Monday, November 28, 2011

counting down with a december map

counting down
Since 2008, I've had a blast creating count down/advent calendars out of the unassuming, and quite humble, toilet paper tube. This year we will "roll" out one the three sets to revisit. I'm thinking 2010 strung as a garland. If you'd like to try your hand at one, they're quite fun to make and easy to adapt for plenty of child participation.

The t.p. tubes I've been saving all year will definitely take on some holiday transformations, perhaps as ornaments... I'm in the very fun experimental stage, but will share soon.

Every year we count down to Christmas with a combination of treats, time tickets, and clues. I will be completely honest, I often don't know what it will be until the night before. Sometimes it feels like a mad scramble. This year we're switching things up to simplify life as well as to appreciate living simply during this busy season. Each night and weekend morning my children will find a slip of paper with an activity that celebrates the magic of this month. I am working on my list right now and making sure that each one corresponds accordingly with what I already know of our calendar. For instance, building ginger bread houses will happen on a Sunday vs. a school day with piano lessons. Just common sense, but I'm finding that the process is a bit like mapping out this month that has the potential to overwhelm me. Here's what I've got going on so far... I'm still playing with the dates:
  1. cut paper snowflakes and tape them to the windows
  2. make hot cocoa with candy cane stirrers
  3. bring in evergreen boughs
  4. bake cookies
  5. hang stockings
  6. fold paper stars
  7. string cranberries and popcorn
  8. decorate sugar cookies
  9. gather unused toys to share with others
  10. go tree hunting
  11. Make gingerbread houses
  12. decorate the tree 
  13. make edible decorations for the birds and squirrels
  14. read Christmas stories
  15. sing carols
  16. make salt dough ornaments
  17. make a card (or two) and send it to someone special
  18. Daddy's birthday choice 
  19. poach pears
  20. roll beeswax candles
  21. have a candlelit evening (and an unplugged night)
  22. roast chestnuts and take a drive into the village to see the lights
So much of what has made it to the list are things we do every year. Much anticipated traditions. I've seen my share of activity advent calendars over the years, but I had no idea what a sense of comfort and rhythm they create for the organizer. My December map! (I can almost here the sound of trumpets!) Are you ready to transition into next month, yet? Here we go...

editor's note: I was waiting all day for my friend Sonia to put up her count down activity list... she has inspired me for years with her wonderful December projects.  It's up now, so got take a look here! Pin It


  1. Exactly what I have focused on today ! Thanks for your comment on Instagram (will reply there too) I've also had to juggle with school days, weekends, activities that require more time than others, easy ones etc. My boys are really looking forward to it & me too. It's been the third year, and I wish we had started this tradition way earlier. Can't wait to see your calendar this year ! Big hugs my friend oxox

  2. Great idea! If I make a list like this, we might actually manage some of the things I want to do with the girls. Thank you for the inspiration!

  3. I love that you make your own. It has so much more meaning than just going out and buying one.

  4. I put together a list while looking at the calendar, too, and I need a calendar that allows me to switch things around at the last minute, if necessary. I also check in with the kids beforehand to find out what's on their can't-miss list. I find this helpful in so many ways--there is no need to plan something very labor intensive for the mama if nobody else really, well, cares about it! It helps keep the season reasonable. :)

  5. Lovely ideas for the calendar. In our halloween and winter countdown calendars, I try to fill them with fun activities as well. The one I'm most excited about this year is taking my oldest daughter to see the Nutcracker, complete with a live orchestra!

  6. maybe yoy will like this idea for an advent calendar, toilet paper tubes are the base as well:

    I like the activities you listed, thanks for ideas!!!

  7. Dear Maya,

    I have been following you since last year, when I was desperatingly looking for ideas for the Advent Calendar. And I found a lot of inspiration, beauty - and poetry. Last year I "stole" your idea of the little houses made with milk boxes and, well, I built an entire village for my son's teachers (like 8 or 10 altogether, I guess). I filled them with home-made cookies and the result was really nice.
    I like the idea of doing much with less. Two years ago, for example, I made an Advent Calendar of "just" stories and poems. I collected 24, I printed each of them on a standard A4 white sheet of paper, rolled them and tied every roll with a red wooden string. I wrote the numbers 1 to 24 in green on brown package paper, cut them out and glued them on wooden clothes pegs. Finally, I used the pegs to fix the rolls with the stories on a raw string which I fixed at both extremities in the corridor wall. The final look was really nice and it was beautiful to see how big the expectation for every single story was. At the end, we gathered all the stories in an ring-book that is now my son's favourite Advent's book. The idea was to illustrate the stories, but this is still an open project.

