1. Get (or make) an Advent calendarIn Western Christian churches, Advent is the season before Christmas during which we think about not only the birth of Christ—his First Coming—but also prepare for the Second Coming. This season includes many traditions observed slightly differently between denominations, but if you are not a churchgoer, you can still count down the days of Advent with candles or a calendar. The simplest of calendars feature little doors or windows that a child can open every day, revealing a picture or message. More elaborate calendars include candies or toys behind the doors. You can even make your own calendar (see the craft links below for some ideas).
Having a little surprise to look forward to every day makes the waiting more bearable for some kids. Bonus: you won't have to tell them every day how many days are left until Christmas!
2. Put them to workSome of the things you're doing to prepare for the holidays have to be a secret. (Shh!) But many of the other tasks are not only faster but also more enjoyable with help. Are you sending Christmas or New Year cards? Have your kids apply the address labels or stamps. Why not let them "sign" some of them, too? (Can you imagine how delighted the grandparents will be when they receive that darling signature?) Baking holiday cookies is a whole lot messier with mini assistants, but you'll make memories with them that will last forever. They'll feel pretty happy when they help deliver those cookies to the neighbors and can tell them, "I helped!"
Older kids can decorate the tree with handmade ornaments; create hand crafted gifts AND the wrapping paper; and make easy snacks to share with their classes and friends. There are many sites that provide Christmas craft ideas, including Martha Stewart, Instructables, and Parents. Check out this Pinterest board for more Christmas crafts for kids.
3. End each day with playPlay dough, that is. When my kids were little, I made this dough all the time. I found it particularly helpful when I needed kids to unwind at the end of long days. The recipe is from Vicki Lansky's Feed Me I'm Yours, and can be made easily from ingredients in your cupboard. Store in an airtight container and pull it out whenever you need a break and kids need a quiet distraction. Here's the recipe:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 Tbsp. cream of tartar
1 cup water
food coloring (optional)
Cook over medium heat, stirring for about 4-5 minutes. This is how it will look at the start:
What do you do to keep this season fun and cut back on the nuttiness? I'd love to know your secrets!