The Advent of Advent

One reason why November is so busy – and why everyone on the schoolyard looks at me funny when I say I’m almost done my Christmas shopping – is that December is all wrapped up in the Family Advent Calendar. On one hand, I kind of wish we could drop it (but the kids WILL NOT hear of it), or that I’d never started the darn thing at all. But on the other hand, we do have some great memories, traditions the kids love and are sure to continue one day with their own families. Plus, I do find it really helps calm the Christmas stress – the anxious “HOW MANY MORE DAYS” type questions you get every evening – when there’s something fun and festive to distract them. So it’s still a go, at least for the time being.

Over the years I have really tried to simplify our activities, especially during the week when the kids already have a bunch of regular activities and homework to do. Here’s what we’re up to this year, as well as some additional ideas at the end if you’re looking to fill up your own advent calendar.

(Here’s ours. Still loving it.)

Advent calendar

1 – Hang our stockings and put up the tree
2 – Watch a Christmas movie (likely The Polar Express or new favourite Arthur Christmas)
3 – Hide and seek with Santa and Rudolph – we have a stuffed Santa and Rudolph as part of our decorations, and for this game, the kids hide their eyes while I hide the stuffies somewhere in the house, then they look for them. Surprisingly popular.
4 – Make Christmas cards to send to your grandparents
5 – Wrap a gift for your brother or sister
6 – Family Games Night
7 – Donate food to the Fill The Bus Drive (at various Loblaws, Independent Grocer, and Superstore locations around town; food donated stays in the local Food Bank. More info is here.)
8 – Movie matinee – likely Frozen, possibly The Hobbit for the older kids
9 – Visit Santa, and donate toys to Toy Mountain (donate at any TD Canada Trust location until December 12, or at mobile locations at various WalMarts and malls on Dec 7/8 and Dec 14/15 – more info here)
10 – Make chocolate dipped marshmallows (instructions coming soon!)
11 – Play Bingo for a Christmas prize (a new ornament for the tree…shhh)
12 – Bubble Bath – we have one of those giant tubs in our ensuite and the kids all used to go in together and have a grand old time. The Captain is now too old for this activity, but the girls still love it so much, I kept it on the list. He’ll get some bonus video game time instead.
13 – Dance Party! – our kids LOVE this one. We queue up a series of dance tunes on iTunes and rock out in our jammies until bedtime.
14 – Members Only Christmas Party at the Museum of Science and Tech – we went last year and the kids had a great time. It’s for members only, but members can bring guests, so if you really want to go, you can maybe find someone to tag along with. All attendees need to buy tickets – if you buy by December 1, you can get early bird pricing. Tickets and more info here.
15 – Family swim – likely wave swim this year, as our usual pool, Goulbourn, is closed until January.
16 – Ice Cream Sundae night
17 – Make Peppermint Bark – easy recipe for kids here.
18 – Read Christmas books – here we get out all the Christmas picture books we have – there’s a lot of them – and curl up on the couch together while I read them all. A beloved tradition around here.
19 – Lights drive – traditional drive around the neighbourhood to look at everyone’s Christmas lights, in PJs.
20 – Gingerbread House – this is a PD day so a good day for a labour-intensive activity. If you’re doing a gingerbread house and making it from scratch, be sure to remember to cook the pieces the day before as they need a day to set up before assembly.
21 – Alight at Night – at Upper Canada Village. Magical, and worth the late night. We will be keeping an eye on the weather and swapping this one with other Friday/Saturday night activities in December if it seems like a good night for it.
22 – Fancy dinner – I tire of this one – I only have so many dresses – but the kids love it, especially, oddly enough, Gal Smiley.
23 – Lunch with Daddy – we’ll go to his work and take him out for fast food.
24 – Bake cookies for Santa
25 – Share one thing you like about every member of your family.

Some backup ideas I have at hand, just in case:

