However, so many advent calendars now feature children’s television characters that it can feel like a big advertising ploy. Or you might resent the prevalence of chocolate calendars, with children scoffing cheap sugary rubbish before breakfast!
The trend now is to have advent calendars that include a present for each day which can make many parents feel pressured into buying cheap toys they know their kids will quickly lose interest in. Some of the simplicity of advent calendars has been lost along the way. One way to make sure your advent calendar really special is to make it yourself. That way you’re in charge of what goes in it.
We were recently given a beautiful hand-made fabric advent calendar with pockets for each day. Browsing in our local toyshop, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by all the cheap, plastic tat on offer: destined for landfill and probably made in a sweatshop in China. The irony of western children discarding little bits of what they consider rubbish under the sofa cushions or down the side of the car door whilst the children that made the toys have so few of their own is never more pertinent than at Christmas. The choices we make at this time of year set a precedent for our children. By starting a unique family tradition, we can hopefully create something our youngsters will go on to share with the next generation.
After our visit to the toy shop, my son and I were out walking in the countryside. Watching his enthralled expression as he filled his pockets with beach pebbles reminded me that we don’t need to buy treasures for our children – they are there in abundance all around us. I remember having a little box of treasures as a child which included special stones, crystals, bones and feathers. What about an advent calendar that celebrated the natural world and all its miniature wonders? My son is still a toddler so is captivated by things he finds outdoors, but this kind of advent calendar can still be relevant to older children as each treasure holds a story and invites further play, research or discovery. A seed can be planted, a leaf stuck in a scrapbook, a piece of chalk used to draw on the ground, sheep’s wool made into an elf’s beard, wood whittled into a figure. In fact, another approach to a natural advent calendar is to add items that can then be placed on a seasonal table, used to create a nativity scene, or made into something such as a fairy or elf. Below, in the list of suggested natural items, I have made number 24 a spotter’s guide as older children might be inspired to either put names to the things in their calendar or go off and find more for their natural collection! Younger children will simply enjoy the excitement of discovering something hidden in a little pocket, and exploring the item with all their senses.
Our advent calendar is going to include items from our seaside surroundings, so I’ve already found a crab’s shell and some pretty dried seaweed to include. Finding items for your calendar can be an adventure in itself; I’ve certainly noticed more about the landscape around me as a result of searching for interesting things. I hope that creating a natural advent calendar will help my son to appreciate all the many wonders and treasures around him, but in that he is already my greatest teacher.
Here are some ideas for your own natural advent calendar but feel free to get outside and see what treasures lie on your doorstep:
- Pretty leaf
- Coloured stone
- Apple seed
- Pumpkin seed
- Sunflower seed
- Piece of chalk
- Piece of wood
- Corn dolly
- Piece of sheep’s wool
- Snail’s shell
- Bird’s egg shell (if you’ve saved one back from springtime!)
- Dried flower or seed head
- Dried herbs
- Animal tooth or bone
- A spotter’s guide