For adults, December can be a whirl of gift buying, card sending, cookie baking, and party hopping. But for kids waiting for Christmas, one day can feel like 100.
You can't speed up time, but you can start fun family traditions that celebrate the season and help ward off the eternal question: "How many days until Christmas now?"
An Advent calendar is one of the easiest and most popular tools for tracking the days to Christmas. You'll find an array of choices -- from The Nutcracker to the Nativity to interactive CD-ROMs such as Santazia and Santa's Express. You can surf for free Advent calendars on the Internet too.
For the world's Christians, Advent season celebrates the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. It begins with the feast day of Saint Andrew, always the Sunday closest to November 30 (December 1 this year). The first Advent calendars, created in Germany in the 19th century, replaced a tradition of marking the days of Advent with chalk lines on their doors.
Elizabeth Johnson of Lansing, Michigan, buys a religious-themed Advent calendar every year for her sons. Each morning 11-year-old Matt, 9-year-old Chris, and 6-year-old Greg take turns opening a window to reveal a picture or Bible verse. For her boys, even more fun than the calendar is a simple red-and-green paper chain that hangs in the dining room. Each night they snip off one of the 24 links.
In Kite, Georgia, Vyvyan Lynn spreads out gift giving for her children, starting 12 days before Christmas. Each evening Maggie, 6, and Jonathan, 12, receive small presents and sing a verse from "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The next night they add another verse, culminating in the full song on Christmas Eve.
Starting about a week before Christmas "when the kids are really antsy," Amy Rea, of suburban Minneapolis, brings out a new book each night at bedtime. Although her boys, ages 6 and 9, like to read, books sometimes get lost at Christmas amid Legos and video games, she says. The books get much more appreciation this way, Amy says, and it seems to take some of the sting out of waiting for Christmas.
Here are some additional ways to count down to Christmas: