, clearly I have not made these for my boys, but you get the point}.  The over-the-top parties and themed bedroom remodels are amazing, but I’m not convinced that’s how children receive love. I’m pretty sure they just want us to hang out with them.

How often do I do something for the kids that really is just for me? 

There is a balance to be found because I am all for creating and making life more beautiful through handmade details.  But was my advent calendar idea really for my babes? Or was it because I thought it would look cute hanging in my kitchen? {it was the latter, in case you didn’t guess}. 

I have abandoned the advent bag idea mostly because I just couldn’t get it put together in time. But now that I think about it, I am realizing that the whole point of an advent is to spend time  together anticipating the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  We don’t need a fancy calendar to do this.

Nope, we’ll happily be eating cheap chocolates from the crazy Santa calendars this year.

85 thoughts on “advent calendars”

  1. I just stumbled across your blog from A Place of Quiet Rest. I picked up these advent calendars too. I was so excited when I found them because my Grandmother gave them to me as a kid! I loved them then and my kids do too. Thanks for the post.

  2. this is so good. i struggle with this same thing. am i putting them off so that i can blog about our life so they can enjoy it in the future, when they want me present right. now? and yes, i do so many projects that are for me and they do think it’s nice, but would be just as happy with a punch out weird santa advent card. ;) oh sigh…it’s a struggle.

    have a lovely friday…

  3. So true. It is easy to get caught up in creating the beauty and then forgetting the reason. From reading your post I have a feeling you do a good job of balancing it out. A.

  4. Don’t worry too much about doing things just because you will enjoy doing it!
    Every year my mum would make a big snowman out of boxes and cotton wool and fill it with presents. and as a kid i would just pull it apart and rush to the presents inside. However now i’m older (31!) i’m so inspired by her! She still makes the showman every year and it what i look forward to most (even more than the presents nowadays!). her creativity is inspiring!

  5. I had the same thing – all these GREAT ideas for a advent calendar and they are getting the cheap Santa and Teddy Bear ones! And they were REALLY excited! BUT I did stumble onto this amazing advent idea you might want to do with your kids – http://daniellesplace.com/html/christmas_page2.html about 3/4 down the page there is a 24 day countdown to Christmas with each day an idea for a trinket (a quarter, a candy etc) a reason for it and a bible verse to read! Really cool.

  6. Thank you for a simple and sweet reminder of the importance of ‘just being together’. That is really what our ‘littles’ want from us. Love the crafts. Love the sentiments. Love the focus on family. Thank you!

  7. So true! I often think my son would rather have the time spent together than the time I spend creating some craft for a birthday or holiday.

  8. I had ideas of granjure as well in making my advent calendar… But alas I will be using our wooden advent box from ll bean that we fill the tiny drawers with chocolates or toys I get from bubblegum machines! So ow I don’t feel as bad that I didn’t get that done. Thanks for keeping it real!

  9. Thank you for this post! I too, needed it! I have seen so many cute ideas for advent calendar’s, but my daughter like your children was so happy to see the chocolate advent calendar in the store. At first, I was slightly disappointed, but if she is happy, so am I. By the way, I realized we have more than 25 Christmas themed books (my mom is a retired teacher and book junky), so though I won’t be wrapping them, I am making the effort that we read them all this holiday season, even the ones I would normally pass on.

  10. Seriously, each time I read your blog – I think to myself “we would be SUCH good friends”!!!!!! ;-) I constantly have a conversation with you everytime I read….saying things like “Amen”, “you’re so right”, “Girl, I’d LOVE that 365 random question book, too’!!!!
    Thank you for blogging and making, not just my day but everyone else’s alittle bit brighter!

  11. this is so funny and i tell you why…my grandson is too young to be excited about christmas and i have seen some of the cutest advent calendars on blogs and pinterest and wanted to make one. i decided to make one for my great-niece using baby food jars i have. my plan was to put a note for each day about the birth of Jesus plus have a little surprise (chocolate). well long story short the surprises got in there but her mom (my niece) will just have to tell her the story in her own words! oh well! maybe this inspire my niece to do it next year!

  12. I am laughing as I am reading this! I always have big plans for a homemade advent calendar and this year we are using the $.99 ones from trader joes! They kids are just excited for the chocolate….i know I really would much rather look at the “prettier” version, but there is always next year!

  13. I pinned a quote this week that fits this perfectly! “Children will not remember you for the material things you provided, but for the feeling that you cherished them.” -Richard L. Evans
    Isn’t that just perfect! Let’s all remember this during our Christmas shopping! :o)

  14. I love this post! I know how you feel about wanting things to be aesthetically pleasing, but you’re right, kids don’t care, nor do they even notice for the most part! I love that you are keeping it real and enjoying time with your children. They will adore their Santa advent calendars!

