Planning for the Holidays

I'm not a Christmas person. At all. I'm sort of a Grinch actually. But there's one thing I start planning well in advance each year. I've learned from experience that if the planning doesn't get done, chaos ensues. I'm talking about our annual advent calendar. I looked back and figured out we've been following this tradition since 2009. 
Last year, our house was packed up and we were trying to sell it. I didn't think I could handle all the work associated with the advent activities along with the four kids, the husband working and going to school full-time, the house-selling, and my little side gig I like to call a full-time job. 
To my surprise (and delight, really) the only thing the kids asked for were the advent activities. And, I say "only" because most of these activities are things that don't cost money, or were things we'd do anyway. The only difference is the surprise the kids get from revealing the day's activity.
The calendar I'm using this year was 1/2 off at Joann's a few weeks ago. It's the kind where you move the marker from day to day, but I'm going to print out my activities and stuff them into the little pockets. 

This is the system I used last year. I made all of these envelopes and it was a disaster. They got all mixed up and torn and were just way too much work for something that won't last more than one year. I also made the mistake of putting all the activities in the envelopes in advance, so if I had to change something, I had to dig and find where it was.

I can't find a photo of my original setup, but I used small metal tins attached to the fridge with magnets, similar to one found here.  She's also got instructions on how to make them if you are so inclined. I like the tins because you can get lazy some days and put candy inside if you don't want to do an activity. 

Speaking of activities, here is my list for this year:
  1. M- Sing carols (French)
  2. T- Pancakes for supper
  3. W- Hot cocoa and marshmallows
  4. TH- Color Christmas pages
  5. F- Family Movie Night- Elf
  6. SA- Christmas in the Oaks
  7. SU- Sign/send Christmas cards
  8. M- Play Christmas songs and dance silly
  9. T- E’s choice
  10. W- J’s Choice
  11. TH- Bake cookies
  12. F- Family Movie Night- Frosty
  13. SA- Camp out by the tree
  14. SU- Make ornaments
  15. M- Make or wrap teacher gifts
  16. T- M’s choice
  17. W- Shop for siblings
  18. TH- G’s choice
  19. F- Family Movie Night- Rudolph/Peanuts
  20. SA- Make gingerbread house/cookies
  21. SU- Decorate gingerbread house/cookies
  22. M- Read Cajun Night Before Christmas
  23. T- Make smores
  24. W- Pictures by the tree with new pjs

And here is where the planning comes in:
  • I make sure to put the more complex activities on weekends and really easy things on days where we are more busy.
  • I give each child a "choice" day where they pick what to do (it's always cocoa by the fire.)
  • I keep a master list of activities for myself and a copy for my husband. That way, we can see what's coming up and switch things around if needed. 
  • We used to include more spiritual activities like midnight Mass and reading scripture and there's no reason that you couldn't add more of those. 
  • Candy days are free days for you. So are coloring sheet days and cocoa days. Use them as needed. Since I'm using pockets, I won't have room for "candy" days, unless I do it on a weekday and stuff some candy canes in before they get back from school- that's an idea...
  • The kids always want to check the day's activity first thing in the morning, so you have to make sure it's a family event and the children aren't fighting over who gets to check.
  • Over the years, I've made changes based on what works. During a given season, I make changes based on what works. It's okay- even imperative- to be flexible.
  • Work with your schedule. We do family movie nights every Friday anyway, so I just added the stipulation that's it's a holiday movie we watch. 
  • Don't forget to take into account things you are already doing. Going to visit family? Either use that for your activity or make your activity something related to the visit. Looking at lights and displays along the way, for example.  
  • You also need to make sure you aren't scheduling something incompatible with your other plans. Don't say you're going to bake cookies if you won't be home all day.
  • If you aren't crafty, don't schedule crafts. If you aren't a baker, don't schedule baking. Those are disasters waiting to happen if you aren't in full control of the situation.
  • There are lots of other lists online, many with snow-related activities that aren't an option here in the La. or more spiritual or volunteer-based activities.
The most important thing is to plan early and plan often. There are so many things going on during the season, this can easily get out of hand. You want to make it as simple as possible. These activities can be great distractions for kids on days off, or when you need to sneak out and get shopping done. Do what you need to do. Don't forget to look ahead to see what's coming up. Have stickers, color sheets, and candy on hand to switch out activities that aren't going to happen. Make sure the activities you select aren't going to add to the stress you are already experiencing. 
The best thing about doing Advent activities is that the kids get to spend more time with family, doing family things. There's less "me, me, me." I've even noticed Christmas lists getting shorter, but my kids are getting older, so who knows.  Besides, there's always cocoa by the fire.