Recently, the Father of one of our daughter’s closest friends, suggested the girls should make each other Advent Calendars this year. Ever since, it’s been something Chilli speaks about often. I was a little overwhelmed by the idea, however as I browsed through resources, along with odds and ends I’ve bookmarked and collected through the years – planning our Christmas activities, I noticed a rough hand sketch I’d made many years ago when Chilli was a wee one. The sketch was made during a Steiner Playgroup Christmas evening where parents conscious of how and what we bring to our children at Christmas time, gathered together to listen to a beautiful, seasoned Steiner Teacher who was involved in the foundation of our local Steiner School when it began. The heading on the sketch read “Simple Advent Calendar for Kindergarteners”. I knew Chilli would love this handwork piece and would be extremely excited in making a Calendar to gift her friend as they had discussed and planned.
I wanted to say a quick word at this point about planning for Festivals, especially something that spans a larger time like the season of Christmas. Having said that, the same is true for shorter Festival periods as well – and it is regarding how much we as parents, educators and planners try to cram into our programs and homes. There is a plethora of inspiration these days to totally lose yourself in and be overwhelmed by. After 7 years of doing this homeschooling/homemaking Mumma thing, I’ve finally realised that less really is more. My focus now as I approach a Festival, especially something like Easter or Christmas is to be mindful not to become lost in all the wonderful things that Pinterest shows me I can do. Instead I sit and browse for a small amount of time through resources; books, online places like Pinterest, Facebook groups and blogs as well as pieces I’ve collected and saved through the years on my computer. I save in boards, Evernote and other resource places, things that interest me. To be honest, all through the year I’m bookmarking things in this manner, so that when a Festival rolls around, I have the resources all there ready to briefly flick through for inspiration in our planning. But here’s the thing… I highly recommend being mindful about what you are planning to incorporate and how much you incorporate. It sounds simple enough – but it is all too easy to think you’ll get a whole bundle of things done and then all that happens is yourself and your children end up frantically moving from one thing to another without any real meaning or mindfulness to what you are actually doing.
This year with Christmas, I really thought about the activities we would do. What were their purpose, what did they mean to me in the celebration, what message will they share with my children and our family about this holiday season. Having a wee one again has really made me pull back in a mindful way and embrace the ‘less is more’ philosophy, which brings deeper meaning and mindfulness to the well thought out, purposeful activities that we now incorporate into a Festival. My advice is – don’t have yourself so tightly planned that time for snuggling on the couch, reading a wonderful Festival story together while sipping a nice cup of some beautiful herbal infusion, eludes you. These are the real moments that hold beautiful treasures for our children. Moments of togetherness, calmness and times, as well as activities – imbued with meaning.
Onto this Advent Calendar then. The sketch I had was simple and rough. Inspiration at its best! On a piece of paper, I’d sketched a window in each of the four corners. There was a window to represent one of the Kingdoms through each week of Advent. In the middle is a larger window with a ‘two door’ type opening which is a special one for Christmas Morning. Here is how we made our Calendar;
- We took two watercolour paintings from through the year – ‘The Three Kings Followed a Star’ for the front of the calendar and ‘The Rose and The Violet’ for the backing of the calendar (the piece the windows open to.) These Watercolour Lessons are found in the Pre School and Kindergarten Watercolour Lesson Book from Earthschooling. I like to use watercolour paintings for this as the pictures are beautiful and soft – perfect for the calendar, and the paper has a structure to it that once doubling the front and back together, will give great form to the calendar without the need for a mounting board.
- In four corners of the star we traced around one of the circular shapes from our Rainbow Stacking Disc set. We flattened off the outer edge of each of the circles. In the centre we traced around a larger disc, again flattening off both the sides this time, as well as drawing a line down the centre of the circle. The line down the centre was cut through as well as the the circular part of the shape on this central window. The two outer sides that were flattened off were just ‘scored’. This makes a ‘double door’ opening.
- I carefully cut with a scalpel on a cutting matt, around the circular part of each shape and we then ‘scored’ the flattened part of the shape with the back of the scalpel and a metal ruler.
- We then erased the light pencil marks we had used as our guides for these windows.
- Placing the top over the backing – we lightly drew around where the windows would sit on the backing.
- Chilli then set to work making a little drawing in each window space we’d marked out, on the backing paper. In each window we did the following; Window/Week 1 :: Mineral Kingdom – A star drawing with glitter glue over the star, a gold foil snowflake centred on the star illustration and a tiny crystal chip fixed in the middle of the gold snowflake with a wee ball of Stockmar sticky wax. Window/Week 2 :: Plant Kingdom – A Christmas tree drawing with a mini wire and netting flower tacked again with sticky wax, onto the tree. Window/Week 3 :: Animal Kingdom – A sheep drawing with a little of the fleece from the animals we watch sheared in the Spring glued onto the sheep. Window/Week 4 :: Human Kingdom – A drawing of Chilli and her friend together with little woollen bows tacked onto their dresses. ‘Merry Christmas’/Central Window – Drawing of Mary and Joseph in the stable with the baby Jesus. Hay from the paddock next to a house we lived in once, tacked around the manger.
- Before mounting the two pages together, Chilli relished the opportunity to put her new writing skills to good use! She numbered each window so her friend knows which window to open each Sunday and we also put the Kingdom name above each window. On the central window Chilli wrote ‘Merry Christmas’. Above and below the main window, she wrote ‘Advent Calendar 2014’ – she also wanted to sign her work of course! I loved this project for Chilli at this age – it was perfect for her. She had a real sense of achievement, something she’d made that was really functional for her friend. That’s what I love about Waldorf Handwork – the attention to purpose and function. We don’t just decorate a paper plate with pretty tissue paper squares to hang on the fridge – there is a purpose and function to the handwork the children and ourselves undertake. Not to say we don’t make decorations for Festivals and the like – some things are made and hung to look pretty, but it’s always with purpose.
- Our final pre-mounting step was to thread the ties through the windows. I strung wool through with a thicker needle, knotted it and created ties on the door and where it met the card as it closed.
- Glueing the two together, we were careful to ensure the windows were positioned correctly and then we tied closed our windows, ready to be opened by a very dear friend through the weeks of Advent to shortly come. I made sure to place glue all around the windows as well as the outer edges of the card, pressing all these points together well.
- The final touch was to finger knit a short cord which could be attached through two hole punches at the top of the calendar, allowing the piece to be hung somewhere special amongst the Festivities of our friend’s home.
I say this whenever I write about Christmas… At that very same night when the foundation of how we as a family would celebrate Christmas was laid, this wonderful Steiner Teacher who was a beautiful mentor to me in those early parenting days said; Even if we are not religious, go to church regularly or no matter what our beliefs about how the world was created are – bringing these Archetypal stories that have such deep meaning in them, to our children is such a powerful and nourishing way to celebrate Christmas, not just for our wee ones but for ourselves as well. I have always held those very simple but wonderfully inspiring words in my heart and mind about the celebrations we create for our family. Watching the meaning that Mary and Joseph’s journey through our home each year to arrive at the stable that has slowly ‘come to life’ over the four weeks of Advent, has for our daughter and will as well have for our son, is so humbling. Every year I can’t hide nor help the tears of joy that roll silently down my cheeks as I witness the reverence and meaning our celebrations have to our children.
It is my hope that your celebrations bring just as much mindful, meaningful and memory making moments to your family as we experience with the rich traditions the Waldorf way has brought to our family.