  15. I’m actually in the middle of finishing my advent calendar! Haha you’re timing is impeccable. I cut out squares and sewed them all onto a backing fabric last night and now I have to embellish and fill each pocket. It’s super cute, totally our/my style and my hubby is actually pretty stoked about it!! He’s so thrilled I’m making it for our family and it’s something we can treasure year after year. He joked about filling it each month LOL I don’t think he was joking though… I do tend to get wrapped up in the details though and as my son gets older (he’s 2 now) I’m seeing it’s us he wants, not lights on the garage and a ton of other decorations around the house. Great post and thanks for the perspective <3

  16. We are doing the cheap chocolate advent calendars at our home too. Actually, my kids love them. I remember as a kid, I had to share one chocolate calendar with my 2 brothers so I am spoiling my kids by giving them each their own chocolate calendar! You are right, I think we do many things for ourselves – we need to slow down and stop the madness!

  17. It’s so refreshing to see such a well followed blogger ‘keep it real’! So many times we get caught up in the perfectness of the blogging world, and find ourselves run ragged trying to achieve the same perfectness for our own family. In reality, they just want us….not a busy body who has no time to spend with them because we’re trying to make their life perfect (what a contradiction!). Thank you for your honesty and grounded thoughts!

  18. I disagree just a bit. While a fancy/cutesy advent calendar would make you happy, it would probably make the kiddos just as happy to help them countdown to Christmas! And while little kiddos may not appreciate the time, thought and effort into making a custom gift or in the wrapping, years from now when they’re older they will think about all those things with very fond memories of how mom made things special and perhaps choose a partner who is kind enough to treat them the same way.

  19. It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle of the holidays and not focus on what the true meaning is. This year I added some special things to do into our traditional paper chain countdown. I just wrote on the inside of the paper events we were already doing or new local events we could go to. I also added fun things like make cookies, have hot cocoa or watch a Christmas movie. Yesterday’s chain had “String Popcorn” my kids had so much fun. Tomorrow 12/1 we are going to the Open Ceremonies for the Christmas Ships. It has been fun to see their faces light up with anticipation to see what is on the next chain. Some chains don’t have anything on them. It’s only been a few days, but we are already having fun with them.

  20. I love your post. Thank you so much for sharing your heart today! This is so meaningful and touching, especially as we head into the season of Advent. Let’s remember what we’re really celebrating! Enjoy the chocolate! :)

  21. Bravo! I have wrestled with this so many times myself. Honestly, sometimes I get caught in this trap because I see other moms – doing incredible crafts, keeping an amazing house, etc – and I get jealous/competitive/down on myself. THANK YOU for being a role model & healthy example of avoiding this temptation. I needed this reminder. :)

  22. Oh so true! Well put Emily. My son loves his Playmobil advent calendar each year. Everyday a little toy. But he’d be thrilled with a Chocolate each day too…well so would I actually…

  23. Emily! Amen!! I truly love having beautiful things and love making things for my children..but after having my 5th this last June things have taken a back seat and I’ve noticed how much I’ve enjoyed slowing down. I too just purchased the store bought advent chocolates and my kids are delighted and can’t wait for tomorrow. Sometimes I think us moms just put too much pressure and extra work on ourselves for nothing. I know I have.

  24. Amen sister!!! I used to get SO caught up in going over the top to impress others or myself, and lately I have been able to see it for what it is. My kids could care less if I spend hours baking something or pick something up at the store. They could care less if I craft the party decorations or just pay Chuck E Cheese to put it all together. Im a working mom, so my time with them is limited enough. Lately I have realized how little extra energy I really have, and have been trying to just create more meaningful moments together, instead of beautiful pictures. Martha Stewart impresses me lots, but I dont think her daughter has great childhood memories of their loving relationship.

  25. This is a good reminder for me. I have been thinking of doing an advent calender with socks for my 3-year-old, but it’s kinda been stressing me out, with December looming a few hours away. On the other hand, my kid could use some new socks, so maybe I’ll make the trek out to the store after all!

  26. I’m glad you posted this! I know that I’ve been scurrying around trying to get everything done and make everything look just perfect. But, it’s good to remember to slow down, enjoy the precious moments with our little guys, and remember the true reason for the season. Thanks for sharing!!!

  27. Don’t worry, the time the kids love home-made calendars will come. In …. 10 years or so…. I once did one with little socks: I took all pairless baby socks both wool and cotton, and decorated them. And filled with little treats. They did not understand it. Then they got one ready chokolade calendar and loved it. So far we have had the ready-made…

    But if you are wondering what you make for you, what for kids: do not. When you make something for ‘them’ , you are creating the atmosphere of caring. And kids love that (if not always the thing you produced)!

    I enjoy your blog every time I read it, pure pleasure, thanks a lot. Specially I love those random things.

