How Advent Calendars Became More Than Just Chocolate

Find out how Sabina Spiteri turned their yearly Advent Calendars into a family tradition they all love
2016 Advent Calendar in the making

A few years ago, I crazily decided to swap chocolate Advent Calendars for the Lego Advent Calendar. I cannot remember exactly, the reasons why, but I think it might have been geographical! The humidity and heat of Singapore didn’t allow for the storage of chocolate, unless it was kept in the fridge. So, we stored those chocolate calendars in our wine fridge. Obviously because our own refrigerator was brimming full of drinks, flour, biscuits, good chocolate (not the standard variety of Advent Calendar ilk), sweets, sugar, honey, facial creams….all the good stuff that would normally sit in fridges everywhere (or at least in hot and humid climes).

Then the girls would forget about the chocolate – out of sight, out of mind, and we’d always remember them at the most inopportune times, like just before going to bed (any excuse….sigh). Then one year, Lego Friends came out and along with that, the Lego Friends’ Advent Calendar. Oh, those brilliant marketers at Lego! And well, didn’t that appeal to my very girly girls. We just had to have it (and I’m a sucker for Lego)! Of course, this meant remembering to buy the Lego Advent Calendar at the beginning of October, or even September, to ensure you didn’t miss out (I definitely don’t miss that about Singapore!). Then we had to assemble the pieces, usually before school… then we had to play with the things… and then, all that just made us have to sprint in 30 degree, often torrential rain to catch our bus for school. Got to love the wet “winter” season in Singapore! It wasn’t very practical.

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My tools for the Advent Calendar. Numbered stamps, ribbon and nice paper.

I must have got my craft-brain on about three years ago and decided to do something a bit different and a bit more in the spirit of giving and sharing. Yes, there was still definitely over-receiving but we compromised a tad. I bought little stocking stuffer-like gifts  (although not half as exciting as “real stocking stuffers”) and wrapped up “brown paper packages tied up with string” for my girls to discover each morning during Advent.

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Can’t help but hum “brown paper packages tied up with string” from The Sound of Music.

The packages contained very useful stuff (things that mummy liked. No junky, going straight in the bin kind of things). For example: paperclips, erasers, little post-it notes, pens, stickers, hair elastic and of course, on some days, there were little notes reminding them to get a little chocolate treat from the wine fridge. And tied to each little package would be a little “task” for the girls to do. These would include feel-good tasks, things they needed to get done or activities we could do as a family – see below for some ideas.

In Singapore, we had this gorgeous wrought iron spiral staircase on which we hung our little Advent parcels. Such a pretty picture it makes but I haven’t quite found a similarly pretty spot in our new home in the UK just yet.

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Our staircase in Singapore. Sorry about the pic size, this was a few years ago and the only pic I could find was from Facebook.

This is the third year that I have done this and the girls love it. They start reminding me about our Advent activities as soon as the Christmas decorations hit the shops (which now seems to be as early as September!). I also love that they love the activities just as much as the little tokens in the packages, which are, indeed little… things I know they need for school or for craft, things that I now (since moving to the UK) buy from WH Smith or Sainsbury but in Singapore, I would buy from Tokyu Hands, Daiso, Popular Bookstore or even Amazon.

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A selection of goodies for the packages.

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More goodies! I don’t know who loves these more, my kids or me.

Things I’d like to improve on next year is to sew up little calico bags in the interest of being more environmentally friendly. I’d like to be able to re-use, but then, I say this every year. I think that by the time I remember to do it, I don’t have the time to sew up 50 little bags (yes, one set for each girl… sigh) in time for December 1st!

See below for some ideas I’ve used over the years. Perhaps this could be the start of your own family tradition for the holidays. What I’d like to say is to make it your own and just enjoy the season.

Here's as simple planner you can use to stay organised.

Here’s a simple planner you can use to stay organised. Email hello@vanillabeige.com if you’d like us to send you a pdf to print out.

Advent Activities (by the way, there are loads of ideas on Pinterest, it’s where I got most of mine)

Family Togetherness

  • Bake gingerbread cookies
  • Plan and make a family meal together
  • Christmas movie night (can’t wait till the girls are old enough for Die Hard! Google Christmas movies, there are so many to choose from)
  • Shopping for each other’s presents
  • Jigsaw puzzle night
  • Colouring-in night (we have printed canvases, Johanna Basford has some gorgeous ones for an activity in mindfulness)
  • Family dinner Out – I stress this must be at a mutually agreed venue!
  • Read a Christmas book together – I found this activity easier when they were younger
  • Make hot chocolate (in Singapore, we used to turn up the air-conditioning and pretend it was winter)

For others

  • Hug a friend
  • Be kind to someone
  • Share our Advent treats with friends at school
  • Offer to help someone
  • Fill a shoebox – usually schools organise this already
  • Write our Christmas Cards
  • Say a prayer for someone – my father passed away during Christmas time, so for me, this is an important one. I like the girls to remember those who are not with us during Christmas time anymore and/or family members who live too far away and can’t spend Christmas Day with us

FYI… No, we don’t do a different activity every day throughout Advent, we repeat some activities. And NO they don’t get anything exciting – unless stationery can be counted as exciting, to which I do admit that I would get excited by a stationery present everyday!

Happy Holidays!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sabina, originally from Australia, has lived in London, NYC, Singapore and now resides in Surrey, deepest darkest surburbia, UK. She packed her entire belongings up in a ski bag nearly twenty years ago to do the “backpacking thing” in London and never went back home. She is now chasing the dream as a wannabe writer in the deepest of deep, Surrey. Sabina is passionate about coffee, food, exploring cities and skiing.
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