Friday, December 01, 2006

Losing My Tradition.

A few years ago I bought this beautiful wooden advent calendar. It's not a traditional one, but works in much the same way to count down the days until Christmas, except without the Bible story and with small compartments for each day that hold gifts. In other words, it's a cheap commercialization of a lovely Christmas tradition. Just what I was looking for!

I saw The Box as a way to start a tradition with my girls. Instead of constantly asking me how many days were left until Santa's arrival, I imagined them excitedly opening the door for each day to find the small trinkets I would hide in there. They would pass it on to their children, who would pass it on to their children, and so on until years from now my great-great-great-great grandchildren would be retrieving their time-travel vouchers from The Box's tiny alcoves. As you can see, I put a lot of thought into this.

When I showed The Box to Rigel he reacted like a typical male, skeptical about us needing any more holiday traditions. I convinced him that the customary Holiday Hangover and our festive, annual Haggling Over The Moneys were probably not things we wanted to pass on to our children and he grudgingly agreed. The girls were excited about it, deciding that anything that increased their gift-receiving days from one to twenty-five was all right by them.

That first year I spent a lot of time carefully choosing small knickknacks to put in The Box. The size of the compartments posed a challenge and finding items that would fit inside the small space was sometimes difficult. But I did it, scouring Target and Claires to find small keychains, miniature bottles of nail polish and chocolate Santas that were just the right size. I was so caught up in my wonderful new holiday tradition that if you knew me then you would have wanted to throttle my holly-ringed neck. And in hindsight, I wish someone had.

By the second year, I was slightly dreading the Filling Of The Box. In my initial excitement I had failed to calculate the sheer volume of gift buying I was in for: 1 item x 2 girls for 25 days = 50 items. This was in addition to my already extensive list, so I didn't spend as much time shopping for items that year. Carefully chosen presents were replaced by dimes and quarters on some of those days, which the girls heartily approved of. There were less bracelets and more chocolate coins, less tubes of Skittles-flavored lip balm and more stickers. Still, The Box was filled and there was happiness in the household.

When the holidays rolled around last year I had serious regrets about The Box. This came after a particularly grueling cleaning session of the girls' room where I found enough small trinkets to fill five-hundred advent calendars. The idea that I would be buying more crap to fill up those small compartments for twenty-five days panicked me. I considered recycling items, but that wouldn't be in the spirit of the season, and besides I intended to wrap most of it up and re-gift it to the kids of people I didn't like.

I ended up buying a few items but my lack of enthusiasm was evident and I was no longer concerned with the element of surprise. I would scramble to find the little presents for the day, ask them to turn around while I put them in the cubbyhole. and then they would immediately turn around to open the small door to retrieve their gifts. I was beginning to wonder why I didn't just hand them each a bag on December 1st with twenty-five items inside.

On some days I wrote small notes which the girls, while politely feigning gratitude, weren't so crazy about. I don't blame them - who wants a piece of paper that says, "We're so proud of you!" when you're expecting a rhinestone ring? It got worse as the month wore on, with me forgetting days altogether or scouring my closet for leftover party favors or office supplies. By the time December 24th rolled around I had turned into a regular Scrooge, and the girls couldn't hide their disappointment at what they found behind those tiny doors that day. I gave them a lecture about being grateful and thinking of those less fortunate, so then they thanked me for the pocket lint and three paper clips.

I briefly considered not even taking The Box out this year, until Kiyomi saw it in the closet and started pointing and squealing, "The Box! The Box!" as if she had discovered Santa himself sitting there on the shelf. I brought it out, but told them I wanted to do something different this year with more meaning and less useless junk. I took it as a good sign when they looked thoughtful for a moment as they opened the small doors, but then Kira inquired, "Can a gift card fit in there?"

