Having not grown up in a church-going family, the only reference point for Advent I had was the paper advent calendar I always opened each day as a child. Either chocolate-filled advent calendars weren’t around when I was very little or my mum was wise enough not to introduce them until I was older – either way, I’m glad. Because the memories I have of uncovering those tiny beautiful little pictures behind paper doors as I counted down the days until Christmas are very special. The simple momentary appreciation of something beautiful is so good for our children.
They’re harder to find these days, the paper ones. I remember when my eldest was two that I had to hunt high and low for them, eventually discovering that Phoenix Cards makes sweet ones. We had those for a few years.
Then when he started at a Steiner kindergarten, Advent took on a new meaning for us.
I completely embrace the beauty of us all celebrating Christmas and other festivals in our own way. I know some people find enormous joy in doing their Christmas shopping in August and putting the tree up in November, then taking it all down on Boxing Day. But for us, in our home, it has always felt too soon. We are festive late-bloomers, for sure.
I don’t get the urge for Christmas shopping until Winter arrives. Until the air, when I first open the front door in the morning, smells a certain way. Wintry! Christmas belongs firmly in the Winter for me. If it’s still autumnal outside the window it just doesn’t happen around here.
By the time I’m ready to join the festive party, it’s very much in full swing. I often find the (early) hype of it a bit overwhelming. It must be particularly so for our little ones. At least, it can be for my sensitive souls who, like me, will usually lose their heads after a prolonged period of excitement. And this is where I’ve found our festive late-blooming really works for us.
I absorbed quite a lot, that first year of Kindergarten, of the way they celebrate Advent. It was a bit of a revelation to me at the time. Despite my annual heel-dragging with the decs and shopping, Advent had always seemed like a fast and frenzied race to the big day. Even if you’re not fully taking part, the sense of urgency all around creeps in on some level. The over-advertising, the way it hits you as you walk into the supermarket, the energy of others which can range from busy and efficient to hurried and frenzied. It always impacted quite a bit on my sense of wonder for this lovely time of year.
In Kindergarten Advent is a calm and reverent time. A time of quiet waiting. Preparing our space and our selves for what’s to come. Reminding me somewhat of that quiet waiting time before our babies came.
Kindergarten seasonal tables are dressed in white and blue, with crystal treasures and stars; like gazing at a still night sky with a sense that something special is going to happen. Circle time songs are a beautiful mix of quiet anticipation and wonder. There are extra candles and beautiful things made carefully and gradually over the days, to eventually bring home just before the end of term. It all seems to say ‘there’s no rush, something special is coming and we are waiting’. In a lovely calm and happy way and it really speaks to me.
I’ve loved the knock on effect of this at home. Because of that sense of quiet waiting, the boys don’t expect Christmas to land on December the 1st and it hugely takes the pressure off. Rather than everything having to be done by then, it tends to mark the start of a gentle slide towards the 25th. No rushing, no over-hyping, no going overboard, just moments here and there of preparing for a lovely (and quite simple) family Christmas together.
Here’s how we’re celebrating Advent and keeping things gentle and slow this year:
Waldorf Advent String
Our school makes and sells these each year, a string of rainbow coloured parcels (containing treasures and handmade beauties), and they’re an absolute delight for the children. Beginning at the bottom, a tissue-paper parcel is opened each day until Christmas and the treasures inside are placed onto your own seasonal table (or Advent Garden, as some people call them). Each week celebrates a different theme – the mineral kingdom, plant kingdom, animal kingdom and the kingdom of man (a teeny felt nativity scene with a baby in a walnut shell – too cute!).
Advent officially began last Sunday so they’ve already discovered a star, crystals and shells in their parcels. They get so excited about taking it in turns to open it each day.
With taking it in turns, it helps if there’s something else for the other one to open when it’s not their day to open a parcel and I’ve discovered the completely beautiful Advent calendars from Wynstones Press. Not only are the pictures magical, they also come with a story which you read line by line each day. So lovely. Such a sweet moment when we pause to open the door and read the next part of the story.
We wait until the day school finishes for the holidays to pick up our tree from our local growers. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to deck the halls and rock out all the Christmas songs when at school they are in that reverent space of waiting for something special that’s coming. Waiting seems completely natural. And they seem to love it.
This weekend we’ll put up a few stars, bring in a few fir branches, string some fairy lights across the mantel and light some extra candles. And everything else will wait until the holidays have begun. When we do pick up the tree it will stick around until the 12th day of Christmas. Slow up, slow down around here.
As part of the simple Advent decs, this year I’ve wrapped some ivy around a willow ring (that our eldest made at school earlier in the year) and hung it above the kitchen table. Inspired by a lovely gift from an Instagram friend, I’ve folded origami stars which we’ll hang from the wreath, adding one each day like a 3D advent calendar. I’m envisaging a pretty cascade of stars by the time we sit to eat our Christmas feast below it.
It often feels like we go against the tide with the slow, simple, slightly late to the party approach, but it really works for us. It helps me think more consciously about what we’re buying and giving. It reminds me to focus on the wonder and to make time for the things that matter the most. And it helps me to avoid arriving at Christmas on the verge of collapse!
I’d love to know how you make it all work for you x