3+ME: Squeeze Christmas memories into the little things – like advent calendars

Remember when we were kids, advent calendars (if we had them at all) were simple affairs. Thin cardboard boxes with little pop-out doors hid little pictures inside, or even plastic-molded chocolates, one each day until Christmas.

Now, things are a lot more complicated.

Forget the little chocolates — today your kids can get advent calendars with Legos in them, Hatchimals, Paw Patrol toys, dollhouse sets, jewelry, the list goes on.

Because let’s face it, little cheap chocolates just don’t have the appeal they used to.

We have to go nuts for our kids, don’t we?

Above and beyond to keep them entertained with all the fancy, expensive gadgets because — they need that to survive in today’s cutthroat, judgy grade-school environment, right? As the hashtag goes: #firstworldproblems.

For our Christmas countdown, we have a “scadventger hunt” – with the kids following handwritten clues to find their hidden candy each day until Dec. 25.

So even the humble advent calendar needs toys and tech and jewelry inside it, just to keep pace.

I must confess, we did try the Lego calendar route last year. It was a cool idea, I suppose, but the kids were just so-so about it. And for the price, I was happy to skip it this year.

So what’s a blended family to do during the Christmas countdown season?

Maybe some DIY, please.

We have this little reusable advent display — you know, the fake-wood kind you get at Christmas Tree Shops that has little hinged doors and cubbies. Our plan had been simply to put one piece of candy per kid in each cubbie.

PROBLEM: The cubbies are pretty small. We could fit maybe a few M&Ms in there, but a “fun-size” Hershey bar or Snickers? Forget it.

SOLUTION: What we could fit in the cubbies, we realized, was a folded piece of paper or two…

And thus, using a tag-team combination of both notes and candy, we had our solution.

On the notes, we wrote secret messages, folded them up and stuffed them into the tiny cubbie of the appropriate date.

Then the candy, we hid elsewhere in the house — in a spot alluded to by the message written on the paper.

Yep, an advent scavenger hunt. (Oooh! A scadventger hunt? Hah, I need to tell my stepson that. He loves pun/wordplay things.)

The fun part is, since we have the kids only part-time, there are days when they get to do multiple searches at a time, to make up for the days they missed (which is actually more awesome).

What could be just a simple, fleeting open-the-cardboard-door-and-eat-the-candy moment, is now an interactive hunt riddled with, well, riddles, that the whole family gets involved in.

“Where WOOD you like to read a book?” 

becomes the clue to the bucket of logs next to the fireplace.

“Space … the vinyl frontier”

hints at my husband’s old record player.

“It’s like a big wave, but much smaller” 

aims at the microwave in the kitchen.

“Hiding your candy, I am” 

is phrased as if spoken by the giant Yoda doll near the Christmas tree.

We’d tried this scadventger hunt for the first time two years ago, and been slightly hesitant about reintroducing it this year, thinking my stepson might be “too old” for it now. (He’s almost 12.)

But nope. He joins right in with his 7-year-old sister, and it’s really quite adorable.

In this social media post from two years ago, I’d drawn a picture of the first time we’d tried a “scadventger hunt.” (My drawing style has changed quite a bit since then!)

It’s become a fun way to spend some time together, especially since we don’t get to see the kids all the time. Like everyone else, we always have a ton to do during the holiday season; and having the kids part-time means we try to jam everything in during the time we do have with them.

Usually, that means some holiday things have to get left out.

PROBLEM: Our time with the kids is pretty small — just like the cubbie space in our advent calendar. We can fit maybe a few little things in during our time, but the usual, everyday-life kind of holiday things? Forget it.

SOLUTION: What we can fit in, is quality memories — just like the folded pieces of paper…

It isn’t about the quantity of time we spend together, or the number of hours we can mark down that the kids spend under our roof. It’s about the intentionality of our togetherness, how we choose to spend our time making memories, not just meeting quotas.

Because the point of Christmas, Hanukkah and any other holiday really shouldn’t be about the stuff we get (or even the candy we stuff our faces with). It’s about the memories we make while we have the chance.

Originally published in The Herald News on Dec. 23, 2018.

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