If you’re like me, you might love the idea of an advent calendar but get stymied by what exactly to put inside those 25 intimidating little boxes. Coming up with a new item every day can be a bit daunting, especially if you want to do something a little different than candy.
[Of course, if you’re really like me than you usually don’t even remember to set up the advent calendar until December is well underway and then have to make up for lost time.]
This post features 2 categories of advent calendar ideas applicable to whenever you start up your countdown:
» Singles: That is, those items that are one-time gifts that do not build upon the item from the day before nor lead into the item for the next day.
» Series: Items that DO build upon each other from day to day.
Maybe a few of these ideas will make it a little easier for you and your family to count down the twelve–or more–days of Christmas.
» Ideas for Singles
Some of the items on this list are fun, others are practical, and all are little! The list is not exhaustive but should help you start to think small.
» Ideas for a Series
1 • “The Night Before Christmas” Line-by-Line: Print out a copy of the classic narrative poem “The Night Before Christmas.” Cut out each line of the poem. Each day add a line of the poem to a bulletin board with a pushpin, magnet, or clothespin.
The same idea can be applied to favorite Christmas Scriptures like the nativity verses from the book of Matthew or different verses prophesying the birth a Messiah throughout the Bible. Some families may find this advent activity dovetails quite nicely with a Jesse tree, a Christmas tradition that uses Scripture to chronicle the coming of the birth of Jesus.
Musically minded folks might enjoy using lyrics or music from Christmas carols, either focusing on making up one whole song or switching it up everyday for a medley of tunes. You could even turn this activity into a holiday version of Name That Tune by selecting only portions of the lyrics or music and then making a game of seeing who can first guess the correct song, either from hearing the lyrics or listening the music played on the piano, guitar, radio, etc.
• Tip » This idea could be combined with Idea #6. And sheet music makes for an especially lovely and, for some reason, seasonal garland.
2 • Winter Scene: Young children may enjoy using holiday stickers to create a winter scene, nativity tableau, or Christmas tree on a piece of construction paper or sticker sheet. You may even be able to find reusable holiday sticker set you can adapt for this purpose. Or, instead of stickers, use felt cut-outs on a felt board or large piece of felt–and then use them again next year!
3 • Puzzle Pieces: Each day provide a few pieces to a puzzle so that by the last day the puzzle will be complete. This idea works for multiple ages, from toddlers who may get 1 big piece a day for a 25-piece puzzle or for older children (or adults) who could get quite a few small pieces each day, depending on the puzzle. The puzzle itself could be anything, but it could be fun to have holiday scene or even to have had a custom puzzle made (like from a family photograph) for which the puzzlers do not have a picture to go by.
• Tip » If you want the puzzle pieces to fit together as the days go along, you might have to do the puzzle yourself first then group pieces accordingly.
• Tip » Place small puzzle pieces in a bag or bundle with string or plastic wrap to help prevent losing pieces.
Similarly, you could provide a few Legos a day. The Legos could pieces from a new set (holiday-themed or not) designed to fit purposefully together to create an official project, or the Legos could be scooped out from your personal store, and your kids (or grown-ups) could just make up a project as they go along–maybe a cityscape or Santa’s village–or a dinosaur or race car–wherever their imaginations lead them!
4 • Ornaments: Clearly, the ornaments would have to be small, but it is fun to add a different ornament to the Christmas tree everyday. Ornaments could be store-bought (these items are easy to find in stores this time of year) or, if you’re the artsy type, hand-made. This time of year the internet is full of ideas about how to make ornaments–out of pinecones or cotton balls or pipe cleaners or popsicle sticks. But circles or snowflakes cut out of construction paper work just as well too (see Idea #6).
• Tip » Designate a small tree as the advent ornament tree. Small, green artificial trees work well, but so do metal trees like jewelry trees or even actual ornament trees. The ornaments would better match a small tree in scale, and having a dedicated tree makes the activity a bit more dramatic and special.
5 • Magnets: Versatile and re-usable, magnets can be used just about anywhere–refrigerators, chalkboards, filing cabinets, metal doors–and they can be just about anything, from Christmas-themed magnets to letters of the alphabet (which, incidentally, come out just about even for an advent countdown).
