The holidays with Isla have been absolutely magical! She is now at an age where she can really appreciate the wonder, the sparkle, the anticipation, and the joy surrounding this time of year. Watching our girl actively take part in our family traditions has been one of the greatest delights of parenthood thus far. There are few things more enchanting than experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a child.
Most of the time I wish our sweet girl would stop growing up so fast, but I must admit I have been eagerly waiting for Isla to be old enough to introduce an advent calendar to our family Christmas traditions. I’ve been thinking about this for the past two years (yes, really), so I knew I wanted us to have an activity advent, rather than the traditional advent calendar. Instead of opening a waxy piece of chocolate each day, Isla’s treat would be an activity we could share as a family.
Given that the holidays are busy already, I was careful to plan crafts and outings that were fairly simple and would not feel like a chore on top of the regular monthly festivities. I included activities we would already be doing anyway, like decorating cookies, looking at Christmas lights, and visiting Santa. Some projects required a little coordination with family and friends as well. We typed up the activities, printed and cut them out, and tucked them into the numbered drawers of a darling advent box my mom purchased years ago for her future grandchildren… I wonder where I inherited this dreamer/plan-ahead type personality from??? We thought up more activities than days in the month so that we could shuffle and substitute them to best fit our schedule.
I introduced the advent calendar to Isla at the beginning of the month and she was thrilled! Each day she excitedly asked to check her “elephant calendar” to see what fun little activity awaited her that day. The craziness of the holidays did interfere at times, so we did not remember our advent calendar every day, but we definitely laid the groundwork for a beloved family tradition.
One of Isla’s first advent activities was opening a Christmas Craft Box. I filled a festive glittery box with darling holiday stamps, child-safe stamp pads, winter stickers, a box of blank stationary, and some tinsel.After opening her craft box, Isla set to work stamping and decorating her stationary. We used her one card for her letter to Santa.Isla promptly stuck the first sticker on her forehead. “You want a ‘ticker too?” She asked sweetly. When I politely declined, she insisted, “You need a ‘ticker on your head so you don’t get an ow-ie.” I couldn’t argue with that logic.Hard at work on her letter to Santa.
She told me exactly what she wanted it to say:
Merry Christmas. I would like a present, please. I would like a kitchen. I will cook tomatoes, celery, brussel sprouts (“bussel pouts”), and beans. I would like a present, please.
One of our group advent treat activities was making gingerbread houses with Isla’s Nana Sandy and cousins. This is something Nana Sandy does with the girls each year already, so this treat took very little preparation on our part, other than coordinating the date with family.The girls had a blast decorating their houses and Christmas trees! Isla was far more interested in eating the candy than decorating- especially once she saw the mini marshmallows- but we got her back on track eventually.The face she gave me after I told her she had to stop eating her marshmallows. Ha!Didn’t they turn out so darling?!
Each Christmas we do a holiday footprint craft with Isla, so we tied this year’s craft (snowman footprints) into an advent activity. I forgot to take a photo of the finished product, but it was so cute!Isla had such a great time painting her feet that we decided to make a hand print snowflake as well. I dusted the wet paint with a little iridescent glitter and we love how it turned out!
One day we painted Isla’s nails. The holidays are a sparkly time, so we painted sparkly (or if you are Isla, “parkly”) nails. It was a simple advent activity that took just a few minutes and brought a big smile to our girl’s sweet face.Isla looked forward to checking her “elephant calendar”. She’s all about doing things by herself these days, so she pulled out the tiny drawer and retrieved the note tucked inside by herself. Well, some days Teddy Bear helped…Our Santa French Toasts were not nearly as beautiful as my Pinterest inspiration, but they added a happy holiday flair to our brunch with friends and the little girls loved them.An enthusiastic hug or sneaky choke-hold? Sometimes it’s hard to tell!
Cookie baking is a favorite holiday past time, so we set up a date to make cookies with friends as Isla’s daily advent activity. I made a batch of this delicious almond sugar cookie dough (we still have 3/4 of it in the freezer for future cookie decorating). The girls cut the trees, the adults helped with icing, and then the girls went to town decorating with sprinkles, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows…Isla snuck bites of cookie dough every time I wasn’t looking and thought she was so clever by hiding behind the counter as she nibbled away… little stinker.The girls spent as much time snacking on the sprinkles as decorating with them.We made Christmas pizzas one night… a nice little dinner/advent combo. We purchased two pizza dough bases from Papa Murphy’s and with some careful cutting and shaping I created a wreath (forgot to take a picture), a candy cane and a snowman. They were darling and delicious!Once again, Isla proved to be more interested in snacking than decorating. I think I detect a theme with this girl…“Some cheese for the pizza and some cheese for me.”Most of the olives went straight into Isla’s mouth as well!This has been one of the rainiest Decembers in Oregon’s history, so getting outside to see the lights was a bit tricky. We finally had one clear evening, so we arranged dinner and a trip to Peacock Lane with friends and family.Our visit to Santa this year was a great success! Knowing that many toddlers are wary of the big man in red, we began talking with Isla about the trip weeks in advance. We read books about Santa. We told her she could sit on Santa’s lap if she wanted to, and that she did not need to feel scared. For days leading up to our visit she would tell everyone, “I will sit on Santa’s lap and I will not cry.” She practiced politely asking for a kitchen. By the time we braved the long mall line, she was ready. Without hesitation, though grinning bashfully, she climbed onto Santa’s lap. It was clear she felt a little awkward as she kept bringing her hands to her face every time she talked, but by the time her visit with Santa was over she was beaming. “I sat on Santa’s yap!” she exclaimed. “I did not cry. Santa held my hand!”
I am so, so glad we decided to add the “elephant calendar” to our Christmas traditions. It was such a fun and simple way for our little family to celebrate together. I am already excited for next year!
I put together a list of our advent activity ideas to share with you all:
- Christmas craft box
- decorate gingerbread houses and trees
- make a bird gingerbread house
- decorate Christmas cards
- write a letter to Santa
- watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (original cartoon movie)
- make snowman soup
- play in the snow
- take a winter walk and make a winter collection
- paint sparkly nails
- visit Santa
- bake cookies
- eat dinner by the Christmas tree
- make holiday pizzas
- sort and donate toys
- open a new Christmas book
- go to Zoo Lights
- go and see the neighborhood lights
- snowman the door (decorate Isla’s door to look like a snowman)
- go and get peppermint hot chocolate
- Christmas tree craft
- snowman footprint craft
- PJ day
- prawns and champagne night (a family tradition)
- Christmas Eve
- Christmas Day