My five and three-year-old daughters love to get “stuff.” It doesn’t matter what that “stuff” is. My daughter ran out of her room this morning, thrilled because she found a blue “fuzzy” (aka lint) in her room, and wasn’t it so soft? But regardless, their penchant for wanting more runs high.

Even though this is the third year we’ve done our Advent Acts of Kindness (did you see our cute printable this year?!) the idea of Christ-centered giving to others during the Christmas season is still something we’ve struggled to foster in our daughters.

On the other hand, they love to be “helpers.” So this year, I’ve decided to start incorporating the “stuff” and the “helping” together. Each day during the month of December, I’ve planned out an activity for us to do together. Some days, we’ll do something fun together, and look for spontaneous ways to give to others (i.e. take a trip to an indoor playground and leave quarters on a vending machine). Other days, the day’s activity will center around giving to others (i.e. making Christmas cookies or baskets of goodies to give away).

After all, when I think back on my own childhood, I don’t even remember the “stuff,” I remember the experiences: The long car ride to North Dakota, eating Grandma’s fudge stored in the porch, taking walks down Main Street to the dime store, getting up early on Christmas Day so I could mow through the chocolate in my stocking and watch “Inspector Gadget” on Nickelodeon, waiting impatiently for Grandpa to get up so we could open presents, and having lefse with dinner.

With that in mind, I want our Christmas experiences as a family to match the heart of Jesus. Yes, we want to have fun — I guarantee he had fun performing miracles! — but we also want to love others extravagantly. Jesus met people’s needs and brought them joy, and that’s what we want to do, too.

To get us started, I’ve come up with five easy ways to balance the giving and getting aspects of Christmas.

1. Get organized. First, I bought a beautiful Advent tree with individual felt pockets that I’ve placed the slips of paper detailing each day’s activity in. Another idea I heard of was wrapping up 25 books (separately) to read during the weeks of Advent. If you go that route, it would be easy to slip your piece of paper into the front of each book. Or, if you’re an Elf on the Shelf family, you could easily tweak your elf’s purpose into becoming a kindness elf whose notes to the children detail the day’s action.

2. Find some inspiration. I found a Countdown to Christmas book with short, page-long devotionals in it to read with my girls before we find out what our activity that day will be. If you have older children, Ann Voskamp’s newest book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas, has gotten excellent reviews. Each day includes a Scripture and devotional to read together.

3. Come up with daily activities. Don’t forget to get your spouse and kids on board. It doesn’t hurt to ask your children if there is something specific they want to do. Have they been begging you to go sledding? Do they have a charity their classroom at school is giving to this month? They’ll feel more involved if they have a stake in the outcome.

4. Gather your supplies. Do you need containers to put cookies and treats in? Dollar stores and the dollar section of Target are a great starting point for items like cellophane bags and small gift baskets or buckets. My girls and I also love to buy cheap craft projects (bookmarks, ornaments, etc.) from places like Oriental Trading Company that we can put together to include in the things we give away.

5. Have FUN! To give you an idea of what we’ll be doing this month, here a sample week that we’ve planned:

Sunday: Decorate a mason jar to put spare change in the next few weeks. (If I know my girls, it will have lots of glitter on it). Once we’re done accumulating the funds, we’re excited to help this organization achieve a dream of having a building in Swaziland!
Monday: Create and send a postcard to a child with a life-threatening illness (organizations like Send Kids the World are great).
Tuesday: Bake cookies for Elise’s preschool teachers, and bring them to school with us that afternoon.
Wednesday: Put together a bag of goodies and gift card to place in the mailbox for our mail carrier.
Thursday: Since Elise’s class is donating baby items to a local charity, pick out a few necessities at Target that morning that Elise can then bring to school.
Friday: Spend the day at the Children’s Museum, and look for a spontaneous way to help someone else (pay for someone at the drive thru or gas station, leave quarters at the parking meter, etc.).
Saturday: Make a trip to St. Cloud to drop off items for moms and kids at Anna Marie’s Womens Shelter, then go out afterwards for hot chocolate at Caribou or stop at Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a visit.

What other Christmas/Advent traditions have you incorporated with your children? I’d love to hear!

Kristin Demery

Author Kristin Demery

Kristin Demery is married to her best friend, Tim, and a mom to three girls. As a grammar geek and Jane Austen addict, her background in journalism has led to everything from managing a social network site for moms to working as an editorial assistant for an academic journal. Now a freelance writer and editor, she writes about mistakes, motherhood, and the power of grace at theruthexperience.com.

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