When we were younger, we would go to the grocery store with my mom and see advent calendars up for sale. I would beg my mom to get me one, excited about the promise of opening a chocolate-filled container every day until Christmas. But my mom would refrain, telling us that we have chocolates aplenty at home and we don’t need a calendar in order to eat it. Still, I would think to myself, what a wonderful way to spend the holiday, looking forward to a little self-indulgence once a day in anticipation of Christmas morn.
Needless to say, nowadays my concerns aren’t centered so much around chocolate as they are about intentionally living each day to their fullest. (Well, sometimes they are.) Yet, living with less is a form of indulgence in-and-of-itself. How many times do I see people at the mall in angry moods, stressed by a floor-length gift list, or families rushing to check off boxes on their holiday to-do list. Put up the lights, check. Wrap the gifts, check. Pictures with Santa, check. Write the letters and bake the cookies, check. Order the holiday cards and mail them, check. It is this time of year especially that I am aware of the ways in wish we constantly fill our lives and rush through the days, missing the season completely. As with most things, we spend our lives looking to the future, and by-passing the present entirely. Therefore, my efforts are concentrated around my only goal for the holiday season, which is to simplify it.
Along those lines, I love the idea of creating an advent calendar that is constantly reminding us to take it slow. Ironically filled with activities to-do galore, the calendar is meant to insert an activity intentionally bringing us to the present. Each card details either a way to connect with others, to do good, or to wind down. And let’s not forget activities for ourselves, too. A little self-love in the form of mulled wine. Or a coffee date with a loved one.
Off course, the calendar isn’t meant to be rigid, which would add another stressor in our lives. Numbered one to twenty four, the fulfillment of said activities need not be done in sequential order. Think of it as a mere suggestion. If it’s rainy today and a walk in the neighborhood will surely bring displeasure, then swap for a different activity. If two activities sound great on the same day, then maybe double up. Skip one after a long day of work. The intention is not to add another check box to the list. Simply, it’s a physical reminder to be here.
Additional points if you create the advent calendar with the rest of the family members, like we did. (As you can probably tell when you get to activity #22.) Enjoy our suggestions, and I hope you have a few great ones, too.
- Watch a Christmas movie together as a family. We’ve already done Home Alone with my brother and roommate, but there are more classics to be seen. My personal favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
- See the lights at the Newport Boat Parade. We usually bundle up in our coats and gloves and beanies and stand on the bridge leading up to Lido Island as we watch the boats float by. Waving to the occupants, optional, a warm mug of hot chocolate is not.
- Make Christmas cookies. Sugar cookies and snickerdoodle are fun, but chocolate chip will always be my go-to.
- Deliver cookies to neighbors. Because we don’t know our neighbors as well as we should.
- Put up the tree and decorations with family. Re-living some childhood mems, we have invited my parents and brother over to join us in putting up the tree. In the interest of frugality, my parents have lent us their old 9 foot tree to put up in our home, lights included.
- Group gift wrapping event. It’s more fun when you wrap gifts with others, rather than alone. Instead of a chore, make it an event. Invite some pals, serve cheese and bread.
- Cover a Christmas song with Mikey. This requires a bit more time, and patience, on both our parts. Letting others hear the end product is up to you.
- Take a walk in the neighborhood to look at the lights. Every year, my parent’s neighborhood has a light contest. It’s a pretty big area, and it would likely take a few hours to walk a decent amount of it. But we’ll make the time.
- French Toast breakfast, for dinner. Or for breakfast, up to you. Add a smear of persimmons, perhaps.
- Coffee date at our favorite coffee shop with sketchbooks for sketching passer-bys. This is a true indulgence, one that requires spending. It’s been a while since we’ve ordered coffee out, what with No-Dining-Out November barely behind us. I’m sure our barista will welcome us with open arms.
- An evening dedicated to reading. If I could do an entire day, I just might. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to pick up a book and finish it on the same day!
- Bake home-made croissants for a local office. I was asked to bake my home-made croissants for an entire office team back in July. I’ve put it off for a while, because it is a lot of work. But when the croissants got mentioned again at Thanksgiving, I thought, what a perfect way to spread holiday cheer. So I will be spending a weekday off baking for others.
- Bake a pie. I have never made a pie. But I want to experiment using our bread. I am taking filling suggestions, if you have some.
- Make mulled wine and relax after a long day. In Germany when we were walking the Neuschwanstein castle with our friends, they brought us to a stand and ordered us some Gluwhein. Mulled wine is a common drink during Christmas time in Germany and Austria, served piping hot steeped with fruit and topped with a big of sugar. The perfect way to decompress after a long day.
- Make hot chocolate and take an after-dinner walk. Sometimes, after dinner, we just get in that mode of clean, wash, and lounge til bed. I really want to make the effort to step outside and just take the night in.
- Make Christmas cards and send via email. We make our Christmas cards digitally, and send them via email, to reduce waste and postage costs. Typically, we flip through the past year’s photos, making this a great way to reminisce on our best moments, as good as the day they were taken.
- Spend an afternoon playing boardgames. Because who doesn’t like a little friendly competition?
- Have a bonfire at the beach. Mike has been wanting a bonfire since the summer days. It’s time we actually do it, and bring smores along, too.
- Go on a hike. Get a breath of fresh air.
- Declutter and make space for the new year. In fact, make space for the now.
- Turn up the records. Neglected the past couple months, sitting on a shelf, it’s time to give em a little love. Listening to a vinyl is just way different than asking Siri to turn on Spotify.
- Make milkshakes and race to see who can drink them the fastest. To use a straw, or not to use a straw?
- Light a candle. Avoid turning on the lights. Add a little hygge and eat by candle light. Better yet, write by candle light, with paper and pen!
- Gather with friends. The generic-ness of this statement reflects the difficulty, as this is the busiest time of the year. Snag moments whenever you can.
Other ways to practice slowing down for the holidays.
- Write down one thing you’re grateful for every day and put it in your stocking. Read all your gratitudes on Christmas day.
- Put limits on everything. Limit the number of gifts you get, the number of parties you attend, the amount of minutes on your cell phone. Replace with moments of silence for a peaceful holiday.
- Create a children’s book advent calendar.
- Call old friends and far-away family members on the phone. Just to say hello.
- Pick up good habits. Greet everyone you pass. Look at people in the eyes. Put away cell phones during social interactions. Say good morning every morning, give your loved one a hug every night.