Just about anything can also become a magnet with a dot of hot glue or a peel-and-stick adhesive magnet. So grab small items from around the house or keep your eyes peeled for magnet-making material the next time you are out shopping.
While you are shopping, also be on the look-out for ready-made magnetic advent sets. These sets usually feature a metal display with 25 magnets, making it easy for you to stash the magnets behind those advent doors and prop up that display somewhere in the house.
• Tip » Older children (and even adults) may enjoy using magnetic poetry, holiday version or not. Place a few different word magnets behind each door and let your inner poet loose!
• What I Do » Magnets are my personal go-to advent format. In my younger and craftier years I made 3 sets (one for each of my children) of bottlecap magnets from old Christmas cards, magazine number clippings, and Mod Podge. Each magnet has a number from 1-25, which corresponds to a day on the calendar. Two sets go on magnetic chalkboards on which a tree has been drawn in chalk, and one set goes on a wooden Christmas display I happened across a few years ago and to which I hot-glued magnets on the back so the advent magnets would work.
View the slideshow below to see our advent magnets in action.
• WARNING » Magnets are NOT recommended for young children.
6 • Garland: Fun and festive addition to holiday decor, garlands are easy to make and can be configured in a number of ways in a number of places. Garland can adorn stairwells, doorways, mirror tops, bookshelves, and even a mantle (horizontally across the main display or vertically as dangling down with any stockings that be hung there with care).
One of the simplest ways to make a garland is to have a strip of paper (maybe with a verse or line of poetry–see Idea #1) for each day then staple the paper into a circle and create a paper chain that grows each day.
A modern farmhouse variation is to use clothespins and thick burlap-y string to hang each daily addition, which could be paper cut into different holiday shapes like stockings, reindeer, Christmas trees, elf shoes, etc.
• Tip » If you have more than one child, consider having a garland for each child–could be the same format or not. Each garland could specially designated for each child or the children could take turns with each strand.
7 • Add-a-Bead (or Charm): Make a progressive necklace or bracelet by adding a bead or charm everyday. The beads need not be fine, expensive pieces of actual jewelry–chunky wooden beads would be suitable for most toddlers and can easily be found at affordable prices.
Be sure the size and material of the bead or charm is appropriate to the developmental age of the child. For example, large wooden beads may work well for toddlers where older children could manage smaller, more delicate items.
Consider making the add-ons thematic according to the holiday or a personal interest. You could write numbers or draw pictures on wooden beads to correspond with the different days. The beads could spell out a message–in order or scrambled by day.
Even if you were using toy beads or something of that nature, if you were interested in starting an heirloom tradition, every year on the last day of the advent calendar you could include a REAL charm, bead, or pearl to go on a REAL bracelet or necklace, so that you are not only participating in a fun activity this holiday season but creating a gift to treasure for a lifetime.
8 • Balloons: This idea is a twist on the traditional practice of including a short note or Scripture every day. You could draw a picture or write a note or verse on a balloon and have a different balloon message everyday. This idea could even be used in conjunction with Idea #10 below.
• Tip » Blow up the balloon first, holding it closed with your fingers while you write the message/draw the picture.
9 • Window Clings: There’s something about these plastic-y decals that kids love, so make that affinity work for you! Buy a sheet and cut out the designs into individual pieces. Find an obliging window or glass door and let the kids go to work. This idea works especially well if you have more than one child.
This time of year holiday-themed window clings can be found pretty cheaply and in abundance just about anywhere–the drug store, dollar store, big box store, grocery store–even the hardware store! You may even find some varieties that come as decals for walls or floors.
10 • Scavenger Hunt/Clues: Set up an old-fashioned scavenger hunt including a clue behind each advent door. Your clues could correspond to an activity for the day or a particular Christmas book to read or holiday movie to watch a family. If you are an Elf-on-the-Shelfer, you could include hints for where the Elf is that day or where he will be tomorrow.
Happy 12-25 Days of Christmas!
What are some items you use for your advent calendar?
Let us know in a comment below! Thanks so much!