25 days of cheer

Create an Advent calendar full of meaningful messages, rather than sweets.


By Melissa Catalano

Teacher

Melissa Catalano is a schoolteacher and runs My Play Place, a play-based parent-participation toddler program where kids learn, create and socialize in a fun and safe setting. She holds a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.A. in Education from Stanford University. In a day filled with teaching and running a business, parenting is the job that still provides the most challenges and rewards.

If your children are like mine, they're probably already starting to buzz about the upcoming holidays. No matter what you celebrate this time of year, it’s hard not to get caught up in the excitement that sometimes feels like frenzy. I love this time of year for all of the sights, smells, songs and sentiments. I can do without the last-minute shopping and gift-crazed children.

One of the favorite December traditions in my house starts on December 1. We have a small Advent house with 25 little numbered doors. Starting on the first morning of December, my children climb out of bed with great anticipation of what they will find behind door number 1. They're usually delighted by the discovery of some small sweet treat. This year I want to try something different.

Instead of sugar, I’d like to put a little message behind each door that will give my kids a fun and rewarding task for the day. My goal is to create tasks that have more to do with the holiday traditions that I love and less to do with sweets and toys. Here are some of my ideas for what the messages might say:

  • Give an extra hug to someone in your family.
  • Choose a toy that you no longer play with and put it aside to donate.
  • Talk with your parents about giving food to the Food Bank.
  • Draw a picture for a special adult.
  • Send a card in the mail to someone far away.
  • Check out the lights in your neighborhood.
  • Tell your sister/brother what you love about her/him.
  • Deliver a baked treat to an older neighbor.

My idea is that these notes will be from one of Santa’s helpers instead of being from Mom or Dad. I will cater them to the day ahead. For instance, I will time the delivery of a baked treat with when I actually plan to do some baking. I want my kids to feel the excitement of being given a task that is related to holiday cheer, giving or family togetherness. You can cater these messages to whatever you want your child to experience this month.

And you don’t need an advent house. Simply tack up folded messages to a pinboard, or use a special decorated box. Place it where your children will find it on the first morning of the month. Feel free to repeat messages or simply write a sweet note saying what is wonderful about your children.

Have fun and please share the messages that you come up with!