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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Full Suburban: When traditions overwhelm, it’s OK to step off the fun train

The Advent calendar made by Julia Ditto’s mom in the 1980s has been a holiday staple for decades.  (Julia Ditto)
The Advent calendar made by Julia Ditto’s mom in the 1980s has been a holiday staple for decades. (Julia Ditto)
By Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

One day in December sometime in the mid-1980s, my mom came home from a crafting night with friends and proudly showed us the giant felt Advent calendar she had just made.

My mother, a woman who would much rather be camping than crafting, had bowed in submission to the crafting gods on that special night and sewn and hot glue-gunned the heck out of this Advent calendar, turning a swath of felt into a 1980s masterpiece. It thrilled my two brothers and me to no end.

From then on, each day from the first to the 25h of December, we would take turns sticking miniature ornaments onto the felt Christmas tree. The Advent calendar became a staple of our Christmas traditions every year.

Since I was the first of my siblings to get married and start having children, I inherited the Advent calendar once my first baby was born, and my kids have loved it just as much as my brothers and I did.

However, being the person I am, a few years into my possession of the Advent calendar, I decided that I needed to up the ante a little bit – you know, make it a little more time-consuming and exhausting for myself. So, each night before going to bed, I decided to cut a strip of paper and write a little surprise on it for the kids to find in the morning.

“Tonight we’ll go see the lights at Manito Park!” I would write. Or, “Today we’ll decorate sugar cookies!” Sometimes, I would slip a candy cane or Hershey kiss into their stockings and write, “Check inside your stockings for a little treat!”

Every day the Advent calendar promised some new and fun surprise, whether it was somewhere the kids and I would go together, something I would do with them, or a treat that I had somehow remembered to buy. The kids were delighted; I quickly became exhausted.

I soon realized that I had created a monster, my own little Christmas Frankenstein. I knew that this advent nonsense was not sustainable, but how could I stop?

Things came to a head in December 2014, when I was 100 months pregnant with Hyrum and his due date was right around Christmas. I was barely making it through every day, let alone providing nonstop Christmas fun for my five other kids. So at the beginning of December, I sat everyone down.

“Listen, kids,” I said. “You know how it feels when you fall off the monkey bars and get the wind knocked out of you and you just kind of lie there for a minute wondering if you’re dead?”

They blinked in unison, so I pressed on. “Well, that’s how I feel every day. I need to take a few things off my plate. So this month, the Advent calendar might not be as exciting as it has been in years past.”

“Like, what do you mean?” ventured George, the brave sibling spokesperson.

“Well, I just mean that some days there will be a slip of paper telling you about something fun we’re going to do, but then other days it might just say something like, “It’s Tuesday! Yay!”

The kids kept a stiff upper lip through their month of mediocre days leading up to Christmas. They still ran down the hallway together each morning and maintained their strict order of whose day it was to put up the ornament, but there was no longer an expectation that every day would include a stop on the Mom Fun Train. Hallelujah.

Eight years have passed since then. My kids are older now, and while the Advent calendar is still a cherished part of our Christmas tradition, it’s not the early morning draw that it once was. I always include the slips of paper with the Advent calendar, but I no longer feel the need to invent an activity or provide a surprise every single day. And the kids are good sports about it – mostly. Ironically, it’s Hyrum who feels the sting of the less-fun days most keenly.

“Please bless that there will be something FUN in the Advent calendar tomorrow,” he has petitioned the Lord on more than one occasion during his bedtime prayers, opening his eyes and staring pointedly at me just as he says the word “FUN.”

Someday, when he’s a parent, I think he’ll understand: Sometimes you just have to pull the Fun Train into the station.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at

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