Living in Germany first gave me an insight into the craft of the homemade advent calendar. Ten years ago, a German friend of mine showed me a perfectly engineered cardboard advent calendar box, equipped with 25 repurposed match boxes as drawers. The contraption had been a homemade gift from a sibling, sent stuffed with microscopic surprises to open one per day in December. After admiring this labor of love as well as many creative ideas since then on Pinterest, I decided that I too, wanted to make one sometime. I mean, who could ever go back to the lousy supermarket version with perforated windows hiding 25 unmeltable chocolate-colored waxy amalgams after that? And so, each year, somewhere between December 2 and 4, I remember that I had wanted to make an advent calendar. Each year, without fail, I ditch the idea because it is far too late to start such a huge endeavor. This year, with a daughter who will be sharing her first birthday with Jesus and a son who is now able to grasp storytelling in simple words, it was time to get my November act together. And so, a decade later, my advent calendar is actually ready for Advent. Phew!
Nothing was purchased to make this thing. You kidding me, I can hardly find time to go to the grocery store, let alone meander in a craft and hobby shop. I just claimed a slab of wood beckoning from within our garage, and haphazardly started to paint numbers on it. Sure hope that piece of wood wasn’t intended for anything…
My calendar doesn’t look Germanic in any way, but it will hopefully help our family stop and think about the world beyond ourselves. It will hopefully guide us in slowing down and reflecting. In sharing with others a piece of the love story that is Christmas. In anticipating the event that marks the birth of our Savior, of the babe that brings peace into my chaos and light into my darkness. How can it be that the true meaning of Christmas has become so lost in the materialistic frenzy?
Each day we hope to learn about a different country and related Christmas culture (where applicable of course). I was torn between wanting Ayo and Délice to receive a small object each day and the idea of them actively learning to share something with others. So, each day in December, we will locate the country on a map, the kids will get unwrap one small object (tiny items from around the house..surprise, that’s where your toy orange was!) and if we can get our act together, we’ll complete the activity and outreach as well as pray for people we know in that country. You can see how this thing took on a life of its own. Oh dear. Time to recenter on the advent season again.
While a lot of these activities are adapted to our family, feel free to follow along with us. I am sure I will be posting on Instagram too at some point too.
For most countries, I have optional activities in the imaginary world that we had extra time.
December 1. Locate Israel / Jerusalem on map. What is Christmas anyway? Set up tree that evening and read story of first Christmas with special food and drink. Invite special guest to join in our Advent party.
December 2. India – Locate on map. Make rice pudding with cardamom or lassi. Share Indian snack with someone today. Pray for people we know there, for those speaking out against son-preference and female infanticide.
December 3. Kenya – Locate on map. Make Kenyan crunchy bananas from Passport on a Plate cookbook, and blow up balloons (local tradition apparently). Find someone to share one of these items with. Prayer.
December 4. Slovenia – Locate on map. Make Potica or other Slovenian dish. Have toddler choose small gift to send to Slovenian friend. Prayer for our Slovenian friends.
December 5. BENELUX – Locate Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg on map. Skype friends in one of those countries. Prayer for our friends in those countries.
December 6. Germany – Locate on map. Learn about St. Nicholas and his generosity that came from his faith. Go to local Weichnachtsmarkt with German friends. Help the kids give to a homeless person or person in need on our way there or back. Bake Plätzchen if we have time. Prayer for our many German friends.
December 7. Russia – Locate on map. Learn about celebration on Jan 7. Print out nesting doll patterns and make with toilet rolls. Optional make Apple Sharlotka or Blini or other Russian treat. Give this or set of dolls away. Prayer for our Russian friends.
December 8. Argentina – Locate on map. Make a wreath or decorate tree with cotton (snow) balls. Give Panettone or Pan Dulce or Argentine craft to visitors that day. Pray for our friends in Argentina.
December 9. Ghana – Locate on map. Wrap set of new clothes as gift to one friend’s child. Introduce Délice to her new Ghanaian name: Akua Bronya (“born on Wednesday, Christmas day”). Light fireworks of we can find them this time of year. Pray for friends in Ghana.
December 10. Syria & Iraq – Locate on map. Symbolically, no advent item for kids to open. Since this part of the world is known for Arabic poetry, read out a Psalm about peace like Ps 29:11. We will pray for the ISIS crisis, for Yazidis, grieving families and children living in captivity and fear.
December 11. Lebanon – Locate on map. Plant beans or lentils in cotton-wool and tend daily until Christmas day to mirror how we wait for new life. Gift coffee an/or sugar almonds. Pray for friends who have lived in Lebanon.
December 12. Switzerland – Locate on map. Explain Escalade tradition. Make hot chocolate and ringli if ambitious and invite someone to share with us. Pray for the many Swiss friends we know as well as friends living in Switzerland.
December 13. Sweden – Locate on map. Tell story of St. Lucia, martyred for her faith while smuggling food to believers in Rome. Light candles in house. Gift tea light or other candle to toddler friend Lucy. Optional: St Lucia bread or other Swedish treats. Prayer.
December 14. Australia & NZ – Locate on map. Go swimming! Deliver baked good to a friend. Pray for our friends in Australia and New Zealand.
December 15. Rwanda – Locate on map. Deliver gifts to our Rwandan friends and learn about their Christmas traditions. Pray with them.
December 16. Mexico – Locate on map. Hang special Mexican ornament on tree. Enjoy Mexican food. Make something for Mexican friends we plan to see that day. Pray for our friends from Mexico.
December 17. Guyane (and Antilles) – Locate on map. Plan a “Chanté Nwel” evening, inviting friends to sing meaningful songs with us that evening, with treat from Antilles if ambitious. Prayer.
December 18. Trinidad and Tobago – Locate on map. Repaint or repair something in the house. Visit with friends as they would do during this season. Prayer.
December 19. Italy – Locate on map. Make a nativity scene from items around the house, to include normal city people. Share Panettone and hot chocolate with a special guest. Prayer for people we know in Italy.
December 20. France – Locate on map. Stick cloves in clementines, cook or bake something incredible. So many ideas that this one that much is still TBD. Outreach also TBD. Prier pour tous nos amis français, ceux qui ont un coeur français, en France ou ailleurs.
December 21. South Africa – Locate on map. Make and give lekker pudding / malva pudding. Pray for our South African friends.
December 22. Ecuador – Locate on map. Spend day with part Ecuadorian cousins, singing, reading or making Ecuadorian themed items. Pray with them for Ecuador.
December 23. USA – Locate on map. Go see Christmas lights. Maybe drink eggnog. Invite a friend to do so. Pray for family and friends in USA.
December 24. China – Locate on map. Pick out special apples to deliver to Chinese friends (Ping Guo (=apple) symbolic of Ping An (= peace)). Learn word for “Christmas” in Mandarin. Pray for friends in China as well as Chinese believers in China.
December 25. UK – Locate on map. Listen to the Queen’s speech (3pm British time). Open Christmas crackers. Gift giving, including to Miss Akua Bronya on her birthday. Prayer for British family and friends.
“In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself.
You hold your breath to listen.
You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing.
For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for.
You are aware of the beating of your heart.
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens.
Advent is the name of that moment.”
– Friederick Buechner
Happy Advent, my friends!