Family Holiday Activity Calendar

Each December, we have a family tradition of creating an advent-style “advent-ure” calendar filled with special activities we can do each day in the run-up to the holidays. No matter what your faith, this idea is centered on togetherness and creating traditions of giving, gratitude, receiving, hope, and help. We intersperse giving with days of gratitude and creative outlets for each of us, whether we like to take pictures, draw, cook, or be outdoors.


I found a little pagan-like Santa humanoid figure being thrown away by a neighbor one year and rescued him, his pockets perfect for our family holiday adventure calendar. Before I found him, I had made a calendar with pockets that we hung each year on the back of a closet door. Every morning in December, the kids still run downstairs to see what’s in the pocket with the day’s date on it.


I’ve included a sample list of activities below, as a guide, if you’re interested in creating an advent-ure calendar for your family. Each year, we tailor our activities to special interests the kids might have. Enjoy your time together, and remember, you can do this any time of year!

  1. String popcorn for the birds and place outside on trees.
  2. Pick someone to be a secret Santa or secret gift-giver for, and give them a gift anonymously.
  3. Make a Holiday Wish List, with at least 2 things on it that don’t benefit you directly, and put it inside your stocking or on the mantle or kitchen counter.
  4. Search for a Christmas Tree in the National Forest as part of their fire-prevention Christmas tree cutting program. Oh, and get a permit for taking 3 trees so you can cut down 2 more to give to local families. Or, do something similar, like forcing an amaryllis bulb for later enjoyment in the spring.
  5. Trim the tree, and sip eggnog, or decorate your home with any natural holiday decor collected outside.
  6. Make holiday cards and mail them, today.
  7. Make Candles for your teachers, to light their new year.
  8. Make presents like bath salts, vinegars, hot chocolate mixes.
  9. Holiday party with friends and neighbors!
  10. Drive to nearest ski area, have a yummy dinner out, and snuggle down at a B&B.
  11. Ski, or sled, or make a snow man.
  12. Make ornaments, make hand-made gifts, have a Red and Green Dinner tonight, share holiday stories.
  13. Make a Wreath.
  14. Do a shoe drive and pack the shoes into duffel bags to take to Nepal.
  15. Choose a dish, or a dinner, that you will make for everyone over the holidays.
  16. Walk around the neighborhood together tonight with hot cocoa and see the lights.
  17. Sleep by the fire under the tree, or sit outside for an hour and watch the stars together.
  18. Write out 10 things you’re grateful for and tuck your list into the tree or on the mantle.
  19. Give $20 of allowance money to a charity of your choice.
  20. Deliver homemade gifts to the neighbors.
  21. Family Movie Night!
  22. Post something hand-made as a gift on your local Buy Nothing group.
  23. Make Gingerbread Houses and be sure to give them to the chickens, or a Buy Nothing neighbor who has chickens when you’re done with them.
  24. Bake Gingerbread cookies to put out for Santa, or place them on a neighbor’s doorstep.
  25. It’s Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, whatever the holiday, so go for a family hike and be sure to hold hands and do a race, skipping.bt0c3749What would you add to this list for your family and community to enjoy? I’d love to compile more ideas for a bigger list for all families to enjoy!

How to Build a Backyard Quinzhee

A what? A quinzhee.

Life is Good in a Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Life is Good in a Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Quinzhee is an Athabaskan word for snow shelter and when there’s enough snow about, our resident mountaineer can’t help but make one with the kids. Mountaineers learn how to build them as an emergency refuge from the ravages of winter storms in the mountains. It’s more fun when you have one just 5 feet from your back door.

How do you build a quinzhee? It’s easy. And you don’t need a lot of snow on the ground to pull it off. We built this one with only about 8 inches of snow on the ground.

First make a huge pile of the white stuff, packing it with shovels and skis if you have them, without walking on the pile. Get it as tall as you can and make it cone-shaped, adding a good volume of snow to the back end. Really pack it down. Let it sit as long as you can, to settle the snow and let the snow crystals sinter. Sinter? Yes, sinter. Sintering is bonding of the snow crystals and this happens when snow crystals come in contact with each other. Packing it really helps.

We let ours sit over night. But you might not be so lucky. In the event you are stuck out in a storm in your backyard because you forgot your house key, you can let it sit for an hour.

It Might Look Like a Pile of Snow. But In No Time It'll Be Home.

It Might Look Like a Pile of Snow. But In No Time It’ll Be Home.

Next, you’ll want to cut a small entrance close to the ground. You’re essentially cutting a flat slab-like face on the surface of the quinzhee. Then, you can start digging into it.

Digging Out the Tunnel, Photo © Liesl Clark

Digging Out the Tunnel, Photo © Liesl Clark

Dig a small tunnel to start, only large enough to allow your body to slither in. Dig in about a body-length. Then you can start to enlarge the room.

Excavating Snow From the Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Excavating Snow From the Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Dig an oval-shaped room, complete with sleeping platforms on either side of the tunnel and inside the void. You want to elevate the sleeping platforms off the ground if you have enough space because the cold sinks to the bottom and the small entrance-way will keep the heat from escaping out the entrance because your entrance is low to the ground. But if you just want it to be a fun playspace, forget about the sleeping platforms. Who’s going to camp in this thing unless they absolutely have to?

Quinzhees are actually warm at night.

Quinzhees are actually warm at night.

When the snow falls, isn’t it fascinating how we come to use it for our pleasure and benefit? Some of us like to slide on it, others strap skis on to travel over it, my husband and I like to think about how the snow can be turned into a resource for our family. This quinzhee has been a true hit.

Inside the Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Inside the Cozy Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Next time the snow falls, don’t just shovel the snow off your sidewalk or driveway randomly. Throw it into a big pile and you’ll have a fodder for a quinzhee in no time for the whole neighborhood to enjoy.