a peace and justice advent calendar.

November 23, 2016

a peace and justice advent calendar | reading my tea leaves

The season of advent begins on Sunday and this week, when I pulled the pieces of the advent calendar that I made last year out of the cardboard box where we stash our holiday decorations, I was struck by the idea that instead of only focusing on activities that warm our own hearts—sugar cookies! tree trimming! hot cocoa parties!— that we could use the calendar as an opportunity to hold our family accountable to reaching beyond the four walls of our apartment and to enact positive change.

The past few weeks have been disquieting and distressing. And while I think we have lots of hard and important work to do that’s perhaps not appropriate for small children, if ever there was a time to teach lessons of empathy, and understanding, and kindness, this is it. In a moment when politicians and pundits would have us believe that we’re more divided than ever, it can feel like a small act of resistance to embrace wholeheartedly the incredible diversity of culture, opinion, faith, and custom that make this country great. 
a peace and justice advent calendar | reading my tea leaves
Because an advent calendar is a part of our own family tradition, I’ve put these ideas to work using that framework, but of course the intent transcends particulars of faith or tradition. It’s a list of 24 things that we might all be able to do with our families in this darkest time of the year, in hopes that they might help bring some light to the world around us. a peace and justice advent calendar | reading my tea leaves

I’ve tried to make the majority of the action items and activities on this list attainable for families with small children and I’ve linked to a few specific ideas as a way of offering examples, but these are starting places, not ending places and the list is certainly not exhaustive. If you have other ideas to share (for folks big or small), please do! a peace and justice advent calendar | reading my tea leaves

Twenty-four small ways to embrace peace and justice this holiday season:

  1. Sign this petition asking the new administration to reject hate and bigotry (and pass it along to five friends).
  2. If you don’t have one already, consider implementing a family tradition of offering thanks before meals.
  3. Collect winter coats from friends and family and bring them to an organization planning to redistribute them to folks in need.
  4. Buy a subscription to a source of reputable journalism and share the news you read there.
  5. Attend an open religious service or meeting of a group that you don’t belong to. 
  6. Take your kids to a peace vigil.
  7. Reach out to a new friend and invite them into your home for dinner.
  8. Attend an anti-hate protest as a family.
  9. Engage respectfully with friends and family who might disagree with you.
  10. If you witness an act of hate or bias, report it
  11. Check in on a friend or neighbor who might feel particularly vulnerable. Talk specifics.
  12. Make public art
  13. Repair an act of hate-fueled vandalism as a family.
  14. Read a book about someone who might not be like you.
  15. Send a care package to support folks doing important work you can’t do.
  16. Host a bake sale and donate the proceeds to a good cause.
  17. Make cards to send along to folks who could use some cheering.
  18. Use story time as a time to read books with messages of peace and healing.
  19. Attend a celebration that you’ve never been to before.
  20. Start a conversation with a stranger on the subway.
  21. Support businesses run by folks who might be at-risk.
  22. Reevaluate your holiday gift-giving plans and see if you can carve out resources to help others.
  23. Include kids in family decisions about supporting a charity; consider a kid-centric cause.
  24. Expose your kids to a new tradition.

a peace and justice advent calendar | reading my tea leaves

For more ideas on non-violent action and peaceful protest, here are a few more resources:

Southern Poverty Law Center

The Wall of Us

For parents struggling to talk with kids about post-election anxiety:

If Kids Are Feeling Anxious, How to Help

How One School is Helping Kids Cope

This is largely a list of one-off ideas; for folks looking for longterm ways to support folks in need, here’s a charitable donation primer. Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, or no, here’s my hope that tomorrow finds you in a place that’s warm and safe and nourishing.

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  • Reply Erin November 23, 2016 at 10:44 am

    How thoughtful – regardless of what is going on in the world, those values are always important!

    I saw an item called The Giving Manger which had the same kind of message of helping others. I have been considering purchasing one for our family as my daughter is only 5 and can’t read quite yet (but she would grasp the concept of the manger!). Besides being a nice idea, it has a very simple aesthetic.

    I know you mentioned both reputable journalism and learning about others different than you. Perhaps it is also important for us as a whole to also sign up for reputable information sources across party lines (since isn’t that also a form of diversity)? I heard about that on NPR earlier this fall and I plan on doing that for our family this year.