    And one more: ever considered to design ‘thank you’ -note? A card size paper saying thank you the kids can undersign and send over ? I could have a lot of use for them…

    Have a very nice Christmas time!

  28. Emily,
    About 10 years ago, our family came across the Advent Book. We had done the store bought chocolate advent calendars for years and were so excited to find this beautiful permanent replacement (although I miss the chocolates). http://www.adventbook.com/ At the onset of Advent, we start to read the Advent Book as a family opening one door per day through the season. On Christmas day your family will have heard the Scriptural account of Christ’s birth 25 times! Although the book is pricey, it is my very favorite book besides the Bible. 2 of my five children have come to faith during our family time reading the Advent Book.

    Once my older kids got to be mid-elementary, we started doing a Jesse Tree. We use Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree Devotional. We have a separate tree that we hang the Jesse Tree ornaments (included in her free family devotional) that adds to our family devotion time. http://www.aholyexperience.com/2011/11/free-jesse-tree-advent-family-devotional/

    Be encouraged… time spent together, learning to love Jesus more is what matters most!
    Blessings,
    Jessica

  29. I love this because I am totally struggling with this right now. I have several baby gifts that I keep pressuring myself to make for Christmas, but really, have been going back and forth about it. Do they really care or is it that I would get more out of it than they would? I guess I hadn’t put the words to the feeling, but this seems like it. Thanks for the enlightenment!

  30. Love it, Emily! You are so right. Great reminder of what this season (and parenting in general!) are all about. Love reading your blog!

  31. Amen, amen, and amen! Your post made me think about some of the first birthday parties I’ve witnessed… everyone knows that the first birthday party is for the parents and grandparents, not the child!

    We’re living in “temporary quarters” this year and will just allow our host to do most of the decorating (which would normally be anathema in our family, but we’re learning to roll with the flow). However, I did recently create a new family tradition and post about it on my blog. Perhaps your readers would enjoy :

    http://willowhousewelcome.blogspot.com/2011/11/angel-on-shelf.html

  32. I agree! It is about spending time with our loved ones. I too, had the same vision of perfectly adorned paper bags strung up in my kitchen, but decided it would be more fun (and less time consuming) to sit with my kids and decorate plain white paper lunch bags with markers to use for our count down. They loved it, and now we get to enjoy their artwork as we count down to the birth of our Savior!

  33. I think you’ve got a wonderful perspective on this! Handmade is wonderful but, you can still make something in the heart if it wasn’t made with the hands.

    I wanted to recommend Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree Advent Calendar. It is a free printable if you subscribe to her site, which is lovely. Each day has a reading and a printable ornament that you can put on a tree (maybe continue on your tree that you used for gratitude last month?). The readings might be a bit old for your kids, but the ornaments and thoughts might help you mark the season!

    Here is the link: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2011/11/free-jesse-tree-advent-family-devotional/

    Merry Christmas :)

  34. Such a refreshing post. God is kind to reveal the cravings of our hearts and remind us what life is all about. Enjoy your cheap chocolates and the time with your kids! :)

  35. God bless you for this post– I’m teary eyed! I read these beautiful blogs with these beautiful ideas that I just don’t have the energy for. I often think that if I just put in the time to make/ create (fill in the blank), they would be happier children. You are SO right, though, they’re happier children when we play legos, and blocks and read them stories!

  36. I love this post, love it. I remember the themey, over-the-top parties I did when my kids were 5 and under…they don’t even remember them. A Martha Stewart tea-pot cake for my daughter’s 1st birthday…clearly that was for me. You are right, they want our time and companionship and simplicity is the only thing that creates that kind of love. Wishing you a lovely and simple holiday season! You’re one of my favorite blogs–I read every post. : )

  37. Hi Emily-
    I have always kept things simple and used these inexpensive chocolate advent calendars for my girls every Christmas since they were little. They are 21 and 24 now and it is tradition for them to each get one. I sent them one when they were away at college and my daughter was just home for T-Day took one back to school with her. They always have festive and cheery old time images on them. Christmas would not be the same without them. I hot glue thin magnets to the back and put them on the refrigerator so they are part of the holiday cheer and easy to reach.

    My best- Diane

  38. I totally agree with you, it is more about spending time with them, teaching them about Jesus, and loving on them. However, I will say, I look back on the lunches my mom packed and how on special occasions she cut my sandwiches with a cookie cutter- hearts for valentine’s day, trees during christmas, etc. And the sweet notes she left me. That is something I do cherish and hope to do for my little ones one day. They may not fully appreciate it now, but I guarantee it will be something they look back on and those memories will hold a special place in their hearts :) So don’t be too hard on yourself. You are putting your mommy touch on things they will remember and hold dear. Love your blog and your sweet spirit :)

  39. Love this. Thank you for sharing your heart and making me feel better that my tree is still up with nothing on it yet. But my 2 year old gets so much joy out of flipping the lights on and off…he would never know the wiser.