So, today's December first and I haven't gotten around to buying anything for The Box. I've got some Halloween candy that will last me through the next few days, but beyond that I'm not sure what to fill it with. Touching notes of encouragement? Coupons for extra desserts? Lumps of coal? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Either that, or feel free to FedEx me twenty-five small items that can fit inside a two-inch space.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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  1. I think this is a great tradition. And the trinkets a fabulous idea but I can see how that would get old fast.

    One Christmas while we were dating, my husband gave me a small plastic Christmas tree with many homemade paper ornaments on different lengths of yarn. On each of the 12 days of Christmas, I was supposed to pick an ornament at random and based on the number written on the back, hang it on this small board he made with numbered pushpins lined up on the top. It was a surprise since I didn't know what was going on, but day by day a pattern emerged. The ornaments, hanging on the different lengths of yarn made a big heart.

    I know this is way hands-on--but at the end, a lasting memento and you could have fun creating a special image.

  2. We have a really similar box. It's red and has a bigger door for December 25th. I have the all the pieces to three different Playmobile calendars. So each year I rotate a different calendar in there. Some of the pieced are too big so I put a Hershey's kiss in those and then give them the piece.

    When I first bought my Playmobile calendars is when I was delusional about Christmas' future. I envisioned passing them down and each kid saying "I remember this from when I was a kid." But it came with cardboard boxes that got crushed. Three years ago I saw the red wooden box at Restoration Hardware in Portland.

    I'm a nut when they take the toys out. They must set up the scene precisely the way the Playmobile picture looks. They must not play with it. Because that is what Christmas is all about, making Mommy's fantasies come true, not their's.

    Hershey Kisses. Put those in every box but 4 and whatever is in the four other boxes make good. Earrings, lipgloss, condoms. Sorry. I just knew they would fit in the box.

  3. Wow when I first started reading this post I was like - What a Fabulous Idea! I'm going to go out and buy one!!!

    By the end I thought - sheesh what hassle! I like the Hersey Kisses idea, with 4 real gifts scattered through out. 1 for each week.

  4. i commend you for even attempting to create something unique to your family for yuletime. because so far i've only gotten as far as throwing a chrismukkah party -- and by throwing i mean telling my friends to byob and food so i don't have to do anything. so generous.

    i, too, vote for the little chocolates with 4 real trinkets scattered throughout.

  5. How about purchasing one of those minature trees and mini ornaments. Put an ornament for each of the girls daily into the advent calendar and then they can decorate the little tree -- make the tree topper (a star or angel) be the last piece to place on the tree -- when the tree is completed it's Christmas! Then you won't have to buy anything again -- just save everything and make the decorating of the little tree part of the "advent tradition". If you felt the need to buy something you could always place a small little gift under the tree for them to find Christmas morning.

  6. I think in theory it's a great idea, but the reality is that you're going to far with it. I like the idea of candy and then a few suprises, maybe one a week or whatever. If for them the excitement was opening the thing each day and they were okay with candy being inside or whatever, then I'd still go with it. If not, accidentally lose it in between this year and next.

  7. My first thought was "What a great idea!"
    That quickly turned into "Oh's no fun anymore."
    Maybe the advent calendar could meet an early and unfortunate leap from a tall shelf and breaking into a million pieces. Just a suggestion *LOL*
    How about cash? Cash always works. Maybe like increasing amounts each day so that they each end up with $10 or so at the end of it.

  8. How about dried fruit? That cured my daughter of ever wanting to celebrate Easter again...

  9. I'm gonna say...Tylenol PM capsules.

  10. I love and adore you and I cannot breathe. I have an image in my mind of you and that darn box, and I wish I were in L.A. to share your angst.
    I say you buy pairs of things, divide them in two...they each get one and SHARE! 1 pair of Earrings, hows about...knee high stockings (all teen age girls, love them, right???!!) OR, you can get itty bitty thong panties for 99¢ a piece, coin rollers for all those coins you've been giving them. Order US POSTAGE with their picture! If that doesn't work, I say try the scientific educational approach to 'THE BOX" and put um, a Krispy Kreme donut hole? in EACH DOOR and see how long their edible. Gross but funny. That may cure them from wanting to open another door.
    Please let us know WHAT is actually put in the BOX this year!

