Today is the first day of December and we are all starting to think about the upcoming holidays and everything that means for us. While that might include things like shopping for gifts, visiting Santa, caroling, planning a holiday party, baking cookies, getting our homes ready for visitors, and cooking meals for large family gatherings, it can also be a time for quiet and connection, giving and gratitude.
Several years ago, I read something in a parenting book about how we want our children to remember the holidays when they were growing up. Do we want them to remember special traditions like cutting down a tree together or baking cookies? And do we want them to remember a feeling of togetherness and spending quality time with family? I know I do. Or do we want them to only have memories of parents that were so strung out and tired that they snapped about every little thing and were too busy rushing around to enjoy the time off together? Of course not. But in the midst of trying to make everything “just right” for the holidays, sometimes I can turn into a stressed-out, always-running-late, never-enough-time-in-the-day holiday monster. If you’ve ever read the children’s storybook, Mooseltoe, you’ll have a visual of what I sometimes feel and probably look like during the holidays!
One way that our family is trying to keep the holiday spirit in perspective is to create an advent chain and remember something that we are grateful for on each of the days as we count down to December 25.
We started this tradition when the kids were smaller and the chain was a way to give them a visual of how much time was left until Christmas Day arrived and also a daily action for them to take part in. We’ve used chains over the years to count down everything from birthdays to vacations to when Daddy is coming home from a trip. It’s a great way for kids to see the progression of time and know that something they are looking forward to is getting closer and closer every day.
For our advent chain, we added a new element a few years ago when we were intentionally trying to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in our family.
Now every year when we sit down with the kids to cut out and glue the red and green colored strips together, we first lay out all 25 of the strips and deal them out to each member of the family. Since there are five of us, we each get 5 of the strips. Each of us thinks of five things that we are grateful for that year and writes one thing on each of our five strips. Then we proceed with gluing the strips into circles and linking them together in a long chain.
Then on every day in December, we take turns cutting off one link of the chain and reading what is written on the inside of the strip. The kids love looking forward to their turn to cut off a strip and also hearing their words of gratitude read aloud to the family.
I don’t know if my kids will remember this particular family tradition when they grow up. But I hope that these daily reminders throughout the month of December are enough to keep me on track to being present with my family and thankful for all of the many wonderful gifts in my life.
What are your favorite holiday traditions? Have you started any new ones with your kids?
One of our friends has a family tradition where they read a different Christmas book on every day in December. Others use an advent calendar where the kids can open a door or an envelope each day in December to find a surprise within. If that sounds like fun to you, I read about some great ideas for advent calendars here.
Here are some of the things we wrote down this year:
What gifts are you thankful for this holiday season?