Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Evolution of our Advent Calendar

My brother and I received this hand-made Advent calendar as a gift from my Tante Joelle when we were very young. It was filled with tiny gifts and treats, if I remember correctly, each individually wrapped. My mother continued filling it for us every year, and as we got older the gifts leaned progressively more towards candy and eventually to fabulous chocolate delights. One year she included Kirsch-filled chocolate sticks from the wonderful Swiss P in Kamloops, and since the calendar hung rather close to the wood stove, they melted, soaking the paper of my Mum's delicate wrapping work with crystallized Kirsch. We ate them with glee, anyway.

When I became a mother, I delightedly retrieved the advent calendar from my parents' home, and began filling it for my own kids. In an effort to be less wasteful with wrapping paper, I made brightly-coloured bags to hold the tiny gifts, which we have reused every year since. My kids received various little toy collections through this calendar, and as they grew older we followed the trend of giving activities. The challenge, I have found with these, is to come up with quick but rewarding activities that can easily happen within twenty minutes on a week night. And often we don't even have twenty minutes, so there is also an assortment of chocolate treats (and we don't hang the calendar too close to the wood stove, anymore!)

Sometimes I fall prey to my consumerist urges and put little toys or knickknacks in the calendar. One of my favourites was an assortment of Lego people that looked just like our family! But the kids have been recently reminding me that little useless toys are really not their favourite calendar gifts. That Lego family was cute for a couple of days but now it's just plastic in their drawers. My kids tell me that their favourite calendar gift last year was the family painting night, where we spent a couple of hours making teeny tiny acrylic paintings, and then trading them back and forth to change, decorate, and subvert.

But times, they are most definitely a-changing, and as noted in my previous post about living well in an eminently post-consumerist world, we felt it was time for changes with the advent calendar. In addition to a smattering of home-made chocolates and family activities, we have made donations in their names to organizations we think they support. In preparing this, we had to consider carefully which organizations they seem to have shown support for in the past, and how we could present this in an authentic way. So in the end we made four donations - one for every Saturday in the calendar - and a few philanthropic activities for some of the family activity days. Really I feel that in-person giving should just be done in person and from the heart, so none of these activities are personal. They include choosing food from our shelves to bring the food bank, and donating to a local Women's Shelter.

I was a little worried and very curious to see what my kids thought about this change. Thankfully after opening their first donation-note, today, they both declared their approval. Keep in mind they're 14 and 16, so definitely old enough to grasp the concept that they have traded a treat on the advent calendar for their parents' contribution to a cause they care about. I'm not sure they would have appreciated this at a much younger age. Although my eldest tells me he would still rather just make donations, himself, so that is something to consider for next year.

So with a little uncertainty we move into both a more mature phase of parenting and a different way of giving during the holidays. I really don't feel we're making enough progress, yet, but it's something: A way to keep a long-standing family tradition alive while trying to be sensitive to our changing world.


  1. I’m confused about your memory of the melted Kirsch sticks. We didn’t go to the Swiss P until after we moved to Sorrento and our house in Sorrento didn’t have a wood stove. I know we have had little Kirsch sticks as times from NL could your memory be in our old Bowen House?

    1. Yes I wondered about that too, but I assumed you must have bought them there before we moved there. Perhaps they came from the Netherlands after all.


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