    Merry Christmaas!

  11. Wonderful Idea. Thing is, you have the wrong approach. Start picking up trinkets in January and keep them in storage until December!

    If not, don't those little bottles of alcohol in the tiny refridgerators at hotels fit???

    Just tell the girls that the box is for mommy and daddy this year..?

    also why not turn it around and have 1 year for the kids and one year the kids give to you and hubby?

    (that way when one of them get the box later in life they will immediately burn it...)

  12. funny how pleasure can turn into pain like that! i had a friend who's husband decided to buy her 40 presents for her 40th. how romantic! how sweet! in fact, he was in an absolute fury after about the first 24 presents - he'd completely run out of ideas but was grimly determined to get to the finish!

  13. Fun idea. L.A. Mommy pulled one of those out this morning (pre-filled) and gave it to our little one. It had a round piece of chocolate in it, I think. She was happy.

    If you don't want to fill it this year, you might consider having the girls fill it for you! Change of pace. Turns the tables and all that. You could take them shopping or ask them to fill it with notes like, "Good for one free backrub, no questions asked!" or "I'll clean YOUR room for a change!"

    Just a thought.

  14. I remember being jealous of kids who had little advent calendars as a kid, even though now I realize they're just low quality chocolate, which is no kind of chocolate at all. My vote? Hershey kisses. (mmmm chocolate!)

  15. I think that it is beautiful I would have done exactly the same thing as you, filled with aspirations to create tradition and then just....losing....steam....
    How about chocolate (oh you already have that!), ummmmm, key to the house?, fake jewels...fathers, money, more chocolate, chick peas, get the idea. Good luck!

  16. Did I write 'fathers'? What the ? That's the bad me talking....

  17. Hershey's Kisses. 24 of them. I would love to FedEx them, but chocolates don't mail well. I just found this out from a new client Plum Drama who makes and sells candy boxes as party favors. I was trying to understand what flavor favors he was selling, and I assumed that some were chocolate, but - silly me! - he explained that chocolate just doesn't mail without melting. I did suggest that the flavors be made more prominent on the website. Anyway, get yourself a bag of Hershey's kisses, or even Smarties, and put one in each little cubby hole. :-)

  18. How 'bout spare change and Hershey's kisses? Money and chocolate now who doesn't love that!

  19. "I gave them a lecture about being grateful and thinking of those less fortunate, so then they thanked me for the pocket lint and three paper clips."

    HEHEEHHE. that cracks me up. I have NO good ideas. Tiny bottles of booze you get on an airplane? Condoms? Tiny minature cigars?? Oh wait, this is for your young daughters! I forgot. Silly me....:)

  20. What about "Gift Certificates" you make? "Get out of X Chore Free", "Good for One Game of X With The Parent of Your Choice", that sort of thing?

    Chocolate is also good though. And we did the mini tree thing suggested above when I was a kid, and enjoyed it.

    BTW, I have totally stolen inspiration from this post, and hope you don't mind.

  21. Ahh....great minds think alike. I posted about the same idea today.

    Some of my ideas? Notes that say...

    -DVD night-you choose!
    -bake cookies for your teachers
    -food bank day (buy or collect for the food bank)
    -feed the birds! (make bird feeders)
    -go skating!

    Etc. We do things together, he just doesn't get things.

  22. I think you could easily maintain the tradition but gradually ease it into the "less expensive, more meaningful" concept ... and you could even escape their notice while doing so. You could just spread the tiny toys farther apart on the 24-day calendar, filling in the gaps with meaningful, loving notes like the ones you have already used. As the girls get older, and as they slowly forget that it used to be all about the toys, they will learn to love the notes much more than any toys that become crap to their minds (and were always crap to you) once January hits.

    I know they're young, but it is the notes they will remember - no matter how much it seems that the junk toys are the winners.

