Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Countdown to Christmas: Family Advent Tree

It was around November 30 last year when I suddenly realised I hadn't done anything about advent calendars for the kids. Now, what childhood would be complete without a countdown to Christmas?? Clearly I had dropped the ball and had to remedy the situation... STAT.

jump to activity list

A frantic search on Pinterest revealed a lot of very cute, some very elaborate advent calendars that just weren't going to cut it. First of all - ain't nobody got time for that. Plus I didn't have a whole bunch of supplies ready to go and no desire to run out to craft stores etc - this had to be something I could whip up on the very last day possible with whatever I had on hand. That's just how I roll. 

As a result, I put my thinking cap on and came up with THIS GEM... which we plan to do again this year and for years to come: A Family Advent Tree.
Branches are placed in a vase and hung on the branches are cards for each day leading up to Christmas, with all sorts of fun things to do as a family. The best part? Besides the fact that it just requires things that you probably already have laying around the house and outside, you can tailor each activity to your family and whatever traditions you already have. Win win!

What you need:

  • Christmas paper - sturdier is better
  • Tree branches - anything that you can hang hole-punched cards on
  • A vase or other vessel for the branches - heavy so it will stay upright when kids grab the cards :) 
  • Stones to weigh the vase down (optional)
  • Garland or other simple decorations (optional)
  • Hole punch
  • List of activities (see below) -- good idea to grab your calendar so you can incorporate things you're already doing, like Christmas concerts

Prepare the cards:

  1. Using various designs of Christmas paper, cut out 25 (or 24 if you don't want to include Christmas Day) cards using the following template. One side of the card should be white for writing the activity.

  2. On the flap at the top, number the cards 1 through 25.
  3. Write an activity on each card, then fold them closed along the dashed lines, and fold down a 'cuff' in front so it can be tucked under the flap at the top to hold it closed. The result should look roughly like this:

Making the tree:
  1. Optional - spray the branches silver, gold, or red for an extra festive touch. I skipped this step last year, it wasn't necessary but would make the tree a lot prettier.
  2. Fill the vase with stones, then arrange the branches in the vase so you'll be able to hang the cards 
  3. Decorate as you wish, making sure to leave room for the cards. I used a simple gold star garland and draped it over the branches, and a glittery gold garland stuffed in the vase among the branches.
  4. Hang your prepared cards on the branches, mixing up the numbers so the kids have to find the correct number each day. 
Enjoy a fun countdown to Christmas using some of these activities, or come up with your own unique ideas and share them with me below. Remember to check your own calendar to include things you'll already be doing on that day, and also plan for the more complicated / time heavy activities for weekends. Most importantly: have fun!

A couple of tips:

  • Make a couple of extra, blank cards for last-minute swapping as needed
  • Sneak a peek at the next day's activity the night before to ensure you have the right supplies on-hand (or to swap out!)

Paint canvases to give as gifts

Gingerbread house (I cheated and used a kit!)
Making candy cane reindeer (shirt optional)
Candy cane reindeer
Christmas cookie cutter bird feeders
Mixing up the reindeer food
Making Christmas cards
Our adorable fingerprint cards! Everyone helped :) 

Our 2012 Activity List:

  1. Make Christmas pictures
  2. Make cookie cutter bird feeders and feed the birds
  3. Cut out paper snowflakes and decorate with them.
  4. Write a letter to Santa and drop it off at the Breakfast with Santa party
  5. Put up the Kids Tree! *(we have a small fake tree we keep in the rec room where all the 'kids' ornaments go...)
  6. Paint small canvases to give as gifts.
  7. Search for a special treat! Look in the laundry room.*
  8. Go for a winter nature walk and collect items for a centrepiece
  9. Make reindeer food
  10. Make Christmas cards
  11. Search the kitchen for a special treat! Look in a bottom drawer.
  12. Have a family art night and make a holiday picture together. (we just used a big roll of plain paper laid out on the kitchen table and everyone worked on it together!)
  13. Go for a drive in your PJs to look at Christmas lights.
  14. Make a fire in the fireplace and sing Christmas songs together
  15. Have a friend over to make Christmas cookies together
  16. Gather toys to donate to Goodwill or another charity.
  17. Have some Christmas ice cream after supper
  18. Make some candy cane reindeer for school friends
  19. Search for a special treat! Look in the front hallway
  20. Make popcorn and watch a Christmas movie together
  21. String popcorn and cranberries and use them to decorate our tree
  22. Make and decorate a gingerbread house.
  23. Search for a special treat in the living room. Try the drawers...!
  24. Put out cookies and milk and carrots for Santa and the reindeer
  25. Merry Christmas!
* The special treats were things like holiday Hershey kisses, or cookies, or a candy cane. Easy!

Other activities:
  • Make snow angels
  • Take food to a food bank or soup kitchen
  • Make handprint snowman ornaments
  • Make salt-dough ornaments (split into two nights: one to make, the other to paint the ornaments)
  • Go carolling
  • Attend a community tree-lighting
  • Have hot chocolate with marshmallows
  • Look at Christmas pictures from when mommy & daddy were little
  • Put together teacher Christmas gifts
  • With mom - make a present for dad. With dad - make a present for mom.
  • Build a snowman
  • Have your picture taken with Santa
  • Drop off treats at an old folks home (stay for a visit if you have time)
  • Take a family photo in front of the tree
  • Apple cider night