One of our most treasured Christmas traditions is that my mom makes up an advent calendar for my kids every year. We use one similar to the one pictures, but instead of something to hang up every day, my mom creates tasks and different things on slips of paper that the kids get to open up each day leading up to Christmas.
Almost all of the slips of paper have something on them where the kids do something for others. All of them have a small gift to open up. Here are some examples of the slips of paper included and the accompanying gift:
1. Donate change to the Salvation Army bell ringer (gift: baggie full of change)
2. Give a candy cane to everyone in your class (gift: box of small candy canes)
3. Give a gift to a neighbor (gift: new Christmas themed dishtowel)
4. Send a Christmas card to a friend or relative (gift: Christmas card with stamped envelope)
5. Help mommy clean (gift: package of Windex wipes)
6. Give your mom a break, take the family out to pizza (gift: $20 for pizza)
7. Drive around town and look at Christmas lights (gift: Christmas music CD to listen to in the car)
8. Have a picnic in front of the Christmas tree (gift: paper plates and napkins)
9. Color a Christmas picture and give it to a friend (gift: Christmas coloring book)
10. Help daddy (gift: car wash soap)
11. We love our pets! (gift: dog and cat treats)
12. Take an angel from the angel tree at church and buy a gift for that person (gift: $20)
13. Watch a Christmas movie (gift: bag of microwave popcorn)
14. Decorate the house (gift: window cling decorations)
15. Decorate the tree (gift: personalized ornament for each child--this is a tradition she does every year)
16. Read together as a family (gift: a book we can all read aloud)
17. Read the Christmas story from the Bible (gift: bookmark)
18. Walk around the neighborhood singing Christmas carols (gift: bells to jingle while singing)
19. Make dessert for the family (gift: box of pudding mix and graham cracker pie crust)
These are just some of the things/ideas we've done in the past. If you're short on cash, you don't have to do the gift part. There have been many years when we haven't done the gift part at all and we just do activities like going to look at Christmas lights, watching Christmas movies, etc.
There are also volunteer things you can do as your children get older. When my kids were younger, they didn't get into the buying a present for the angel tree like they do now--that's actually their favorite thing to do out of all of them. They can be very creative with purchasing a gift for the allotted money. Some things we've brainstormed about for this year are: volunteering to be a bell ringer, volunteering to help out at the women's shelter or homeless shelter in some way, collecting items for the pregnancy center or women's shelter, collecting canned food in the neighborhood to donate to the food bank, etc.
You can be as creative with this as you can, but I hope you can take this idea and run with it if it interests you. It truly is the highlight of our Christmas season, because it gets the focus off of ourselves for just a little while each day and helps us to think about others.