    When I was very young, my mom and I were watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade one Thanksgiving, and she turned to me and said, "I am so thankful you were born." Although I could not wait for her to get off her ass and make Thanksgiving breakfast (my mom being not at all domestic, it was only on the holidays when we could count on her to really pull out her cooking talents), it was the loving comment that meant the most.

  23. I started reading this, thinking what a lovely idea it is and how I'm a bad mommy for not doing it here.

    Then I read on and realized that this is one of those times where I get to learn from someone else's mistake!

    Got it. Lesson learned. No advent boxes. Thanks! Oh, and Pookie says thanks too.

  24. *** I saw this last night when I got home from Christmas shopping ***

    I closed down the computer and went directly to the kitchen, hopped up on top of the counter, reached above the cupboard and took down the ADVENT CALENDAR I HAD FORGOT ABOUT.

    Whew. Thanks to you we only missed 1 morning of opening a door. I'm sure I wouldn't have remembered it until day 3 or 4 at least! LOL.

    Thank You!!! :)

  25. Note to self: Don't buy Advent box.

    Okey Dokey.

    Seriously, I think it was a great idea to start a tradition in your family. Your only downfall was that you set the bar too high that first year. That's why I always strive for mediocrity, that way no one is disappointed when I don't rise to the occasion. ;)

  26. I'm all for the 97 cent, cardboard, advents you buy at walmart or wherever. However, yours is beautiful!

  27. u can play a mystery game with them by placing clues that lead to treats around the house (in riddle or clues form) or you can buy gifts and hide them and leave clues in the box that will lead to the gift eventually. this will keep the girls occupied for the day and also allow you to have more choices when buying the gifts.

  28. Haha. I guess that's why I haven't bothered with traditions, unless you count screaming at the kids about tangling up the Christmas lights and dropping ornament hooks all over the carpet so that you step on them in bare feet a tradition, then that's mine! LOL!

  29. I'm Jewish and thus don't celebrate Advent, but I think this is a beautiful idea. I think the only problem is somehow you ended up being completely responsible for a lovely and special family holiday tradition. I don't think you made a mistake and I think there is more than enough time to still turn this into something more meaningful and less stressful.

    Sharing is caring: Why do you have to do everything yourself? Why can't this be something that everyone participates in? What if Mondays and Fridays became Mommy's Day and Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are your girls' days, etc.) and each person can purchase or make a small, thoughtful gift?

    Giving to others: What if once a week was a "ticket" for volunteering together at your church or for an organization/cause you feel deeply about?

    Time together: What if once a week there was a "coupon" for special family time? Maybe a trip to a museum together, the zoo, the orchestra, a play/show, etc.?

    I can't think of any more off the top of my head, but I think you're totally onto something they will remember forever. I hope you won't give it up, but will be able to find a way for it to be more meaningful and less stressful.I'd be happy to bounce around other ideas with you if you wanted.

    Good luck.

  30. I Fill it with fire. Call it a "Yule Fire", if you'd like. Just think of all the warmth it will bring you.

  31. You can’t imagine how close to home this hit for me.
    Coming from a family with little, or no, tradition, I am constantly searching for something that will be meaningful to my children. Good intentions always turn into disappointing failures.
    I think if it were me, I will fill each one with scriptures and affirmations, but I would also have the benefit of starting anew … and since it’s already the 2nd and I have done nothing, I obviously am not on the ball this year either.
    I also, like the idea of 4 or 5 really good things and the rest just being candy or something of the like.
    Good luck. Thanks for a great post, do you mind if I link to it on my blog?

  32. I second those Tylenol PM capsules and add Hershey kisses and Benadryl. heehee.

  33. Love the box. Hate the pressure.

    My recommendation? Sit up one night with Rigel and write cute notes to the girls, one per day, and include a sweet memory on each note that shows why and how much you love them. That puts the focus back on family, and away from gifties!

  34. Okay so I didn't read the previous 35 comments so somebody may have already said this, and it's sappy (at least I'm not going to say to put bible verses in there!), but what about a little poem or riddle? Or some larger riddle that you would give clues for each day?