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 23, 2016 at 10:56 am

      Sure of course! As long as that source is also reputable, that’s a great idea.

  • Reply Rachel November 23, 2016 at 10:51 am

    A great idea for an Advent calendar. When I was a child, my family started the tradition of giving up one of our Christmas gifts and giving to someone in need. Now, at 32, it is something that I still cherish and love to do.

  • Reply Camila November 23, 2016 at 10:51 am

    I love these ideas. I’m def going to copy some (hehehe). Thanks for the inspiration. Happy Thanksgiving love. <3

  • Reply Elizabeth November 23, 2016 at 10:56 am

    These are some wonderful suggestions in a time when they are especially needed. Peace & light.

  • Reply Erica November 23, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Thank you so much for your inspiring posts on mindfulness and action – like so many, I’ve been feeling extra raw and grappling with how to heal and be informed / take part at the same time. Your words have been just the thing, and I love the idea of using an advent calendar as a new way to engage. Many, many thanks.

  • Reply MissEm November 23, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    We literally just decided to do this exact same thing!

  • Reply Lynn @ The Not Dead Yet Blog November 23, 2016 at 1:23 pm


  • Reply Brid November 23, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Thanks for not being neutral after this election. It helps a lot to see a post every few days that shows both that life will go on, and that we will not lie down or be helpless. So thanks for both your action-oriented posts and your lifestyle ones–I feel like I need both just now. 🙂

  • Reply Rachel November 23, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    Brilliant idea. I’m wondering how you plan to implement this on a daily basis on a practical level: For instance, if on December 8, you open “attend an anti-hate protest” but there are no protests scheduled for that day, would you save it for another day? or strategically put the event-related actions on days when you know there are events?

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 23, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      Yes, of course. Unlike a traditional advent calendar, we’ll be more creative about how we implement the daily actions. When we know of a scheduled event, we’ll put those on the corresponding days, otherwise we’ll be doing our best to check the action items off the list.

  • Reply Rebecca November 23, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    Beautiful, both in design and intention. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  • Reply LCZ November 23, 2016 at 2:49 pm


  • Reply Brianna November 23, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    This is so refreshing, thank you.

  • Reply Karen November 23, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    I am introducing Kindness Elves this year. My son is three, so this seems like the right time. The elves are going to suggest ways to do nice / kind thing –e.g. Bring food to the animal shelter, donate a toy– and notice his kind gestures–e.g helping Mama clean up toys, filling the dog water bowl. I’ve never been a fan of the other elf and the spying it does.

  • Reply Kaitlyn November 23, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    So many lovely suggestions! Thank you.

    Without knowing exactly what you have planned for Monday’s post, I wanted to throw a little plug in for #GivingTuesday! Specifically for you, the initiative Brooklyn Gives – but for folks everywhere to think about directing some of their shopping dollars to a cause they care about.

    Full disclosure: my employer is Black Women’s Blueprint, one of the recipients and an amazing Black feminist organization working to end sexual violence/state violence against Black women, girls, and gender-fluid people in the borough and across the nation. This work is so extremely critical in an era of Trump and funding will become increasingly difficult in the months ahead. I’m not too proud to put in a plug, but I hope that’s not inappropriate for your comment wall. 🙂

    Be well, and thanks for making sure others are as well.

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 23, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      Not inappropriate! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Reply Alice November 23, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    Absolutely brilliant! Peace and joy to you and yours xo

  • Reply Vlw November 23, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    You seem to be so distraught after this election, almost fearful for yourself and your children. I almost wonder if it might not be time for you to change your country to perhaps a European/ Scandinavia city where others might share your viewpoints? I personally have no fear for our country as I feel it is the most incredible country in the world.
    Life is too short to live in such fear of the future. I doubt very much if any of your fears are realistic, perhaps only ignited by the very liberal culture of NYC in which you live? Come outside of that horrible culture and experience life as it should be lived. Try a new country where you don’t feel so threatened by the democracy of the US.

    • Reply Erin Boyle November 24, 2016 at 1:40 am

      Oh my word. It is, of course, a deep love of country and the people and in it that had made me feel simultaneously discouraged and emboldened to work harder, longer, and more compassionately toward making it a place that’s ever more tolerant, more peaceful, and more just.

