I love Advent calendars. There are so very many to choose from out there- from simple to overboard complicated. In our house, I try to keep it simple.
Each day of December, we do an activity. I make a master list of all the things we have to do, add in the things we always do, and fill in the gaps with things we could do. Then I pull out my calendar and write things in.
On Sunday and Monday we do church-based lessons for the Sabbath and for family night. Other days, I work around dance lessons and school concerts and community events. The first three weeks I try to keep it to already scheduled things or simple home activities like stories, crafts, or treats I can make ahead of time because the older kids are in school. When the real vacation starts I pull out the more involved activities because I can be more flexible with bed time or go on outings during the day.
The week before Christmas, I use a church-published advent calendar from the Friend magazine that usually includes scripture stories, service, and songs. I also like to stretch our Advent out the week after Christmas to include New Year's resolutions, post-holiday thank you cards, and even a night to take down the tree.
Each year I try to think of a new way to display our countdown. Usually it consists of some sort of envelope to hold a slip of paper that tells the activity and a small treat (think a Hershey kiss or sticker) with a number stuck on. I would love to someday make something permanent like stitched felt envelopes, decoupage match boxes, or tiny handmade stockings that we pull out every year but I haven't got to the point where that has made it to the top of my to-do list. Until then, I go with simple, kid-made, or ready bought.
This year I am going to try to fold some origami envelopes or boxes and string them on a simple garland with my 9 yr old's help. If I don't get around to it before December 1st, I will just pull out leftover envelopes from last year's Christmas cards and use those. I am all about being resourceful. Here are my favorite links for foldable boxes:
Here is our family's list of activities for the year. Maybe you can use it to create your own based on what is happening in your community.
And always leave yourself an out for those days when it is just not possible to drive to the zoo or go shopping or bake plates of cookies for the neighbors. My back-up plan is to read a favorite Christmas book under the tree while eating a simple treat like Oreos and milk or warm apple cider and cinnamon toast. After all, the whole reason we do it is to spend time together and enjoy the Christmas season, not torture each other on a nightmare trip to the mall or having to listen to a cranky toddler cry all the way to the zoo and back! Do a quick switch before the kids open it and insert the bigger activity back in later if it is really important to you.
Activity Advent List of Ideas
Watch the First Presidency Christmas Devotional
Watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Special on PBS
Go to the county tree lighting ceremony
Visit Lights of the South (a local walk and drive through light display)
Decorate the Christmas tree
Leave shoes by the door for Saint Nicholas
Set up Nativity scenes
Go to pajama story time at the bookstore
Go breakfast with Santa at the school
Visit Santa at the Mall
Make and deliver treats for friends
Make a gift for your teachers
Watch a favorite Christmas movie and eat red and green popcorn balls
Visit Lights Before Christmas at the Zoo
Write a letter to Santa Claus
Drive through the neighborhood and look at lights while eating popcorn and hot chocolate
Make Saint Lucia Day rolls for breakfast
Watch Christmas specials on TV
Do a secret act of service
Earn some money and donate it to the Angel Tree at school
Buy a toy for Toys 4 Tots
Decorate the outside of the house
Make something yummy and invite a family over to share it with
Go to the church Christmas party
Visit the gingerbread house village at the museum
Make a gingerbread house
Watch the Christmas parade
Go to the school Christmas concert
Have a sleepover under the Christmas tree
Make cookies for Santa
Watch the Nativity on DVD
Read the Christmas story from the Bible and act it out
Make a birthday cake for Jesus
Write thank you notes for gifts
Take down the Christmas tree
Donate three items of clothing or toys to Goodwill
Write down five things you learned to do in 2010
Make a New Year's Resolution
Call out of town relatives at midnight to shout Happy New Year