    All right, I'm going to take off my applique sweater right now.

  35. I have no suggestions for Advent, but think this little box idea is a great way to remember your prenatal vitamin or oral contraceptive. I certainly wouldn't forget to take my damn pill if there were a hersheys kiss waiting with it every day.

  36. I love advent calendars. We always had one, with the same thing behind the door every day: chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.

    I have a friend who made an advent calendar for her kids (nothing too crafty - she hung 25 of their baby socks along a couple of pieces of ribbon). Some days, she put notes in them that directed the kids to do something (go give dad a kiss, etc.) and some days, the note described a project (make cookies tonight after dinner). The two boys were way into it, but they were also both under seven.

    Maybe you could give "get out of jail free" type notes - like "you don't have to make your bed tomorrow."

    Coal is good too, every so often, just to keep 'em honest.

  37. I like e's idea of a small note describing a fun holiday type project like, "download Christmas music from iTunes together" or "hit a great sale at the mall." Heh heh.

    We also set the holiday traditions bar pretty low at our house (we still haven't put our tree up.)

  38. I started reading this thinking that I was going to run out and buy one of those...and then about midway, for some reason, I scrolled down and saw the "Save me from the box" tag and thought maybe I should finish reading the post before I got my car keys.

    I think I saw a couple of people mention my first thought: Tylenol? LOL.

  39. We did something similar and finished hurridly stuffing chocolates into the days after a couple of years. I'm so glad our three are old enough to roll their eyes skywards at the mention of advent calenders

  40. Wah ha ha haha. This totally confirms my mom-as-scrooge position on advent calendars that are anything but paper. On the other hand, clearly The Box has the power of a family tradition, which is totally neat.

    I'm thinking hershey's kisses for the whole month because hey! who doesn't love a kiss?

  41. My freaking pollyanna post about Christmas came back to bite and so I came to sweatpantsmom, goddess of wisdom and wit, and got exactly the spirit boost I needed. I just wish I could think of 50 trinkets to leave as an offering. I like the candy suggestion. A couple of mixed bags and you're done.

  42. How about giving them clues or brain teaserst ehy have to slove in each box so that in the end, they have to piece them together to find something a little more substantial that a 2 inch trinket. Some brain power (of which your girls have tons), a little suspense, and a lot less crap. Kind of like a treasure hunt.
    Just a thought. Of course, that means a little more brain power on your part but I'm sure youcould swing it! Good luck.

  43. How about those little cocktail wieners? I know I would be happy to receive those on Christmas morning.

  44. Over here in germany these cardboard calendars filled with chocolate are a steady tradition, they start selling them sometime around July I think. Apart from that some places give them out as gifts, last year we had about six of them! And by tradition the chocolate is always really cheap and baaaad.
    I addition to that, my son now wants to have the Lego/Playmobil/Revell version too. And next year the little one will have figured this out too. Sigh.
    All I demand is at least one of these with good chocolate FOR ME!!!

  45. I say go with a small piece of candy most days. A chocolate from a Whitman's sampler, or a gum drop or a swedish fish. Quarters on some days. Maybe two or three nice-ish things like lip balm or barrettes (grabbed at the drugstore) scattered throughout the month. If they don't like it: leave them each a lentil and explain how there are kids starving in other countries! ;->

  46. I'm thinking it should be like Deal or No Deal, where a few of them hold something really great, and the rest are clunkers. Like a piece of dryer lint. Or some cat hair.


  47. i love the idea. i can totally relate to the chore part of it....yet i say go for it. fill it w/ quarters, even. no shopping involved. or is quarters way too it dollars now?

    am going back to the old folks home now.

  48. I went to Catholic school and we had an Advent calendar every year and I have to admit I had no idea what they were all about.

    I love the box you found but it does seem like a lot of work. Perhaps the tradition can be, "Here's the box, isn't it pretty, don't look inside because it's empty." :) Thanks for the post!