  40. I understand this struggle too! We had store bought advent calendars growing up {but we also had that re-usable AVON fabric one with the little mouse}, and I know my parents still love me. :) I always try to take on too much and i’m sure my little guy doesn’t even notice at this point!

  41. Amen sister. I love hearing this. I needed to hear this, especially from someone so wonderfully creative as you.
    We got our chocolate punch out ones at Trader Joes this year.

  42. I often wonder about this myself! Especially when it comes to kid’s birthday parties- especially babies and toddlers! It’s nice to have a handcrafted birthday party, but then I wonder if it’s worth the stress- especially when the only thing they notice are the balloons! It’s a fine line that we all struggle with.

    I say- Yay for cheapo chocolate advent calendars!

  43. I’ve been trying for the last month to decide on which homemade advent calendar I would make and then I decided Monday not to make any at all! We already have about 6 paper ones to hang up and I don’t think my kids are going to miss the fact that instead of picking out a paper from a handcrafted advent calendar with the day’s activity I will just tell them instead.

  44. Emily, Such a sweet and thoughtful post. I wish I could put my thoughts into words as eloquently and poignantly as you have. I am going to have to read this entry every morning to remind myself that our ultimate goal is to seek joy in the journey to Christmas and not be in such a hustle to “wow” our family. Thanks again! Best wishes in your journey!

  45. AMEN Emily!! I continually love your posts and your nuggets of wisdom. I have looked at so many bloggers posts on their birthday celebrations (or advent calendars), and although they are lovely beyond belief, I do find myself wondering who it is for…pics for their blog??? Love you!

  46. I agree that it’s time with you that they appreciate now… but I also believe that looking back on their childhood, they will remember and cherish the extra time/thought/craftiness that you put into the ‘small’ things in their life. They will remember the hand crafted advent calendars foldly, and the handwriten notes in their lunch. So as much as if feels like it’s ‘just for you’ now, I know they will remember and appreciate those gestures later.

  47. Same here! I was working on something cute yesterday and realized it would be a hard concept for my two year old and paper rings that get taken away would be much easier for her to understand the countdown. Not as cute but she would understand it and that’s the point.

  48. My boys love the candy advent calenders, and would be so disappointed if I didn’t get them one. Sometimes it is the little things that they enjoy the most!

  49. i hear ya! we’re taking the 99 cent chocolate advent calendar from trader joe’s this year (and the picture is pretty cute: snow filled landscape with trees and bunnies). AND we are reading one Christmas book a night (since we have 26 of them we started last night) to countdown to Christmas! 3 year old boys really don’t care about a handcrafted advent calendar, I’m realizing!

  50. could not have been said better! We do the store bought chocolates and my kids LOVE it! And especially in blogland, it is easy to get caught up in what others are doing, what kind of awesome project we can post, and honestly…it is exhausting. Being true to yourself and your family is what matters most.

    And without Jesus Christ, we would be nothing.

    Blessings to you and your family!

  51. Such a timely post Emily. I had big dreams this year myself of putting together a handcrafted advent calendar. I even had a bunch of ideas pinned on pinterest, but lo and behold as the days tick by and we get closer and closer to 1Dec, I found myself in an aisle in Target yesterday snagging the same type of advent calendar. My son will LOVE it and that’s all that really matters. I always love hearing your thoughts on ‘deeper’ issues such as these. Have a great December!

    Rachel
    xoxo

  52. I hear you. I made an advent ‘calendar’ for my husband this year with complimentary notes, little treats and some planned date nights but I think I did it as much for myself as for him.

  53. For the past two years I’ve had big plans to make a gorgeous homemade Advent calendar for my Brady (age 6). But because I never found time to create the perfect thing, we haven’t done anything at all.

    This year I decided I needed to give up on that idea and do something we’ll actually do for starters, and something I know he’ll enjoy. So tomorrow we’ll be opening the first window on the Star Wars Lego Advent Calendar. He’s already wondering which day he’ll get the Santa Yoda. :-)

    And it truly is all about Jesus. Without Him, we would have nothing.

  54. Rejoice Emily, because God is surely working through you today. I was feeling a little stressed trying to make Christmas magical & perfect for Landon (2). But I realize he’s going to remember mommy hugging him tight, watching Christmas movies & seeing pretty lights twinkle. He won’t remember how I worry about each decoration being perfect or how long I spend piping icing on sugar cookies. This post couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you!

  55. I agree that it’s the time spent together that means the most to them. My son really enjoys when I make time for us to create things together.

  56. So true! It’s very easy to get caught up in the holiday hoopla. Sometimes so much so that we miss the true meaning. Your kids are lucky to have you as their mother.

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