Monday, November 25, 2013

European Traditions: Advent Calendars

When I was a little girl I remember receiving an advent calendar. It was a large flat rectangular box with a Christmas scene printed on the outside. Twenty five little doors each held a piece of milk chocolate to help me count down the days until Christmas. Being a child, it was so hard to not open every door on the first day! It was a very special gift mailed to me from a relative. As the years have passed I haven't really thought too much about that Christmas advent calendar.

 Now days the new American tradition seems to be the Elf on a Shelf. Apparently, Santa has started sending elves into our homes to report back to the North Pole on good and bad behavior among children. Some of the elves can become rambunctious and Pinterest is loaded with plenty of examples. I haven't had an elf visit yet... but I anticipate one several years from now.

In Germany, the advent calendars are hard to miss. They are everywhere in food markets, department and craft stores. Some of the calendars are geared towards kids with Lego pieces, Playmobile people, or cartoon characters like Hello Kitty and SpongeBob. Others are more adult friendly with fancy tree shaped boxes, alcoholic truffles, or top of the line chocolates.

The crafty people avoid these premade boxes and get....well, crafty. Visiting the craft store I was presented with many unusual, unique, advent ideas. Hearing my friend talk about her advent calendar project and seeing all the possibilities persuaded me to give it a try this year. Husband has been so wonderful lately when my time has been spread thin, that he deserves a little appreciation.

Like most of my craft ideas, I got antsy and could not wait to get started.  Monday evening I spent close to three hours price comparing and planning my project in the city center.  At the local craft store I was shocked at the prices for empty blank advent bags and boxes. Going with my rustic advent vision, I looked at a set of 10 brown bags but quickly put them back when I saw the price of 5.99 Euros.  These bags were tiny and definitely marked up for the advent season.  ( I would have had to buy two packages...)  Then I saw a set of 25 little round brown boxes but again walked away when those were price marked at 19.99 Euros.  Irritated and refusing to pay those type of prices, I left the craft store and walked down to the drug store.

At the drug store I headed for the paper goods aisle.  I was hoping to find brown paper lunch sacks but found something even better!  There I found 80 white paper sandwich sacks for less than a euro!  So my vision of brown paper advent bags turned to white paper sacks.  Saving 11-18 Euros made this no problem in my book!
The White Sandwich Bags

After figuring out the advent packaging, I spent the remaining time walking around the city center looking for little fillers for each sack.  I had a couple of requirements for my advent presents. 1. The items had to fit in the sack so they needed to be on the smaller side and 2. I did not want to spend more than a euro per day for the items. Whenever I put challenges on my projects or create goals for myself it keeps me from over spending and forces me to get creative.
Hung and decorated with items already on hand.

One of my favorite stores in Munich is called Butlers.  I believe the store is originally from the UK but it reminds me a lot of Pier 1 or World Market.  At Butlers I can always find fun gifts, seasonal home decor, and funky kitchen items.  There I bought a package of 5 small jars filled with different jams made in France for 3.99 Euros.  Opening up the package, and dividing the jars out among the advent sacks meant I had 5 days done for under a Euro a day!

At Galeria Kaufhof (a department store), I found a set of 4 miniature glass ornaments designed for boys.  There was a dinosaur, Nintendo controller, pirate, and dump truck for 4.99 Euros.  Dividing up the ornaments into 4 separate sacks ended up being a little bit more than a Euro per day but all the fillers evened out in the end.  We are decorating a Christmas tree this year and it will be our first one in Germany.  These boyish ornaments will be a nice touch among our bright glass balls.

The rest of the sacks I filled with different Christmas chocolates, winter tea, and marzipan hot chocolate packets.  Originally, I had bought a raw hide dog bone to go into a sack for Husband to give to our dog Shelby. While I was filling each sack, Shelby started acting extremely "look at me" well behaved.  When I realized she had sniffed out the bone I HAD to give it to her.  I just couldn't resist that cute face.

Overall for the sacks and advent fillers I spent around 20 Euros total.

At home, I painted the numbers on the outside of each sack in 3 different greens and 3 different reds.  I folded each bag and clipped it over a yarn garland with clothes pins.  Everything I used to decorate and hang the bags I already had on hand.  I hung Husband's advent calendar in our entry way over the bench.  Each morning, on his way out the door, he can grab a bag and enjoy a small treat.
Hanging in our Entryway

In the end this project was a lot of fun and not too costly to put together. It wasn't expensive because I didn't allow it to get out of hand. I enjoyed doing something small to show Husband how much I appreciate him.  Someday when we are back to living in the States, I imagine I will continue putting together an advent calendar each year for him.

Isn't December such a fun month?  From the Elf on the Shelf to the traditional advent calendar everyone can feel the excitement this time of year. How do you count down the days until Christmas?

28 Days,

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