How About An Advent Garland Full of Experiences, Rather Than Gifts?

How to encourage the spirit of giving and sharing time with family during the holiday season.

Advent is swiftly approaching and Christmas decorations are beginning to spring up.  Personally, I love it.  Its not that I want to be rushed to celebrate Christmas sooner, but rather that I like to enjoy the holiday season for as long as possible.  There is so much richness to be enjoyed if we can remember to slow down and savor the moments shared with the ones we love.

Like most children, mine begin asking how many days there are until Christmas as soon as the turkey is off of the Thanksgiving table.  This is one of the reasons I love Advent calendars (although I suppose I have loved them since I was a child and my mother made one for my brothers and me).  An advent calendar gives a visual representation of time and also gives the children (and the parents) a little something special to look forward to each day.  Most are made of paper and a small window is opened each day to reveal a tiny image.  The one I had growing up was a large felt tree with 25 felt ornaments which were placed on it one by one.  My two brothers and I took turns placing an ornament on the tree each day, and this simple gesture was something to which we all looked forward.

In the last few years I have been noticing a lot of “Advent garlands.”  Different from the calendars, they are designed not only to represent the days of Advent, but also typically have pockets so that one may place a small gift in each.  Advent garlands are beautiful, but the idea of placing a gift in each pocket gives me pause for a couple of reasons.  First, who has the money (and the wealth of ideas?) to equip the garland with twenty-four little gifts, and then still have something left over on Christmas morning?  Of course, one could opt for inexpensive, little plastic trinkets, but then you’ll have twenty five little plastic trinkets, which will inevitably end up in the landfill (or in the family dog).  I also don’t like planting the seed that Christmas is all about receiving things.  So last year I posed the question to friends - How about an Advent garland full of experiences rather than gifts?  We came up with a wonderful list of experiences, each of which could be placed on a little note card in each pocket of an Advent garland.  You may need to really plan out which experiences fall on which days (weekday versus weekend, etc), as some require more of a time commitment than others.  I actually held the stash of cards aside and chose one each night to place in the pocket for the next day.  A couple of small handmade or well chosen gifts or bits of candy can be interspersed as well, but the overall sentiment behind this kind of garland is more about giving and spending time together than about receiving a gift.  

Here is the list my friends and I created.  Feel free to add your own below!

Have a treasure hunt to your stash of Christmas books (make a treasure map for the children to follow)

Do something kind for the Earth today

Do something kind for an animal today

Do something kind for another person today

Tonight we will have your favorite dinner

Wear your pajamas and have breakfast for dinner

Go outside and look at the stars after dinner

Write a letter to Santa

Call someone and tell them you love them

Draw a picture for a friend or family member 

Write a letter to a friend or family member who lives far away

Bring some food, clothing or toys to a shelter

Buy a toy for a child less fortunate

Bake cookies

Visit a new playground

Hike in a new location

Have special alone time with Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa...

Make a Christmas gift for someone

Go to the Children’s Museum

Bring cookies to local community workers (police, fire department...)

Choose a friend to have over for a play date

Go to the library to choose some Christmas books

Have a scavenger hunt in your home for items red and green

Make a list of things for which you are thankful

Visit an elderly neighbor

Go caroling

Decorate the tree/Pick out a tree

Make ornaments

Invite a neighbor to dinner

Make some reindeer food (granola, bird seed, nuts, seeds - the birds like it too)


{Pictured is a simple garland I made last year from craft paper.}

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