Counting down Christmas, mindfully and intentionally

Amanda Riley
Special to BMN

For the last three years. a simple advent calendar has brought much joy to my family. It certainly brings the most joy to my 5-year-old daughter, but I look forward to it likely as much as she does.

Parenthood has amplified the seemingly light-speed passing of time, so I welcome almost anything that reminds me to put on the brakes, slow down and be in the moment. And if that “anything”happens to be a sweet holiday tradition, all the merrier.

There are many ways to craft and create an advent calendar. You can string small packages on ribbon hung from the ceiling or stuff toilet paper rolls with goodies and seal them closed with tissue paper. You can sew treats into paper stars and stockings and tear one open each day to reveal the treasure inside.

I have seen wee wooden gnomes holding sweet little scrolls corresponding with each day. The possibilities are, of course, limitless.

Ours, however, is very simple. I created 24 little pockets, each about 2-3 inches by 3-4 inches out of card stock, closing three sides of each by stapling, sewing or taping. I zig-zagged some yarn along the wall between push pins and attached the pockets with tiny clothespins I found at the craft store.

Each December day through Christmas Eve, I slip a small piece of paper into the corresponding day's pocket, sneaking it in either the night before or before she wakes. On the paper is an idea for something, usually free, always fun, that we can do together.

Sometimes it’s a service project. Sometimes it involves a treat. Very occasionally it is a small gift (I set the gift on the floor beneath the calendar and attach the day's pocket it).

At the end of the day, I ask my daughter to tell me something she is grateful for. These things I write on the backside of the slip of paper from that day and clothespin it, gratitude note side out, on the front of the pocket.

When I asked her recently what she likes most about the advent calendar, she said: “I like it because it is pretty. I remember hot cocoa, and going to the park together, and one was when we got our Christmas tree. It makes me feel generous when we get food for people.”

Clearly, hot cocoa and going to the park are not grand gestures. But written on slips of paper and drawn from a little pocket, they become special, promoted to an almost ritual-like status.

There were a few small gifts in her calendar last year, but the fact that the things she recalls most were these simple ones, well, it makes me smile. It shows me that, simply by being mindful and deliberate in how we go about our days, we can elevate our experiences and enjoy them even more - if only because we decide that we will.

There is power in that, I think. Power and peace and hope.

Amanda Riley lives in Black Mountain with her husband, young daughter, cat and small flock of chickens. Read more about her suburban homesteading at

Advent countdown possibilities

Make peanut butter pinecones for birds

Go for a bike ride

Walk to the library

Play at the playground

Go out for hot cocoa

Drive around to see holiday light

Make wreaths to give neighbors

Bake (and share) cookies

Write letters to friends

Visit an all-alone neighbor

Bake dog treats for a shelter

Decorate the house together

Cut paper snowflakes

Plan a game night

Celebrate the winter solstice