Advent calendars. I grew up with them, and they quickly became a holiday tradition that I kept even after I moved out of the house. Back in my college days I would buy the $0.99 ones from Target and enjoy the chocolate each day. Once it became my husband (Mr. Blographer) and me, the candy tradition went out the window due to a soy and dairy allergy (which is a story for another time, but it is hard to find candy without either of those two ingredients). Instead of the pre-filled advent calendars, I splurged on a nature-themed one with little drawers to fill yourself. But that still didn’t fix the candy issue. I tried to think of other things to put in the little drawers, but eventually a couple years went by where we didn’t fill the calendar with anything; instead just admired and enjoyed it as decoration.
Fast forward to my son’s (Little E) second Christmas (2016). He was a little over a year old. I knew he wasn’t old enough to grasp anything related to the advent calendar, but I really wanted to do something to start the tradition again. With a little over one year old and Mr. Blographer with food allergies, candy was still out of question. So what would I do?
Around the same time in late fall 2016, our family really started focusing on living a more mindful and intentional life. We actively started decluttering and moving towards a more minimalist-type lifestyle (side note: I’m a big advocate of mentioning that this looks different for everyone). Outside influences and life events had had me in a funk all fall. I felt a strong draw to start actively giving back to others and to send positivity and kindness out into our community. As we moved closer to the holidays, I knew it would be easy to give in to the hustle and bustle, over-scheduling, over-spending, over-eating, and stress that this time of year can often bring. But weren’t we trying to scale back? I knew more ‘things’ weren’t the answer, and I really wanted to focus on what we love about the holidays (traditions, giving back) vs. giving in to the holiday rush.
Enter our advent calendar idea. A pay it forward/celebrating holiday traditions advent calendar.
What it is:
Imagine a list of your favorite holiday traditions and a list of easy and family friendly pay-it-forward ideas. Add in an advent calendar not filled with candy or things, but instead, it is filled with ways to give back to the community. Spread kindness. Pay it forward. Help out. Enjoy favorite holiday traditions.
The best thing about this type of advent calendar? Well, in my opinion, there are two things.
First, I can honestly look fondly back at last holiday season and remember every activity we did. It is one of my favorite things we did to celebrate the season. I can’t say that every year (some years I remember the stress, over-scheduling, over-spending, etc). Second, these are things you can do year round. You don’t have to stop after December.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- All of the ideas are good to do with kids and families/friends. Even my 1-year-old could participate (lots of coloring activities!).
- Most are free or are very budget friendly.
- The list is customizable. Use it as a guide and feel free to replace some of our traditions with your own.
- Our family assigns specific activities to days based on our schedule. Feel free to do this as well, or if you are up for it, randomize the tasks and make it a surprise!
- I have an item/task/celebration for each day throughout December 1 – 24. However, don’t feel like you have to do one each day if that doesn’t work for your family.
- Most of the pay-it-forward ideas can be used as great conversation starters for kids/families relating to topics such as gratitude, the importance of volunteering and/or donating, and more.
Below are a few of our most memorable pay it forward activities. There is a FREE printable that you can download at the end of this post with the entire list. Print it out, cut it up, put it into your own advent calendar and enjoy the holiday season with simplicity. There are even blank spaces for you to fill in your own if you want to!
- Thank your mail carrier– We made a snack bag for our mail carrier thanking him for all he does. Delivering mail is no joke! We included some granola bars, a clementine, a small bottle of water and a couple of treats.
- Share 3 things you’re thankful for – If you are participating in my November gratitude challenge, this should be an easy one. Even if you’re not, pick out three things you are thankful for that day and why, and talk about it as a family. It is fun to hear what other family members pick and also a great time to talk about the importance of gratitude.
- Donate old towels, blankets or other pet supplies to a local pet shelter or pet hospital – In 2016 we lost our beloved family cat after a long battle. There was one pet hospital in particular that played an important role in this battle, and who were really great to us. Last year we had a number of old towels and blankets that we weren’t using anymore and decided to donate them to the hospital. Although it was hard to go back, we felt good being able to provide the items so that the hospital can continue to help other people and their pets. If you don’t have towels or blankets, consider donating pet supplies (toys, puppy pads, etc).
- Make bookmarks and leave them in books to donate or at a library – Last year we all painted and colored pictures, and then cut them into bookmarks. On the back, we wrote inspiring quotes and stuck them into books we were planning on donating to our local free little library. We also went to the regular library and stuck them into a few books.
- Make cards for kids in hospitals – This was one of our favorite projects last year. We took a couple of hours and just painted and colored pictures to make into cards. When Little E gets older, I plan to use it as an opportunity to talk about how lucky we are to have our health, and that I think it’s important we do what we can for these inspiring children.
Here are a few of our favorite and most memorable traditions:
- Holiday movie night – Put a plate together of holiday treats, popcorn, and drinks. Grab some blankets and cuddle up as a family and watch your favorite holiday movie. For my family, it’s The Muppets Christmas Carol!
- Bake holiday treats – My mom and I have been making holiday cookies since I can remember. It is so much fun and has become a really special tradition. A few years ago, we learned how to make lefse and now make that as well. I can’t wait to include Little E in the festivities!
- Drive around and look at holiday lights – We bundle up in our pajamas, make some hot cocoa or tea, turn on the holiday tunes and drive around and look at the beautiful holiday lights. This is one of my FAVORITE holiday activities!
Since we started incorporating the pay it forward/holiday tradition advent calendar, our family is able to focus on what matters the most to us: spending time with each other and our friends, enjoying all that the holiday season has to offer, and giving back to a community we love.
You can find the the pay it forward/advent calendar printable here.
Looking for more freebies to help you on your journey towards simplifying and living mindfully? Join The Mindful Mom Blographer community and receive exclusive access to the community Facebook group where we host 30-day challenges each month. You can also get a free, 7-day mindfulness challenge worksheet, and a free, printable guided meditation calendar with nature photography for the remaining months of 2017.
What pay it forward activities does your family partake in? What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?
Photographs © The Mindful Mom Blographer | 2017 and cannot be used without written consent.
I’m a mom, wife, nature photographer, proud Minnesotan, outdoor enthusiast, self-care advocate, blogger, food lover, mantra say-er, cat and dog owner, part minimalist, gardener, pay-it-forward lover and so much more. My goal is to help you live the most mindful and intentional life you want, using resources you have available!
Twitter: @mindfulblograph (https://twitter.com/mindfulblograph )