      • Reply d November 28, 2016 at 12:59 pm

        This is a really beautiful reply, modeling commitment to radical love and peace. Your words are always a gift.

  • Reply Erin November 23, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    YES! I’ve been brainstorming my own ideas. Here they are:

    Identify someone in your community who is different from you (different skin colour, religion, differently abled) and get to know them. Invite them to join your book club or your children’s playgroup. Invite them over for coffee or for a walk.
    As you pull out your winter gear this year, gather up all the extra hats, mitts, and scarves that you no longer use. If needed, give them a good wash. Then go visit areas of your community where you know there might be people sitting outside in the cold without proper gear, and hand out what you have.
    Go for a walk with a plastic bag and don’t return home until you’ve filled it with litter.
    When you’re in a parking lot cleaning the snow off your car, clean the snow off someone else’s car too. When you’re shoveling your walkway, shovel someone else’s walkway too.
    Write a thank you note to someone who has touched your life, but perhaps has no idea what their actions have meant to you.
    Look for reasons to pay genuine compliments to people. Really notice the people that you interact with on a daily basis, the people who serve you at a bank or a grocery store. Look them in the eye and tell them they’re doing a great job, that you appreciate the care they take when they pack your groceries, that you thought they handled a tricky situation with grace, that they have a great attitude. Look for the best in people and acknowledge what you see out loud.
    Look people in the eyes as you pass them on the street, smile and say “Hello”.
    Let people into your lane when you’re driving. When people let you into their lane, smile and wave.
    When you see people on the street asking for change, stop and say hello. Crouch down to their level and look them in the eyes. If you have change to spare, go ahead and give it to them. But even if you have nothing to give them, give them the gift of treating them like a human being.
    Put an egg timer in your bathroom and limit your showers to 5 minutes or less.
    Look around your home for something that is in need of repair and try to fix it. If you don’t know how, reach out to someone who might be able to help. Build community and keep stuff out of landfills.
    Visit http://www.change.org and spend 15 minutes browsing ongoing petitions and sign the ones you believe in.

    Also Erin xo

    • Reply Lisa November 24, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Love these!

  • Reply Jillian November 24, 2016 at 3:37 am

    I love your blog so very much. xo

  • Reply kate November 24, 2016 at 4:47 am

    So, so beautiful.

  • Reply sk November 24, 2016 at 5:51 am

    I love love love this. You’ve inspired me to do something similar! We celebrate on the solstice, so I’ll make ours for Dec 1 through Dec 20th this year. I can’t wait to get started. Thanks for so much inspiration, and for being so honest and vulnerable during this tumultuous and difficult time. Sending you and your darling little family much love!

  • Reply Charmaine Ng November 24, 2016 at 6:32 am

    Omg, this is so simple yet so cute. It looks really festive too! And great ideas you’ve listed. 🙂
    – Charmaine

  • Reply Lisa November 24, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Love all of these! Also those in the comments. Thank you for being a source of light and sanity. I particuarly like the ideas about engaging with people you otherwise don’t get close to, especially people whose opinions or background one may feel apprehension towards. I think a lot these days about that quote attributed to Mother Teresa: “I will never attend an anti-war rally. If you have a peace rally, however, invite me.” Treat everyone with compassion, even those who feel like aggressors.

  • Reply Anna November 27, 2016 at 10:04 am

    Thanks for the great ideas! We will probably do a combination of celebrating the holiday ourselves and doing more to give to others. One of the things I plan to do with my three year old is gather or purchase food to donate to a food back. We may also round up some of the warm clothes we don’t need any more to donate to a shelter or coat drive.

  • Reply Jessica November 27, 2016 at 10:09 am

    Such beautiful ideas — thank you for sharing and for actively speaking about your post-election feelings and experiences. Many of us are in the same (shocked, terrified) boat.

    I know you already support many small businesses no matter the season. I’m trying to support people of color-owned small businesses, especially. This is one place to start: https://www.etsy.com/teams/20664/black-owned-etsy-shops-boes

  • Reply Janice November 28, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for this. Really inspiring ideas! 🙂

  • Reply JB November 28, 2016 at 10:24 am

    Regardless of ideology, I think these are actions that everyone should support. Beautiful ideas.

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