We are several days away from Advent, the slow holy season leading up to Christmas, and this year I’ve decided to make it a service-filled time for our family. Last year the weeks in December sort of flew by, and I ended up feeling frazzled and regretted not taking the time to add more meaning to the days leading up to Christmas. Holidays can kind of catch you off guard, you know? And of course there are seasons when adding more to do is simply not the answer, but we are in a good place to serve, and to help teach our babies the gift in giving.
Stella, Theo, and Alfie are at the ages where they are all pretty eager to lend mama a hand (thriving on imitation) and make things for others (with bounds of creativity), which lends itself rather well to a service-led calendar such as this one. Landing on this idea however, was rather fortuitous. Yesterday afternoon while the boys were napping upstairs, I rifled through various Etsy accounts and Pinterest pages searching for minimal but meaningful Advent calendar we could purchase for our home. You know, a cute ones with sewn pockets for ornaments to add to our tree or whatever. But given that Advent starts this week (not enough time for sewing and shipping), and given the high, although well-deserved, price of the many hand-stitched calendars I swooned over, I decided to make a humble one from things we already had laying around the house: a bell-shaped cookie cutter, simple brown thank you cards (card-stock would do), scissors, small craft clothespins, a black marker, our already hung art string, and my imagination.
I used a cookie cutter as a stencil to make 24 little bells, one for each day of Advent, and wrote one manageable act of service our family could do together on the back of each. I looked online for more ideas when mine started dwindling, and while there were some clever ones out there, the majority were quite lofty and time-consuming, though probably well-intended. I knew if I made this calendar too demanding of our time and energy, it could easily fall the “chore category” instead of being something we all could look forward to. So I stuck with simple and handmade, because that’s the season of life that we are in.
Why acts of service, instead of 24 books to read, 24 gifts to open, or 24 ornaments to hang? While those are fun ideas, especially the book one, I am craving an opportunity to get out of myself and help spread good with my husband and kids. There’s something tugging me to do so, and having one act to do a day feels right. I feel so abundantly blessed, and want to spread that feeling to others. If small acts of love and kindness can give others a chance smile, a glimmer of hope, or simply the feeling of warmth inside, I’ll be so grateful.
And as a mom, I want this time of year to be one where the kids remember how we slowed our gears and turned inward to serve others. Sacrificing an hour here or an hour there isn’t much, and I think it’s important we do so. I also want our family to sink into the beauty and gratitude that this meaningful tradition can bring to our days, and feel the excitement that giving can bring. In the midst all the presents and holiday hoopla surrounding this lovely season, it’s important to me that our children to know well and deep the meaning behind why we celebrate in the first place, and I believe that taking the time to be the hands and feet of Jesus is one way we as a family can get there.
This list I have put together constitutes ideas that are feasible for us, but given your circumstances or the ages of your children, you may consider others that are more or less involved. The point is to work together to serve others, and in between those days of spreading kindness and cheer, choosing a few to hunker down and enjoy one another. If you decide to make an Acts of Service Advent Calendar for your family, make sure to be mindful of where you place the acts and on what day. Observe, that on Sunday for example, you may not be up for running around town. And if you’re extra busy on certain nights of the week, choose simpler tasks so you aren’t adding too much to your schedule.
There are so many ways to celebrate this time of year, and I am especially looking forward to spending time as a family giving our time, energy, and love to others in this tangible and intentional way. I believe you get twice as much light back as you put out into the world, and light is something each one of us can always. always, always use more of.
24 Acts of Simple Acts of Service for Your Advent Calendar
- Send a thank you note to someone who has blessed you
- Bake a holiday treat for a neighbor
- Make art and deliver to a nursing home
- Gather and donate several toys to a donation center/toy drive
- Prepare and deliver a meal for a family in need
- Pick up and recycle trash at a local park or playground
- Deliver flowers to a friend or someone who’s having a rough go
- Donate blankets to local children’s hospital
- Send snail mail to friends who live far away
- Learn a Christmas song to sing to family
- Hand out a gift card to a homeless person
- Surprise Dad at work with a meal and hug
- Deliver coffee to a friend or new mom
- Write a thank you note to teachers
- Donate books to doctor’s office or book drop off
- Call a loved one on the phone or FaceTime to say “I love you”
- Make a fire and craft handmade ornaments
- Take cookies to a local fire or police station
- Leave a thank you note for the mail carrier
- Donate non-perishables to a local food bank
- Send seasonal snail mail to a friend who lives far away
- Read Christmas stories about Jesus together instead of TV or movies
- Craft paper snowflakes and write things you are grateful for on them
- Give everyone in your family a smooch and big bear hug