Advent Calendar Ideas

After my Snow Globe post, there were lots of questions about my advent calendar, so here some more details about what I do with my family.  Having an advent calendar has been one of my most favorite traditions since I was a little girl, so I am always excited to do things with my kids.  This year I wanted to find a new calendar, and I bookmarked 547 of them (okay not really, but lots) from the web and pinterest, etc.  I had very good intentions of being crafty and making something and in the end  I splurged on one I loved from Pottery Barn Kids.

photo via PB Kids, obviously.  My name isn’t Douglas 🙂

Unfortunately it says it’s no longer available, but I’m thinking for those of you who are the sewing-crafting kind of chicks, this would be fairly easy to knock off.  It would definitely take quite a bit of work, but I think it would be doable, or at least something similar.  If you’re interested in doing that, here’s some details:

First of all, it’s huge.  It measures 5 feet tall by 3 feet wide.  The entire back is red corduroy, and the front has a 2 inch corduroy border and then a burlap type center.  It has batting inside so it feels like a big quilt.

All of the stockings are different, with felt, fabric, and embroidered stitching.  They measure about 6 inches tall with the top opening being about 4 inches wide.They’re strung with white yarn that is loose so you can move it around.

Santa is at the bottom, with bells on his coat

And a reindeer holds Christmas Day

And there are little felt tree, branch, and berry details throughout.

If anyone attempts to make one, I want to see a picture!

Now, for filling it up.  I do a mix of things inside.  I like to have some activities, some service oriented things we do for others, and some that are simply for fun.  Some involve opening a little gift,  others are little riddles written on paper, and others are items that represent an activity.

Because the type of activity in each day really depends on my family schedule, I just keep my big master list and fill the actual stockings a few days at a time.

One trick is to make a list of the things you’ll be doing anyway during the month, and use those too.  Things like a concert at school, or a church Christmas party, or pictures with Santa, etc.

Here are the things on my list, and I want to make sure everyone knows that I am realistic enough to know that we will not do all of these things, or even these types of things every day!  December (and life in general) is busy, so I have little bags of treats and trinkets to slip in when I just need a little prize in there.   The trick is having things organized so you have options.

Here’s my list:

Family Activities:
*Go to a Christmas movie in the theater (movie tix in stocking)
*Attend our church Christmas breakfast
*Drive to DQ for peppermint Blizzards (picture of a blizzard in the stocking)
*Have a movie night at home with red and green candy popcorn (photo of movie cover in stocking, tied on to a little bag of popcorn)
*Attend city tree lighting, our tour lights in our area (a baggie of lights in stocking)
*Read the Christmas story from the Bible and act it out (a tiny figurine of baby Jesus in the manger in stocking)
*Go sledding
*Go ice skating

Service for others:
*make gift baskets for the missionaries at our church
*visit the local nursing home and deliver flowers
*take goodies to friends and family
*prepare gifts for teachers, bus drivers, mail carriers, garbage men, etc
*Write Christmas letters to Grandparents
*Send Christmas cards to servicemen
*go shopping and pick out a toy to donate to charity

*These are slips of paper that tell them to open a numbered wrapped gift from a basket
*Read a new book (The Jolly Postman (my FAVE) wrapped up to open before bed, plus a few more we’re adding to our collection))
*Start a Lego count down (actual day #1 since we did snow globes early.  More about this below)  Lego advent wrapped under tree.
*Watch “The Snowman” movie (movie wrapped up under tree)

Kitchen/Craft Stuff:
*Make hot chocolate with all the fixings (hot chocolate fixings in stocking)
*Make snowflakes and eat them! (a little snowflake snack)
*Get trapped in a snow globe!
*Decorate gingerbread houses
*Make Christmas ornaments
*Open a new Christmas cereal (wrapped under the tree)

Lastly, if you have Lego fans at your house, we LOVE the Lego advent calendars.  They make them in several different themes.  At our house we’re all about Lego Star Wars.  Each day you open a window and there is a tiny little Lego set in there.  On the inside of the door is the instructions.  Some our little things like ships, and others are Lego guys.

And one other fun tradition we sort of started this year is one I saw on 320 Sycamore last year.  If you’ve got lots of Christmas books, wrap them all up and put them in a basket.  Let your kids choose one book every night to unwrap and read.  Or if you don’t have that many books, you can do it once or twice a week, etc.  It’s fun because the books only come out once a year! (Do you all have “You are my Miracle“?  My copy was a gift from my Aunt Barbara when I had my first baby, and it has become one of my most favorites.  Such a beautiful, tender message about parenting, children, and Christmas. )

Oh, and last year we started the tradition of sprinkling Reindeer Food on Christmas Eve.  *LOVE* this one.

Okay, this post turned out much longer than I anticipated!  Now it’s your turn!  If you have fun ideas, or have made an advent calendar you love, feel free to link up in the comments!  I’d also love to hear about any great holiday traditions you think other people might enjoy starting in their homes.  I’d love to hear all of your fun ideas, so please share!


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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. What a great idea! We always did candy for the first 24 days and then had a family gift on Christmas, but I love the idea of activities throughout the month!

  2. I love this! I do something similar. Mine is just a little wooden box that has 25 small doors. In each door will be a slip with something that we will do as a family. A few of my favorites that you didn’t have are sleeping under the Christmas tree (we did it last night and was so fun), eating dinner by candlelight, “Gadianton Givers” (we get together with friends and take goodies to members of the ward secretly), and clean out old toys and donate. Thanks for your ideas. I have added a few to mine.