    This long post is just to say THANK YOU for all that you share with us all over the world (I am Italian, but live in Spain) and to give my little contribution.

    I have just finished to prepare and print the list of activities for this December, I cannot wait for the first day of next month and I am sure that my son will enjoy his calendar as much as every year. At the end, what our children want is spending nice time with us, much more than possessing "things".

    So, thank you again for the love and the creativity you spread from your pages. Have a BEAUTIFUL December!



  8. I love the candlelight & unplugged night!

  9. I love your countdown calendars. We have two that we reuse (and reinvent a little) every year.
    You can see them at I keep our activities list on a hidden calendar page that I print out each year. That way I can juggle the activities a day or two if something unexpected comes up.
    Thank you for sharing. I can't wait to see this year's project.

  10. I looked up your past advent calendars just the other day! I love the idea of filling them with things to do rather than candy or toys. Looking forward to seeing the 2011 edition!
    ~ joey ~
    ps. So what have you done with the past calendars, stored or recycled them?! ;o)

  11. Oh Raffella! Thank you for such an amazing comment filled with such love and inspiration. What a beautiful idea- a story advent that turns into a book! Oh my! You've blown me away!

  12. Amy- checking in is so important... especially as they get bigger, totally agree!

  13. Natalie- I will come for a visit!

    Joey- I have saved each one. 2009 traveled in a box to be featured in a magazine last year, but it's happy to be home again. We will be re-using 2010 again this year. Seems silly to make a new one every year... I really loved those little houses so much and so did my family. My tp rolls this year will be for other decorating...still working on it.

  14. i thought of you while crafting our Toilet paper roll advent!! we made ours to look like christmas crackers

  15. I think this year we'll be doing, as we did last year, a list of books to read. The kids really enjoyed that one.

    I'll miss seeing what a new t.p advent calendar creation from you. But I can't wait to see what type of ornaments you come up with.

  16. what a lovely the toilet paper tubes..i may have to snag that one from ya!

  17. Hi Maya,

    These are super,and I really like the stars you posted. I am struggling with how to distinguish Advent from Christmas. Some of what I want to do (baking cookies, decorating the house, making donations of time and money to charity) is preparing a more hospitable world for the little baby to come on Christmas and some of it (Christmas music, anything to do with Santa) seems like something that should wait for Christmas. I saw a cool video clip the other day that says "if you are tired of Christmas on December 26 you did Advent wrong." That happened to me last year! Any ideas on how to merge a fun Advent full of activities with a contemplative one full of waiting for the joy that is Christmas?

    Sorry if this is too off the wall for you!

  18. Trisha,
    When I'm struggling to figure out a very personal solution, I always try to listen to my intuition. If you already know that last year's model didn't work for you, than you may already have the answers deep down to how you'd like this month to look. Each family's traditions and beliefs are so wonderfully unique- you are the expert on yours.

  19. I posted a comment on your 2009 calendar post but just wanted to let you know that I love what you do and made my own TR advent calendar on the weekend. This is it:
    I just put sweets in the pockets but love the idea of putting activities in them - I'll do that next year!

  20. love your advent calendars - what a great idea to use up those toilet paper tubes! here is what we do every year for our countdown...

  21. I go really simple. We light one candle each evening, little tealights leading up to a big red candle on Christmas Eve. After we light the candle, our son chooses a holiday book (I mix ours with library so we have a different one every night) and we take turns each night reading. Then he blows out the candle. It's a lovely, calm way to end the day. This is our third year doing our "advent candle ceremony." I researched three years ago all the ideas I could find and chose this, partly based on something you had with candles in a spiral, for the life of me I can't remember exactly what it was. But thank you! Our celebration is a gift, no extra running around for this tired mama.