Most mothers agree that the holidays are a time of magic, wonder, excitement and joy. What's not to love about decorating the tree and making cookies with your kids, or the looks on their faces as they open their gifts on Christmas morning?
Let's be real. For most of us, the holidays inevitably contain some degree of stress: getting the decorations up, managing the budget, cooking, sending in all sorts of crazy items to our kids' classrooms, fighting crowds; just thinking about it all exhausts me. In addition to feeling the need to make the holidays Martha Stewart perfect, if you are a single mom like me, you also deal with the extra stress of dividing up this precious time with your former spouse. Although my ex-husband and I have a legal visitation schedule, we attempt to compromise and create our own according to when our families celebrate. Last year was my first year living in my own home post-divorce, and it was the first time in thirty four years I woke up alone on Christmas morning. Although it was strange, I began to accept that with my new relationship status would come change in what the holidays look like. We have our own "Christmas Eve" and "Christmas Day", and I quickly realized that the day we celebrate is really irrelevant.
In addition to working out a schedule and sacrificing the time we may have taken for granted when we were married, single moms also worry about the cost of providing a memorable Christmas for our kids. When the Christmas decorations started appearing in stores this year (around mid-October...really???), I began stressing over buying Christmas gifts. My kids are ten and six, and I'm very lucky that they are unselfish and happy with anything they get. That being said, I still feel the pressure to make sure they are excited by what Santa brings. In thinking about what to get them this year, I thought back to my own childhood. We always had plenty under the tree, but in all honesty, I can remember very few of the gifts I was given. Instead, my mind is flooded with memories of church Christmas programs, stringing popcorn, being so excited I couldn't sleep on Christmas Eve, time with my grandparents, and driving around to see Christmas lights. This year, I want to make a more conscious effort to ensure my kids have the same wonderful memories, while at the same time alleviating my own anxiety about the least important part of the holiday: material items.
Every summer, my kids create a list of activities to complete, which provides us with a multitude of fun, inexpensive activities for those long days. This made me think: what if we had a Christmas version of the list? I began doing some investigative reporting via the mecca of all things creative, Pinterest, and was inspired to start a brand new tradition in my house: an active Advent calendar. I began by printing a calendar and marking all of the days I have them between Thanksgiving and Christmas. From there, I gathered ideas online and from friends regarding fun and inexpensive activities we could do each day to celebrate the season, and I recorded them on the day we would complete each.
From there I made a list of everything I would need. Some items, such as games for family game night, were wrapped, while others, such as "have a slumber party under the Christmas tree" were typed up and printed on stationary and placed in an envelope. Each item was labeled with the appropriate date, and then I placed all of them in a special container which sits next to our fireplace.
The basket contains the following notes/activities:
*Open and read Christmas books
*Open new games and have Family Game Night
*Write letters to Santa
*Have a slumber party next to the Christmas tree
*Random Acts of Kindness at The Greene (we will be passing out Christmas cards w/Starbucks cards inside)
*Christmas in the Village (my hometown's Christmas celebration)
*Make Christmas ornaments
*Order pizza and watch Elf
*Get pictures taken with Santa
*String popcorn and cranberries for the tree
*Make a gingerbread house
*Shop for your teachers
*PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo
*Cookie baking/decorating day
*"Elf" the neighbors
*Attend a church Christmas play
*Drive around and look at Christmas lights in pj's and with popcorn and hot cocoa
*Wrap Christmas gifts (my kids buy their own gifts at the school's "Santa Shop" and love doing this!)
*Christmas Eve-Open new pj's and slippers; read the Christmas Story
The basket was waiting for the kids when they got home from their dad's on Tuesday, and they are so excited to see what I have in store for them.
Regardless of how you celebrate the holiday season, I hope that you take the time to stop and reflect about what's important, and that you find a meaningful way to enjoy the season. If you decide to take on the Advent basket, don't let this be yet another source of stress. Instead, use it as a way to make current traditions even more special, and to create new memories that your children will cherish for years to come.