Is it too early to put up the Christmas tree?
I think I begin asking my husband that question as soon as Halloween is over. The Michaels store has Christmas stuff on their shelves BEFORE Halloween even occurs, so I think it’s an honest question. (I actually wind up waiting until near Dec. 1, but it almost kills me to be that patient).
I love everything about Christmas … trees, gifts, movies involving Grinches, hot chocolate, lights, fighting crowded shopping malls, making cookies.
And then there are advent calendars. Those lovely calendars that help us celebrate the Christmas season by counting down the days to Christmas Day. Usually they have a little door, pocket, or bag to open, and voila … a treat or toy is inside. It was a great Christmas in my home growing up if our mom bought us one (we didn’t always have much money though and they weren’t always seen as a necessity).
Grandchildren love these kind of advent calendars and who would blame them. A surprise every day for the month of December!
I am not sure how much advent calendars have to do with real meaning Christmas itself … a holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and a time to think beyond ourselves and to serve others. Don’t get me wrong, it is okay if kids still go nuts over gifts, but having them involved in giving helps restore so much of the balance that gets out of whack during a time when materialism is so often the focus.
So, here is a way to have an advent calendar AND fill the season with a bit more selflessness and thoughtfulness for our grandchildren. It provides a great opportunity to teach important lessons to our sweet grandkids.
It is a Christmas service advent calendar that is filled with service.
One of the lessons we want to teach our grandchildren is that because we are blessed in what we have, we can thankfully give to those who have needs. It will make them feel good inside … truly make them feel like one of Santa’s helpers. And THAT is the true spirit of Christmas.
The important thing is to help children recognize how good they feel when they are serving.
CHRISTAMA SERVICE ADVENT CALENDAR
For the 12 days before Christmas you mark each day by doing some act of service for someone else. And of course if you want to have fewer days in your calendar or more days, you can.
Many church groups have versions of service calendars they use during the Christmas season. My church is doing “Light the World”, which my grown children and I are doing together this year. It is bringing more meaning for all of us into this Christmas season.
You may already have an advent calendar that you want to use with your grandchildren, so instead of putting a gift or treat for each day (or you could still keep the treat and gift, too), you can write the service to be done and put it inside.
*** Maybe you are a super lucky grandma and will see your grandkids the 12 days before Christmas (maybe they are coming to visit or you live in the same city). Then it will be easy for you to plot your service projects together.
But many grandmas aren’t that blessed, so I suggest you either:
- give/mail the service calendar to the grandchildren and have them do it at home (with the help of their parents if you are not there)
- Facetime or Skype with them each morning and read what the service is for that day together
At the end of each day you could call them/text them and see how they did with their act of service and how it made them feel.
If you don’t have an advent calendar you can make simple ones on your own. Some ideas to try are:
- You could make small cards that are suspended on yarn strung on the wall.
- You could have 12 small bags to open
- You could have 12 small, wrapped boxes to unwrap
- You could cut 12 small doors that fold open on a large piece of decorated cardboard and the service could be written behind the door.
The best activities are ones that children choose themselves. You can give them service activities in your advent calendar that you have chosen, but you may want to consider choosing what goes in the calendar WITH your grandkid. What a meaningful, sweet conversation that would be as you talk about the list below together, or come up with ideas tailored to your own family. Children can be allowed to think of their own projects and follow through on them. You can let them discover the light they want to share.
I’ve listed more than 12 activities below, so you (and your grandchild if you are choosing together) can pick the ones that fit your family. Of course you could also add ideas for service that are unique to your family, like polish Uncle Brian’s tap shoes or take Mrs. Fisher’s yappy poodle next door for a walk.
Pick some ideas and get out there and serve!
- Make your own thank you cards – create the thank you cards you’ll write as soon as Christmas Day is over OR to have for birthdays and other times a “thank you” is needed
- Choose a new or gently used toy to donate to a toy drive
- Bake cookies and leave on the doorstep of a family you know, ringing the doorbell and running away (kids always love trying not to get caught). You could also take them to a police station or fire station.
- Sing carols with a shut-in
- Deliver or donate blankets to those who sleep in the cold – you can take the blankets in person to a shelter, where they can be distributed
- Visit a local nursing home and read a story to the residents and give out hugs. So many nursing home residents never get visitors and some kids walking around really changes the energy!
- Sit with a child at school lunchtime who looks like they could use a friend
- Make a bird feeder
- Tell someone all the reasons you like them
- Mail a card to a relative that you have not seen in a while and ask how they are doing (could also be an email)
- Go on a trash walk and help clean up your neighborhood or part of town that needs it.
- Deliver treats to the office staff of a local charity
- Help make dinner
- Gather school supplies to donate to your child’s class
- Help a brother or sister with their chores
- Sweep the walkway, shovel the sidewalk, or rake the yard for a neighbor or someone in need.
- Make a meal for someone it would benefit
- Tell a safe stranger to have a good day.
- Compliment someone
- Help neighbors bring in their trash cans on trash day
- Leave a bag of coins – with a note – on a washer at a laundromat or on a parking meter or a gumball machine (that would make some kids’ day!)
- Deliver flowers to an elderly neighbor
- Write thank you cards to your teachers
- Donate new pajamas to a local youth shelter
- Leave something special for your mailman
- Donate books to a school library or a doctor’s office
- Leave a treat with a note on a family member’s bed
- Deliver hot drinks to someone who’s been outside in the cold all day
- Introduce yourself to someone new at school
- Write a poem to your mom and dad that tells them all the things you love about them
- Fill a bag with old clothes to donate
- Bring cookies for the school custodian
- Take chalk and drive around to your friends’ houses. Have your kids write kind words about the friend on their driveway. It will wash off during the next rain but make their day in the meantime! If you live where it snows, tape a poster that you have made with the kind words on their door.
- Write a thank you note to someone who helps you
- Play with a younger brother or sister (do what they want to do)
- Deliver a hot chocolate mix or baking mix to someone who lives alone. There are lots of great recipes for make-ahead mixes on Pinterest.
- Smile at everyone you see today
- Make some homemade dog treats (you can find recipes on Pinterest) and take to a local animal shelter or give them to neighbors who have dogs (you could also buy some dog biscuits if you don’t have the time)
- Call up a single mom and offer to have her children come over and play with you so she can go Christmas shopping. Fun play date, plus a much needed break for a mom.
- Put together a care package for a missionary or member of the military
- Go through your pantry and find canned goods to donate to your local food bank
- Bake a treat and bring it to school to share with your class (tell the teacher beforehand)
- Make a special placemat for each member of your family that is decorated with the things you love about them. Then set the table for dinner with them.
- Make a short video telling someone what you appreciate about them. Then text or email the video to them.
- Go out of your way to open doors for people today. Give them your BIGGEST smile as they walk through the door
- Write a happy anonymous note and leave it secretly in a library book, to be found and enjoyed
- Tell your principal how great your teacher is
- Give a candy bar and thank you note to the bus driver
I know your grandchildren will have a memorable, growing experience using a Christmas service advent calendar. They will learn that service is not a burden, but a way of life.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
How do you teach service with your grandchildren at Christmas? Please share it with us in the comments below so others can learn from you!
And if you like this idea, please share it with other grandmas!