Date-specific shows:
Sound of Music sing-a-long at the NAC, December 3 (really wanted to do this one, but it was SO expensive)
Shrek the Musical, Centrepointe, December 5-7
Aladdin ballet, Centrepointe, December 6-7
Santa Parade – there’s one in Richmond and one in Manotick on December 7
Mayor’s Christmas Party (really, really fantastic, and all free with a donation to the food bank, but OH SO CROWDED – arrive early if you are going) – December 7
A Charlie Brown Christmas at the Ottawa Little Theatre, December 7 – also a fundraiser for the fantastic International Children’s Festival
67s Matinee game – on December 8
Tunes and Tales (including The Gift of the Magi) by Ottawa Storytellers, various locations, December 13 through 15
Sens home matinee game on December 14 – also really, really wanted to do this but again, SO expensive
The Nutcracker – playing at Centrepointe on December 14/15, Shenkman Arts 16/17, NAC December 5-9
The Story of Holly and Ivy by the ever-fabulous Rag and Bone Puppet Theatre, at Shenkman Arts (nice and affordable, too, with tickets just $10 per person or $32 for a family)
SkyHawks matinee game, December 22 – still might do this, except when I asked the kids about it, Little Miss Sunshine had FIT about how much she hates basketball, so we are waffling
Stargazing at the Museum of Science – they always have one date in December, I’m too lazy to look it up right now as this list is BECOMING EPIC

(Too lazy to link to all of these, but if you need more info and can’t find it online, let me know and I’ll set you up.)

Generic ideas:
Make a paper Christmas village – I actually bought a punch-out-and-glue one as a backup activity, it’s this one here. But if you have lots of time and crafty kids, you could have them make their own houses/churches/schools/skating rinks out of recycled paper boxes, wrapping paper, tin foil and cotton batting.
Make a silly video and put it on YouTube to send to your friends
Say hello to one person at school you’ve never talked to before
Ring and Run – leave an anonymous cheer gift on a neighbour’s doorstep
Toy donation – by this, I mean go through their toys and pick some out to donate. I would LOVE to do this but can envision the horror of potential meltdowns. For now, am filing it away and will save it for when they are older.
Snow related activities, weather dependent – like building a snowman, having a snowball fight, going sledding, decorating snow with spray bottles full of coloured water, etc.
Make maple taffy (if there’s snow)
Make your own pizza night
Family Skate – at any outdoor rink, or if we’re feeling ambitious, at the Rink of Dreams
Freeze bubbles – if it’s below zero, you can go outside and carefully blow bubbles. They freeze in the air, then shatter when they land…cool.
Christmas treasure hunt – find something red, something green, something that jingles, etc.
Make homemade playdoh
Puzzle night! – assemble every puzzle we own
Go see the lights on Taffy Lane (sadly, far from us as it is out in Orleans, but maybe someday)
Visit a Christmas tree farm – like Ian’s Adventure Park, Stanley’s Christmas village (buy tickets in advance for this one, online) or Cedar Hill. All of these have fun activities that aren’t tree-cutting related, so even if you have an artificial one ready to go, it’s still a fun day out.
Classic Christmas Village at the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum
Visit another museum, like the Children’s Museum or the Museum of Nature – in particular, the Museum of Nature’s ant exhibit is only on until January 4, and it’s a great time to catch their special exhibit on frogs, too.
Go see the Magical Village at Place D’Orleans (a miniature Christmas village display)
Cut paper snowflakes – a craft that STILL eludes my scissor-challenged children, but ONE DAY it will happen, I swear!
Donate to your favourite charity – this used to be an event on the advent calendar, but getting the kids to do it was like pulling teeth, and they always only wanted to donate to the WWF because they’d get a free stuffed animal. This year I am giving them less choice, but hopefully more exposure, as we plan to donate in person to a few charities of my choosing throughout the month.
Clip ‘n’ Climb at the Altitude Gym – would totally do this if we had more days off before Christmas
Tubing at Mount Packenham or Le Domain de L’Ange Gardien – would love to do this one, if I can fit it in
Snowshoeing at Gatineau Park – rent shoes at the Visitor’s Centre, and hike one of the easy 1km trails that loop from the centre
SkyZone Trampoline Park – sheer awesomesauce
Funhaven or Cosmic Adventures, favourites at any time of the year

Fun Little Kid Activities that My Kids Have Now Outgrown, SNIFF:
Make a couch/chair fort
Build a train track all around the Christmas tree
Glue your wish list (cut out pictures of toys from flyers, and make a big poster to hang on the wall)
Draw a map on the floor (with a big roll of paper, tape down a big area and make roads, buildings, etc, then play with cars and trains)
Pin the nose on the snowman
Make a book about Christmas – oh, the sweet little stories they used to write!
Make a paper chain
Colour a Christmas colouring page
Sing a Christmas carol for a sweet treat
Make a silly crown and have a parade around the house

[Edited to add…]
I’m also going to gather a few other posts here to local bloggers’ advent activity lists – if you have one, let me know!
A Little Bit of Momsense
Pub Patio Playdate
Life in the Hutch – a great post on charity and volunteer work you can do as a family in Ottawa this season