This activity is one of the only ways I am able to make most of what we do during the Christmas season become realities instead of ideas. We have been doing this for several years now and it is one of the most-talked about traditions in our home. I used to try to fill each bag with something small for them to play with or enjoy, however, based on the size of these little bags, I quickly moved to a different idea. I wanted to ensure that this family tradition would encourage family together-time and promote sweet memories instead of trinket-based happiness that would last for a moment, leaving them uninterested and me with the challenge trying to find a gift for the next day that might bring a bit more joy to their hearts and keep them engaged in this countdown. Talk about what Solomon referred to as “a chasing after the wind” in Ecclesiates. We quickly changed the purpose of this so that it was a blessing to everyone.
This is now a tradition in our home that encourages together-time, doing something different each day. When the Christmas decorations come down from the attic, this is what both girls eagerly search to find. This is what they talk about over the course of the year. This is a family tradition they will treasure for years to come. Why? They certainly love the surprise-factor that it promotes. They also love the intentional time this reserves each day or evening for something special. Each year, as we plan for this advent activity, my husband and I keep a few things as standard “surprises.” One is taking the girls out to find their Christmas Tree Ornament for that year. The only restraint we put on it is that it in some way has to showcase something that they did, learned, or were interested in that year. They are building an ornament collection, with each one having a very specific meaning. Before it goes on the tree, we put the year on it with a Sharpie. Another is an evening spent driving around looking at Christmas lights while listening to Christmas music and drinking hot chocolate. Going to Grandma & Grandpa’s house to make lefse is another staple event as well as having a playdate with friends to make caramels. Bag 24 is always “Let’s bake a cake for Jesus’ Birthday and have a party for Him.” Bag 25 always has Baby Jesus inside. The girls place the baby in the manger on Christmas morning and we spend some time thanking God for sending His Son to come in such a humble way, to live amongst us, and die to save us. This year, my husband recommended that at least one slip of paper that we use to write the activity for the day on simply says “It’s a Free Day.” How brilliant! So often, I think we must do something or have something planned in order to accomplish this advent well, however, my husband’s idea reminded me that the freedom to simply be is such a gift. We have had one of those days so far and it was delightful!
If you are a procrastinator like me, this is a great tool to make Christmas come alive in your home. Is baking and decorating gingerbread boys something that your children want to do along with making christmas gifts for people, watching their favorite christmas movies, caroling, learning how to wrap a present well, decorating a Gingerbread House? What about making a meal together as a family? Having a picnic together in the living room? Serving others? Bringing Christmas cookies to residents at a nursing home? Starting traditions with family or friends? It doesn’t take long to feel burned out before you even begin accomplishing their task lists as well as your own. This advent activity gives you 24 days to spread out the “task” list, turning each one into an intentional, enjoyable experience. I realize that those of you who work outside the home have far less time, however, you can modify this advent activity to accommodate your lifestyle. Perhaps, that means saving the time-intensive activities for the weekends and doing simpler things during the week.
When we started this tradition several years ago, Martha Stewart sold mini shopping bags which unfortunately are no longer available, however, I researched some alternative options. Here’s what I’ve got: On Martha Stewart’s website, she has instructions on how to make your own. Oriental Trading has a ready-made option for those of you who don’t want (or have time) to make your own. I cut out numbers because I didn’t have a Cricut at the time, however, I would recommend either using that or buying number stickers and placing the dates 1-25 on the bags. In years past, I have hung these bags on a wall in our schoolroom, using a thin rope, on a long wall, using ribbon to tie each bag to the rope. This year, we decided to frame a walkway in our home with this activity, using twine and mini clothespins. I used 4 nails– a nail for both of the top corners and a nail to secure the start and finish points. I simply tied a loose knot in the twine, placed my nail in the knot. The head of the nail should catch the knot when it goes into the wall to keep it secured while providing a small amount of space between the wall (or doorframe) and twine to easily attach the bags.
The bags fit nicely up the sides of the twine, leaving me with a large section on the top and middle of the doorway that was empty. To fix this, I cut fourteen 4″ round circles. I then cut a piece burlap to cover the front of the circle and another to cover the back. With a glue gun, I sandwiched the burlap to each side of the circle and cut any extra burlap off so that it followed the line of the circle. Using buttons, glitter, and decorative fabric strips, each circle was decorated with a letter to spell out “Merry Christmas” which I then added to be the front and center part of our Shopping Bag Advent. Thank you, glue gun and the friend who helped me accomplish this project in the knick of time!
Regardless of how you choose to enjoy the Christmas season in your home, don’t miss Christ! It is so easy to become gift-focused and list-focused, doing too much and moving too quickly. Be sure to take time as a family to quiet yourselves before Him. Plan some quiet activities for several of these bags that will promote intentional focus on the true meaning of Christmas and the beautiful way in which He came. Find another time during the course of the 24 days of counting down to share the Good News with others. Be His hands, feet, and light. Go tell it!