What To Do With an Epic-Fail Advent

One sleep ‘till Christmas!

…and 15 days behind on our family advent readings. I should have known, but I really thought this year would be different…

What to do with an epic fail advent

We started off so well.

(You can read about our family’s advent plan and DIY Jesse Tree here.)

Our Jesse Tree was finished and waiting for it’s first ornament. Our new advent devotional, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, rested at its place of honor in the center of my desk. It was the end of November and excitement filled the air.

Day One – We enthusiastically read our first advent reading on December 1st. My oldest son took care to color the first ornament cut-out and tape it to our beloved tree.

Standing in a circle with hands held, the four of us prayed for hurting people around the world. It was beautiful, meaningful, and so doable.

DIY Jesse Tree For Advent
DIY Jesse Tree

Day Two. As I read the second entry to my attentive children, I worried that the poetic language would fly right over their heads. I was wrong. They were engaged throughout the story.

Afterward, our prayer circle became a bit silly and energetic, but still heartfelt. My second son took pride in placing his paper ornament in the perfect spot on the tree.

Day Three. Monday. Busy day. The kids and I squeezed in a reading immediately before the chaos of bedtime began.

No time to color the ornament. No prayer circle.

The kids enjoyed the thoughtful story, however, and the pictures in the book were beautiful.

Day Four. The daily commitment was getting old, fast

“Sit down! No one is listening. Should we just quit this whole advent thing?” I threaten, hopefully.


All three kids jump back into their seats at the table where they are eating their bedtime snack.

We make it through the story, but not without several shouts of, “Be quiet! I’m not going to read while everyone is talking.”

Day Five. Oops.

Day Six. Sigh.

“We have to read two today because I forgot yesterday,” I say.

The kids listened attentively to the first story. I suppose the dread of giving up on advent altogether was enough to keep their squirmy butts in their seats and their chirpy lips shut.

But no one listened to the second reading. They were too busy shoving mini-carrots inside their lips and making walrus noises.

Day Seven. We hadn’t prayed since day three.

Day Eight. Oops! Not again.

Day Nine. Things were looking up! This day was epic.

I had planned an around-the-town treasure map. Each spot on the map represented an activity that I don’t normally join in on – sliding down the toboggan hill, having snowball fights at the park, and snow angels in the front yard.

I drove everyone around town in our pretend “sea-pilot” ship to check off a Christmas yard decoration scavenger hunt, and then we finished off with hot chocolate in the living room where we all cheerfully read TWO advent readings to catch up from the day before.

Success. Fun!

Christmas Scavenger Hunt
Around-the-town Christmas scavenger hunt.

Day ten. Christmas concert at the middle school.

“Everybody brush your teeth and get into bed,” I command, ushering the kids in from the cold at the end of the evening.

“No, we’re not reading the story tonight. It’s WAY past your bedtime.”

No advent.

Day eleven. I felt woozy from an instant head cold. Coughing. Blowing snot. Napping. Hoping for survival.

No advent.

Day twelve. Doctor appointment, groceries, and hand-washing mountains of dishes from the day before.

No advent.

Day thirteen. After one practice and two performances in the church kids-choir, we all crashed in front of TV at home until bedtime.

No advent.

…and on and on the failure grew.

How did this happen?

Simply, I had allowed my fantasy-like vision of an ideal advent to blind me from what I already knew about myself.

In the past, I have been wiser:

Rather than loading myself down with a strict daily regimen, I approached the advent season as a time of spontaneous surprises. I planted little notes on the table for the kids to find when they come home from school. I did this on days when I knew I could handle it (mentally, emotionally, physically…) and we had the time. The notes, decorated with fun pictures of holly and elves, carried messages like,

“Today we’re going to build a snowman!”

(because on that day there happened to be fresh, sticky snow covering the ground);


“Today we’re going to play Christmas bingo!”

(because I had spotted a cute pinterest printable that afternoon while they were still in school and it inspired me to be fun);


“Today we’re going to make popcorn and watch a Christmas movie!”

(because it was Friday and the kids didn’t need to wake up for school the next day).

To me, this is no-pressure fun. I enjoy planning these little surprises and the kids enjoy the excitement of never knowing when there will be a special activity to come home to.

This way, I have the freedom to NOT plan anything on those Christmas concert nights, or days when my son has a doctor appointment to freeze his plantar wart, etc.

I feel sad that we didn’t make it through Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. It is a beautiful book. I know there are families out there with calm, disciplined mothers who can fit these meaningful readings into their daily routine effectively.

But we’re not that family and I’m not that mom.

And that’s okay.

I choose to embrace the way God made me and my family. (You can ready my story of how I got to this place of freedom, here and find out a little more about me, here.) We are lovely, beautiful, precious – and imperfect.

So, yesterday afternoon, I released myself from the pressure of my daily-reading plan and plunged headfirst into spontaneous inspiration. My kids and I made sock snowmen filled with rice.

Rice Snowmen for Christmas
Four rice-filled sock snowmen, all in a row.

All evening, we giggled at how cute they turned out and my five-year old daughter carried hers around the house like a baby for hours. It felt good to embrace creativity and I think we created a lasting memory.

It was a very good day. I don’t feel one bit guilty about our abandoned Jesse Tree.

Every family is unique! Do you love or hate the idea of an advent season? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Merry Christmas,

Sara Jane Kehler

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