How can you celebrate Advent within nature-based spirituality? Do alternative secular Advent calendars exist? With the shortest day just a month away, here’s how to make the darkening days special and meaningful as we approach the Winter Solstice.
Several years ago, I wrote a post about how I had made an alternative Advent calendar for my then-toddler that reflected our nature-based spirituality. I explained how Advent celebrations still held meaning and importance to me whilst following a pagan path, and in the context of it leading to the Winter Solstice rather than Christmas.
Since then, the exact pagan Advent calendar that I made my son has been upgraded, the types of treats inside have evolved along with him, and an additional calendar has been made for his younger brother. Over the nine years since I wrote the post, various winter traditions have embedded comfortingly into our family life, whilst others have changed along with our needs, interests, home location and circumstances.
Alternative / secular advent calendar ideas
From my own personal Googling, it seems very hard / not possible to find an advent calendar that features dates up until the eve of the Winter Solstice rather than Christmas Eve. Secular Advent calendars are available to buy, featuring a range of themes from nature-based to activity-based to crystal-filled to crafty to sexy to “reverse Advent calendars”. Although witchy calendars exist too, these still feature the standard 1-24 day labels. However, some on a more pagan path use these as a countdown until the solstice: they start to open their Advent calendar before December begins — meaning that pagan kids don’t get short-changed with the Solstice coming slightly earlier than Christmas!).
My solution has been to make my own calendars for my kids, with removable numbers to take into account the fact that the solstice is not on exactly the same date every year. There are various ways to make your own advent calendar, from the simple to those that can showcase the very best of sewing skills.
We start our advent calendars on the first Sunday of Advent. Whilst the four Sundays of Advent are a Christian concept, this is the one that fits best with us. This is possibly influenced by nostalgia around the church advent wreaths I remember from my childhood, watching the big candles being lit amongst lush greenery. We have our own little Advent wreath that we put on our dining table from the first Sunday of Advent, designed around a similar idea to the Steiner-Waldorf Four Kingdoms.
My eldest’s first advent calendar, that I wrote about nine years ago, was made from eggboxes strung from a large twig. You can use:
- numbered envelopes,
- fabric pouches (bought or sewn yourself),
- empty toilet rolls,
- or decorate a ready-made house with drawers,
- repurposed odd or too-worn socks,
- this printable paper calendar
- knitters might enjoy making an Advent calendar cushion, or one of these ideas.
My kids’ current calendars are less perfect-looking versions of this very neat template. I deliberately made ours with different-sized pockets to accommodate gifts in a variety of sizes, and I use mini clothes-pegs to attach the paper numbers.
As for what goes inside the pockets, you’re the best judge of what will best please your kids and your budget! For toddlers, the simplest things hold so much wonder; my boys’ first Advent calendar gifts were things like:
- acorns / similar woodland treasures,
- a couple of dates wrapped in foil,
- seashells / interesting pebbles,
- a pretty bead,
- herbal teabags,
- a coin,
- a “little gnome” made using one of these,
- a tealight candle to light in the afternoon,
- dolls’ house / fairy garden items,
- a scrap of pretty fabric to make something with,
- notes with details of a festive activity to do that day (bake gingerbread, roll beeswax candles, paint decorations, make cards, decorate the tree, go to see the lights in town).
We used to balance roughly half “note (activity) days” to half “gift days”, which fitted with us home-educating and their ages and interests then. You may find that older children have their own idea of when they want to put the tree up, so a note saying you’ll do be doing that isn’t really a surprise. For us, the time taken up by school and clubs now doesn’t leave them as much time or energy for crafts and outings. And then there’s the other enchantment: screens…
Whilst some of the above might work for any age, advent calendar gift ideas for older kids could also include:
- small toys like mini slinkies, bubbles, or other party bag toys,
- sweets / chocolate,
- snack bars,
- cool stationary / craft materials,
- Lego minifigures,
- badges or iron-on patches,
- hairbands / slides,
- kid jewellery (or supplies for making some!),
- kits, materials or instructions for making festive decorations,
- mini cheddars / similar,
- mini soaps / bathbombs / massage bars,
- lip balm / biodegradable face and body glitter.
Most years, I get a charity shop book or two for the larger pockets of my kids’ advent calendars. We also have a tradition where, on one of the days, their gift is two 50p coins. One is for them, one is to donate to a charity cause of their choice. I’d love to hear of other ideas that come to your mind!
Other ways to celebrate alternative, secular or pagan Advent
As the word advent as an improper noun can relate to the approach or coming of something, I believe that you can acknowledge the advent of whatever festival/s you celebrate around this time. These celebrations often involve a lot of preparation, like baking special food or buying and wrapping gifts, Or they can involve various events in addition to the solstice / Christmas Day itself. Winter fairs, school plays, concerts, work parties, gatherings with family you might not spend the Big Day itself with, and perhaps other occasions all form the season of building up and awaiting.
Perhaps these make up a sense of Advent on their own. Perhaps you would like particular markers for each week of Advent (such as a wreath), or to do something special to open the Advent season with. Steiner kindergartens, for example, often hold beautiful Advent Spiral ceremonies which are magical for young children if you ever get the chance to attend (or organise!) one.
A specific calendar or simple list of your family’s various festive activities could be particularly useful for neurodivergent children who might struggle with having lots to remember, changed routines, and overwhelm or overtiredness (even if it’s from enjoyable events). Reducing stimulation for those who are sensitive to it can be another benefit to spreading out celebrations and gift-giving between events.
For yourself, alternative Advent ideas the reflect nature-based spirituality could include:
- Choosing a theme for each week for an area of self-development, or a problem you’re looking to answer, that you focus on in your journaling, meditation or divination. The themes could relate to Solstice associations, or to anything you choose.
- Choosing a different deity, herb, tree, crystal etc to study each week,
- Choosing a different local walk for each week (perhaps a short that you try to do as many times as possible during that week to build up relationship with its land, plants and spirits),
- Committing to a particular self-care task for each week. Some low-cost ideas include taking a luxurious bath, giving yourself a foot or face massage, phoning a friend, doing some yoga (or pilates or Tai-Chi), or setting aside an hour to enjoy a book and a nice drink.
I hope that your journey towards the Winter Solstice gives you some chances to rest and dream, some opportunities to reflect, and some meaningful and lovely alternative Advent celebrations. Make sure you’re subscribed for future posts for nature table and pagan altar inspiration, seasonal journal prompts and many more tips and ideas for pagan family life. )O(