A little postmortem and note to self and others interested in organizing a group advent calendar in the future.

It was clear that the 2020 Christmas season would be different. No multi-family cookie baking sessions, no joint (i.e. face-to-face) Xmas crafting, no mulled wine drop-ins, no Christmas Carols belted out together in close corners, fewer or no Christmas gatherings. But I was hoping it could still be a season for crafting, making, creating, sharing, and gifting. So this is how the idea of a DIY calendar made by women for women came about:

I had seen friends making advent calendars for each other. I also remember assembling one for my husband the first year we were dating, and occasionally in the years that followed (after having practised on my parents for a few years when I was a child, making 24 little gifts for them leading up to Christmas, which I am sure were more fun for me than them. I vaguely remember an elaborate diorama with hidden gifts, a chocolate bar disguised as a skating rink, old film canisters hiding drawn gift certificates. You get the idea...and I am reminded that I should ask them how they remember those child-made gifts. Not sure our memories will overlap much. But I digress..). But instead of assembling a calendar with bought things I liked the idea of a homemade one, were each participant can choose a gift they make and are willing, able and happy to make  24 times...

Final 24 days of calendar entries (here at Amy's)

How to - With the help of a dear friend we found 27! female makers up for the challenge. Once I had all the names of the makers that would participate, I drew the number/day for each participant and sent the following instructions to everyone individually (that could probably be approved upon):

  • Make 24 (!) versions of the same gift. Something small, something doable, something you enjoy making, something you always wanted to make, something that brings you joy making, something you are willing to make 24 times, or that you can convince your kids to help you with...be creative and don't be shy. (up-cycling welcome).
  • If you make food please include an ingredient list. And make sure it doesn't need refrigeration or spoil before it's opened.
  • Wrap each gift (newspaper, brown paper bag, fancy packing.. wrap your heart out; or not;).
  • Mark each little package with the number assigned to you.
  • Drop off your 24 wrapped gifts at my place by November 25th (address, phone number).
  • I will distribute advent calendars to all participants by November 30th. They will be delivered unceremoniously in a bag of sorts. And I look forward to pictures of how you set-up the calendar at home.
  • Please let me know your address (if you know that I know where to find you skip this step ;).
  • And very important: If something comes up or you notice that you cannot meet the deadline, please let me know (no judgment, I promise!).

And then the packages of 24 gifts each started arriving ♡. No one dropped out or was late...Our living room began filling up with beautifully wrapped little and not so little gifts. Even the arrival of the various packages in itself was very exciting and I was so happy to catch glimpses many the participants in the process.

Making mulling spices x 24

What I learned - What struck me was some initial reluctance to participating by some which came mostly from the "I am no artist", "I am not crafty" camp. And I am no artist either, I just like to make things, get busy with my hands, use tools and create connections. I am not a knitter of fine garments nor a painter of intricate details and belong more to the "potato stamp" guild of makers. But it surprised me to see the hesitation by people who I thought were very creative and talented (much more talented than me...I really am a one-trick pony, well maybe there are 2-3 tricks in here). I also truly believe that we all make and accomplish so many creative things, we just have to begin seeing them. But that's a topic for another post...

I guess Sylvia Plath was onto something when she said: “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” So it was really heartening to see people getting past their self-doubt and proceeding to have joy in planning, sourcing, making...

"I’ve been needing an excuse to be crafty for myself - as opposed to for my kids - which is so often disappointing." - Janna-
"This has been such a joyful inspiration to us all. My kids have been up dressed with teeth brushed before me everyday of December. They are currently spontaneously working on a clay menorah and my partner and I have been busy working on arts and crafts in the evenings instead of being in the tired, unproductive sludge that we'd gotten ourselves into." -Ros-

What was in those 2 dozen packages you ask? All of it: creative, beautiful, tasty, thoughtful and celebratory items including funny and gorgeous ornaments, spiced pickles, luxurious bath salts, lip and foot balm, hand-printed, silk-screened and photographed cards, a mini macrame, a neck warmer, a scrunchy and then some. “Somebody knitted 24 toques?!?” ... to find out that someone was Nicole who has made over a hundred... wow! But I will let the pictures (in order of occurrence, alas I am missing a few) speak for themselves...

One of my favourite things about the Advent calendar was how different all the gifts were. And there was gratitude for the creativity, thoughtfulness, care and beauty in bringing 24+ lovely people into my home and all those other homes at least in spirit. Or as Laura said "what a warm and fuzzy way to cap of the weirdest year ever."

LOVE by @andjelijawants
A glass ornament by @amybondglass

To be continued!? - Now I look forward to doing it again --already thinking of ideas for next year--, ideally with COVID restrictions behind us. For the Advent Calendar Project 2.0 I envision us to be able to have do the final pick-up in person, with everyone showing up on a snowy or otherwise cosy afternoon shortly before December 1. to put together their own 24 gifts while sipping mulled wine or hot chocolate and certainly with the backyard fire pit in action. Oh, and a face-to-face post-calendar get together rather then the  virtual “cocktail hour” we had to opt for this time instead. And maybe we will get a "Calendar Collective" or other fun --community of makers-- things off the ground when things are safer!

Sweet and Spicy Nuts - gone too fast!

Notes/Additional Ideas -

  • As we ended up having not the ideal 25 participants (24 days plus one extra to switch everyone's own gift out), but 27! committed and crafty women, 3 makers submitted unnumbered gifts that I used the to switch out everyone's own gift and make a few replacements. (It was a little complicated but after circling my living room  27+ times I had it all sorted.)
  • I sent out a reminder about a week before the calendar was due.
  • We had a few perishables that needed refrigeration. I would probably adjust my instructions to make sure those are not included or opened on the early days of December. Since the idea was to keep this simple and easy to display the whole thingy on a tray, windowsill or so (without having to remember number 17 is in the freezer ;).
  • During the lovely days of opening gifts every morning the idea of making an extra couple advent calendars next year and perhaps auctioning them off and donating the proceeds to a group that helps those in need came up. Or to simply make a few extra calendar and surprise  some people in our lives that are struggling with them. I think that spreading the joy a little further is a wonderful idea...

I collected a few of the sentiments which filled my heart all the way to the new year and beyond:

"Thank you for this awesome idea! We all need something to look forward to these days." - Amie-
"My plan was to bail out for sure but I am so glad I did it!!! Big big hugs to everyone and let the fire of love burn now and forever!" -Andjelija-
"As I walked away from your home with the bag I thought - how lucky am I!?!  Contributing our 24 gifts didn’t seem proportionate to receiving all this bounty - I realize that with community you always reap back so much more than you give! The family and I are so excited to see these little gifts unfold. That feeling yesterday was such a heart-warming one during days that can be so focused on all that’s been lost this past year." - Megan-
"As someone who lives alone this has brightened up my life in a way I couldn't have imagined! I look forward to getting up in the morning to open my gift. I have a number of friends and family on [social media] who eagerly look forward to seeing what the calendar yields, and it's so nice to be able to share my joy and excitement with them. Thank you, everyone, for the creativity and effort you've put into this project." - Jen-
"I so appreciate every time I come home and see my wall of presents. We decided not to exchange gifts this year to take the pressure off so this is it for me and I’m in heaven. 24 gifts !!!!! Love love love this project. ;-)" - Adele-