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Our Family Stays Sane For Christmas With This Advent Plan

Centuries of Christian tradition with some modern tweaks help our family prepare for and celebrate Christmas as it was meant to be.


This is what my husband calls my November, December, January regimen of using Advent to prep for almost two weeks of celebration: Anglican Advent absolutism. I devised our Advent to Christmas plan after almost losing my twins in the Christmas paper wrappings about five years ago. I wrote it up a few years after that.

Instead of an Advent calendar full of chocolates and little surprises, I make an Advent calendar of service. Before anyone objects that December is too busy, that the gravitational pull of culture is too strong to possibly add another task—I cheat. I turn things we already do into Advent tasks by calling attention to the service to others and preparation to party aspects of the tasks.

I put little scrolls and occasional symbolic trinkets in our little door cubby calendar for each of the day’s tasks. In our calendar, some tasks require nothing more than dinner conversation, like making shopping lists for our Adopt an Angels or choosing our charity of the year. Another day’s task sends us shopping for our adopted angels. The next is wrapping those gifts. One day is a simple ‘Take a flower to your teacher.’

Now I’ve actually done this plan for five years, I love my Advent absolutism even more. It’s like the liturgical calendar was well-planned all those centuries ago.

Since my kids are older and can all read, writing the scrolls for our Advent calendar is easier. Over the years I’ve learned that families of littles need short, specific tasks, but families of older kids need flexibility. Any given Tuesday might suddenly fill with plans the older kids make on their own without putting on the family calendar. (I think they are rebelling for spontaneity from their overscheduled lives, but I will write something about that another day.)

As a new mother of a teenager (no, I do not want to talk about how quickly time flies; I’m reeling here) I’ve moved us to weekly themes rather than daily tasks. For week one of Advent we plan. Make lists. Design decorating. For week two, we do. Decorate. Shop for gifts. Donate. For week three we cook and wrap. For week four, we read and study.

Each year I adapt the plan to our family schedule, such as family travel or trial settings for my husband. I usually do this on Black Friday, as any sooner and the schedule changes, and any later and we are into Advent.

This Advent absolution plan makes December saner, but the biggest change has been in Christmas itself. Christmas morning is so much more pleasant with only a big gift and stocking stuffers on the 25th. The post-Christmas letdown doesn’t happen when there are still parties and surprises to be had.

For the surprises, among the routine but loved gifts of new decks of cards or fresh pajamas, I’ve also set a tradition of giving them something small but significant on New Year’s Day. That day Jim and I give the children presents that are or will be heirlooms. We’ve given our son a pocket watch and our daughters birthstone earrings. They rush to the living room that morning almost as quickly as they do on Christmas morning.

I also cannot recommend parties enough. Use them to reconnect with friends and neighbors. I did a Just Do It guide to simple party hosting two Christmases ago. It hasn’t failed me, although I still haven’t eradicated the scourge of “easy” hotdogs or hamburgers.

I highly recommend throwing a party, especially the Twelfth Night Girls Night Out, which is quickly becoming my favorite of the year. Coming up on the end of 2016 — finally! Who isn’t ready to see the back of this year? —we probably need the communal healing more than usual.