"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
December 3, 2012
Schedule in Some Holiday Peace
by Melissa Howell

Fill in the blank: “It’s the most ________ time of the year.”

What did you come up with? Wonderful? Frantic? Crazy? Hectic? Busy? Beautiful? All of the above? Maybe it is. But it doesn’t have to be.

I can’t deny that my December calendar is filling up, and fast. It feels as though I take a deep breath in the beginning of the month and exhale somewhere in the second week of January. There’s hustle and bustle. There’s holly and jolly. There’s Ho-Ho-Ho and merrymaking.

But in the middle of it all, there’s Christ.

Whenever I get overwhelmed, focusing back on that humble birth instantly brings me some sort of calm, something that often gets buried in the midst of all we heap onto our jolly plates.

I could offer up all sorts of ways to relax during this season — get a massage! Take a hot bath! Carve out a few moments of “me time!” — but I have found that in keeping Him whose humble birth brought everlasting life to all at the center of our celebrating, I find a sort of peace and calm that I can’t find anyplace else. And, more important, I want my children to be raised knowing without a doubt why we celebrate Christmas.

One such way I have found to keep Christ in our Christmas and organize our festivities is through a Christmas advent calendar with accompanying daily activities.

Did I just lose you at “daily activities”? Hear (read?) me out.

Perhaps you’ve seen the myriad of Christmas advent calendar ideas on Pinterest and throughout blogland. I saw an idea on a blog a few years ago, in which you empty the matches from 25 of those mini matchbooks — the ones that slide open — discard or store the matches safely and properly, of course, and wrap the boxes with scrapbook papers and adhere them in place with craft glue or tape, leaving the sides open for the boxes to slide in and out. Using stickers, markers, glitter glue, or whatever else works for you, number the boxes 1 through 25, then put them in a basket, jar, bowl, or whatever else you have on hand.

Festive advent boxes.

Then, type up 25 daily Christmas-related activities to do with the children/family. Print them and put one in each of the boxes. With a little planning, you likely can use many of your already-planned activities to fill many of the days; for example, be sure to correspond such activities as the First Presidency Christmas devotional, ward Christmas party, community events you plan to attend and the like with the correct days.

Then, each day leading up to Christmas, have the children open one box. You can give them an extra thrill by putting a little treat in each box — an M&M for each child, a Christmas sticker, and the like.

From my experience, some of the favorite activities are those simple ones that require little to no effort and provide an opportunity for quiet fun. These are moments that can define childhood and make lasting memories.

When I was young, every year during the Christmas season my sister Lara and I would turn off all the lights and play board games under the magical, sparkling lights of the Christmas tree (anyone remember the game “Let’s Eat Out!”? It was our favorite).

Even now as a mom, reading a book or magazine or simply sitting in silence by the light of the tree casts a soothing spell on me. So, I plan a few of our daily activities to focus on doing something under the lights of the tree, from reading books to playing board games. My kids have been asking about this already and can’t wait to do it again this year.

Other simple daily activities can include baking Christmas goodies, watching a Christmas movie, taking treats to neighbors, making homemade ornaments, going Christmas caroling, going to a crèche display, and singing Christmas songs as a family. Last year’s activity of putting on our pajamas, filling travel mugs with creamy hot cocoa, and driving around listening to Christmas music and looking at lights was a big hit, and I always try to include a day or two of service-oriented activities.

In addition, we do a daily scripture reading throughout December that is dedicated to the life of the Savior. The December 2008 Friend magazine had a fantastic article titled “Stories of Jesus Tell Them to Me,” and had an accompanying image of the Savior with 25 images of an open book of scripture, each printed with a verse or set of verses about the Savior (found here)

I printed this page and cut out the scriptures; they fit perfectly in our little advent boxes along with our daily activities, and help keep the real spirit and meaning of Christmas in our home and at the center of our holiday celebrations.

We all have much pulling on us during this time; we might as well take charge of our schedules, and carve out some family moments spent together in peace, love, service and fun.

In the end, we just might find that what initially feels like we are scheduling more actually results in less — less stress, less hustle, less crazy.

And that would be a gift in and of itself.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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