  49. I love Mom-101's idea. Absolutely brilliant. Nothing like teaching kids the value of false expectations!

    Also, what about just taking the fortunes out of fortune cookies and sticking them in each drawer? Or you can go to... My friends and I use them all the time to prank one another.

  50. I say as long as you're not taking the quarters out of THEIR piggy banks, you're good....LOL! ;)

  51. My kids trade off opening the take odd days, I'll take even...

    Maybe then you would have to buy fewer items? I liked the clues idea..leading to one nice thing at the end...

  52. Oh my gosh, I can so relate!!! We have a hanging advent calendar that you fill with little "things" for each day until Xmas. The first year, my mom filled it with candy canes (little ones, 3 in each day for the 3 kids) and this was fun for the first 2 days until they got sick of peppermint candy canes. Since then, I just put 3 M&M's in each pocket and it seems to be just fine. The kids are most excited about just counting down the days, and a little m&m tides them over!! I feel your pain though!


  53. Just put garbage in it. After a month of getting used wrappers and banana peels, they'll really appreciate whatever Santa Claus brings them. :)

  54. Thanks for the reminder! We have one of these little things with 4 unopened days so to go get me some chocolate ;)

  55. Well, here we are on the 5th of December and I have yet to get out the decorations...


    I suck.

  56. Kids just love traditions and Christmas--does it always have to be about candy and toys? Oh, yea I guess it does. :) I loved your note idea.

  57. Puts our Playmobile Advent calendar to shame...

  58. I'm kind of late to the game, but wanted to put my 2 cents in. (Beautiful box, by the way - Restoration Hardware? Crate and Barrel?)

    I vote for alternating between notes and small trinkets and candy. I have to agree that the notes may not be appreciated until their teens. At which time you can start filling the box with condoms and roach clips.


  59. I don't know if I'm repeating anyone (because I'm crazy/lazy) but what if you managed to do something that they had to put together? I have no idea how you'd find 25 or 50 little puzzle pieces (although I think you can make your own puzzle online- like you need more to do) but we had an advent calendar and my brother and I fought over who got to open the door each morning b/c it revealed a big picture once all the doors were opened. The suspense was the best part! (Then again, we did live in a really small town!)

  60. Just wanted to say that this post is really timely for me because I was totally thinking of buying one of these at Target and starting a tradition myself, but I never thought about how stressful it could be! On the other hand, I bet your girls will remember the box when they get into adulthood and it will be one of those warm, fuzzy memories from back when they were kids.

    I wonder, if you could do it over again, would you not have bought it?

  61. oooh! the tyranny of the advent calendar! I have no advice whatsoever, except that you should write a book already--fantastic post.

    (meanwhile, my own son is exacting his own tyranny over the chocolate containing advent calendar we have--complete nightmare).

  62. I have been grossed out so much this year with the sheer junk trinket items that I inevitably scope through the girls rooms to throw away. Between kiddie party gift bags (don't get me started) and Christmas gifts the sheer amount of trash is disgusting me lately. I say bonfire for the box.

    Teasin' well sort of ... Gosh but it is dreamy to look at it, but it is here to torture us with forced creativity how to interpret it's use. I like the one thing a week idea too, or NorCal sis! Notes as a kid were equivalent to socks for me and caused instant anger, but it really shouldn't unless it was like, "Take a bath you stink." Now I treasure all the notes from my parents from a child. Maybe one note a week would be cool. I know of a grandma that always did "Everyday Presents" and one year the kids started to whine over stickers or a quarter, until she took it away one year, then "Wow grandma a stick of gum. And I won't complain that it is useless Juicyfruit." Go boring, take it away one year, then they will appreciate it more is also a thought. Sometimes kids need a reminder of what the season is all about and not about "stuff." You are sweet to do this for your girls and you are creating such great memories for them if even if it is laughs about the year you stuck lint or pennies in the holes for being ungrateful. ;-)


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