This time of year it always seems like it takes a little extra effort to get outside with the kids, as the days are getting shorter, darker and colder. Not only am I struggling with my own motivation, but unless there’s snow on the ground my girls aren’t always keen on playing outside either. This exact same thing happened last year, which is why I decided to start a new outdoor Christmas tradition that the whole family can have fun with through the month of December. The girls loved it, and this year they couldn’t wait to get started on it. So what’s our secret? An outdoor house for gnomes and trolls that functions a little bit like an advent calendar in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
As you may know, I’m from Sweden, where trolls, elves, gnomes and other supernatural creatures are an important part of the folklore, which in some cases predates Christianity. In the old agrarian society gnomes were believed to live in the barn, where they took care of the animals, did chores and acted as guardians of the farm. In the past, people used to put out a bowl of rice pudding for the farm gnome on Christmas Eve, to thank him for his hard work. The trolls, on the other hand, were mean-spirited creatures that lived in the forest.
At some point, trolls (though in a more benign, kid-friendly form) also became associated with Christmas, and to this day frequently appear in Christmas-themed children’s books, TV shows and advent calendars.
Although I came up with the idea to build a troll house last year, the girls completely took the initiative to it this year and fervently started construction already by mid-November. This year they decided on a more elaborate design including a living room, a dining area, a bedroom and an outdoor space with a miniature fire pit. To keep rain and snow out I helped them construct a roof out of sticks and leaves.
Unlike the trolls of yore, our forest critters are friendly, sociable and a little bit mischievous. They don’t watch to see who’s been naughty or nice. They only come out at night, when they eat the food the girls have put out, and sometimes leave a note or a small gift. Sometimes, a toy or Christmas ornament will go missing from the girls’ rooms, just to be found in the troll house…If we’ve had snow, the girls look for tracks or other signs of the trolls.
The girls have already come up with several ideas for what to feed the trolls and suggested that we put out some other things for them as well (play-doh among other things). The other day they spent well over an hour tinkering with the house, rearranging the furniture and so on. This morning, they were so eager to see if the trolls had visited that they strapped on their headlamps and went out to their little house before going to school.
Since my girls are already familiar with Swedish folklore, building a troll house came naturally to us. For you, something else may work better. If you’re into Elf on the Shelf, why not take that outdoors? Or, if you like to create fairy gardens in the summer, why not invite some holiday fairies and create a winter wonderland for them? There are many possible variations of this outdoor holiday tradition, and it can be done whether you celebrate Christmas or not. I can just about guarantee you that it is a tradition that your kids will remember for a long time to come.
Here are some other great tips for creating outdoor traditions around the holidays:
How to Celebrate an Outdoor Christmas – Active Kids Club
Celebrate 6 Outdoor Christmas Traditions – Bonfire Central
Do you have any outdoor traditions to celebrate Christmas or other holidays? If so, please share in the comments!