We’ve all heard it and experienced it before, each and every year, that the holidays are such a busy season. Brimming with the work of creating the magic for your children, finding creative gifts for family, participating in food and toy drives, dealing with end-of-year deadlines at work, creating travel plans (at least in normal years), sending holiday cards… it feels like a long list. But at the top of this list is what we strive for most: creating time to spend with our families, finding that sense of hygge together, and making special memories with our kids that will live in their hearts. It’s NEVER too late to start a tradition in your family, and the gift of your participation and presence creates lasting memories.
My mom had an advent calendar that I absolutely loved. It’s quite likely that no one else would look at it and say it was special. One year in the good ol’ 80’s, my mom purchased it from Avon with the idea that it could be fun for her children. It was cloth, had a little Christmas scene of Santa and Mrs. Clause enjoying cocoa together by the fire of their cozy little cabin, and 24 pockets in which you could move a disembodied little mouse (it was a mouse head on a strip of cloth) from pocket to pocket. It was my favorite part of Christmas, and I was always the first one to run downstairs in the morning to move the mouse to the next pocket, eagerly counting down the days. It appears that my mom had the right idea.
My mom doesn’t know where that little mouse or the old Avon advent is these days, but I still hold onto the memory. I started the same tradition with my daughter, but decided we could be more hands-on with it so that she might feel even more connected with it. Enter the advent spiral, made out of salt dough. It’s ten times easier than baking cookies, but looks just as delicious so watch your little taste testers or they’ll get the salt lick they never wanted! Disclaimer: I have caught my dog licking the salt dough ornaments we made and hung on the tree, and this is usually followed by my toddler telling the dog, “Hey! Those aren’t yours!”. Ahh, the Christmas spirit!
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water
Increase quantities proportionally for extra dough to make ornaments!
- Mix flour and salt together. Add water and mix until dough is formed. You will likely need to use your hands! Get those kiddos involved in mixing for a great tactile experience.
- Roll your dough into a long sausage shape, then coil it into a spiral directly in your baking pan. I had to use a large sheet pan for the size of the spiral I wanted to achieve.
- Use your thumb to make depressions along the spiral (24 depressions if you want to do all 24 days). Alternatively, if you want to light candlesticks for each day, press the base of the candle into the dough to create the correct sized hole. At the center of the spiral, create a depression for the main candle you will be lighting either daily or at the end of advent. I hollowed out an area large enough for a tea light because I only wanted to use a single candle since my spiral was being created with a toddler in mind.
- Take any extra dough, place between two sheets of wax or parchment paper, and roll it out using a rolling pin. Create your own shapes from the dough or use cookie cutters! Use toothpicks to poke holes at the top so you can string them as ornaments.
- Bake at 250°F for 2-4 hours (depends on thickness) or until firm to the touch. Make sure to place your candles into the holes every now and then (if you decided to do all candlesticks or taper candles, you need to prevent the holes from shrinking while baking so they remain the correct size to keep your candles upright!). Let your creations cool.
- Have your kids paint the spiral and ornaments! Use string or ribbon to hang your ornaments. Let your child collect holiday-themed items, rocks, or other nature treasures to place on the advent every day. My daughter loves finding pretty rocks, so every day we would go out and collect one, wash it together, then place it on the spiral and light our tea light in the center of the spiral.
My advent spiral is not quite Christmas themed because my daughter painted it and chose every color of the rainbow (I’d say it’s more galactic themed!), but the point is for the kids to have fun and create memories! My spiral also does not have 24 advent days on it because I let my toddler “count” the fingerprints out herself. C’est la vie, it’s special to her because she created it, and we can count down the days to solstice and then start adding our trinkets in between the others. She gets very excited to pick her rock and light the candle every day, and we do this right before a meal so we can all sit and enjoy the ambiance together as a family. I also use that special time as a segue to talking about relevant, important ideas (what are we grateful for, what is our favorite memory this year, who might need extra love this year and how can we give it…).
Have fun creating some messy, but lasting and lovely Christmas memories with your most treasured little people on the Earth!