  3. I find myself overwhelmed when I try to get too fancy. I do the book countdown without wrapping them. they just look cute in the basket. We have an advent wreath, a tradition that I think is a little out of fasion maybe, but 4 Sundays before Christmas we light a candle and read a scripture about Jesus Christ before dinner. I did a little on-line search a few years ago to try and incorporate our dutch and scandinavian heritage into our Christmas, so we celebrate Sinterklaas on Dec. 5 and St. Lucia on Dec. 13. usually just with cookies or something special for dinner, like swedish meatballs. My belief is if I keep it simple, I get it done!

  4. That is an adorable advent calendar! We have done the book advent for a few years now. We only have a couple of Christmas books, but I like to get them from the library. I reserve 24 of them online and wrap them up and put them in a basket under the tree. I like that we can get our old favorites and find new ones from the library. That is as ambitious as I’m getting this year for advent calendars.

  5. So cute! And fun ideas. I have the Pottery Barn Tree one. I saw it and couldn’t live without it. One of the best things I’ve ever bought! One of the things on our list is a snowball fight with cotton balls and shaving cream (because we live in Las Vegas and don’t get snow too often;)

  6. Thanks for the better picture of the advent calendar!! I have been wanting to make one, but I will not get around to it till next year (I’ve got three boys, 3 1/2, 2 1/2, and 8m). I took the easy way out this year and got a basic countdown from Target for $5. We are also going to start the elf on a shelf this year, my husband found a cute elf online that has velcro on the hands so we can hang him from things!

  7. I love the elf on a shelf idea!! I’m going to try to do it with my kids this year? I would love to hear any cute ideas of where you find your elfs!

  8. We have our first grandchild, in whose care we participate. She is too young this year. I am collecting ideas for next year. I have always put out our collection of Christmas books as decoration; but again next year they will be put back into use. (When older, I was thinking of finding a chapter book to read during the season.) Also, I am going to try to collect 25 CDs of Christmas music by different artists. Another thing I want to do is Pottery Barn inspired advent calendar (last year’s design) utilizing sticks, strings and pails.
    Another thing I would like to do is continue the season with the 12 days of Christmas that start on Christmas day.

  9. We have a Christmas “mailbox”, with envelopes to open each day with a different activity. Like you, I include the stuff I know we have to do anyway, and then other smaller, fun things based on our family’s schedule. Here is our list for this year:
    1 – wear brand new Christmas jammies to bed
    2 – special Christmas play with Dad
    3 – have hot chocolate with all the trimmings
    4 – make Christmas hand wreaths (construction paper, trace hands, make wreath)
    5 – have breakfast for dinner
    6 – eat Christmas ice cream for dessert
    7 – record a Christmas answering machine message
    8 – wear Santa hats to dinner
    9 – go to Dad’s music concert
    10 – buy and decorate Christmas tree
    11 – have a family dance party
    12 – make presents for school friends
    13 – have a red and green dinner
    14 – go for gelato after dinner
    15 – Christmas craft with mom
    16 – have a family Christmas movie night
    17 – go see the Christmas train
    18 – concert @ church
    19 – make Christmas cookies with Grandma
    20 – storytime at the library
    21 – trip downtown to see the Christmas windows
    22 – pics with Santa
    23 – drive around to see Christmas lights
    24 – candy cane treasure hunt

    1. Such a great idea! I think I’m going to be adventurous and try to make the stocking advent, but the mailbox is a cute idea to give away as gifts! Hmmm, it may be a busy weekend afterall.

  10. My favorite Christmas tradition of ours is…on Christmas morning the kids aren’t allowed to come upstairs until we tell them they can (they’re older now and we’re usually waiting on them!) Then they get to see what’s in their stockings while we are waiting on breakfast to come out of the oven (oven baked french toast that I make the night before) All the presents are divided into groups for each family member, but they aren’t sorted by who they are TO, they are sorted by who they are FROM. The youngest GIVES first. Then we go by age. Even though they are 16 and 12 now, they still have a blast being able to GIVE their gifts, (and of course they have fun trying to make the other wait as many rounds as possible!) We live far away from our families and always ship gifts out way before Christmas, so it doesn’t always feel like they are giving anything, but this helps to keep the giving spirit in Christmas.

  11. Great post!!! We finally got an advent calendar this year and got it from Land of Nod

  12. We have lots of traditions: we live close to a lake and love the ducks, so we wait till it gets good and dark (usually late also) and take our duck friends a gift (duck feed). I always get each child a new ornament with their name and date on it (they’ll have lots when they move to their own home…and hopefully good memories to go along) and always Christmas pjs. Our calendar was printed from a paper toy website that has lots of adorable free paper toys. (I’ll find the web if someone wants it) but I’ll be working on something a little more fancy for next year….but will always do the paper one also, my kids love gluing on the paper ornaments! And we watch a Christmas movie every week in December. FUN FUN FUN! Always a service project too! Merry Christmas all!!!!

  13. I got tired of wrapping 24 books, too (plus we have over 50 Christmas books!) so I printed off small pictures of their covers and put those in our advent calendar pockets (you can usually find the image on Amazon). Now my girls find the book that matches the picture and we read it!

    1. Great idea Regan! I have done the wrapping of Christmas books for many years and finally got tired of wrapping them all! Thanks for the tip

  14. My grandson, Caleb, has that exact Star Wars Lego advent calendar. He is so super excited about it! Maybe I’ll get adventurous and make four of the advent calendars- one for each of my grown children’s family.

  15. Mine is not as fancy…this year I made it out of poster board and bought a couple bags of holiday kisses. Each child has 31 (this year- because we start the day after Thanksgiving) kisses in a row. Now in order to get their kiss at the end of the day, they have to do the good deed assigned. I make a big bowl of deeds, like no crying, no screaming, smile all day, do it the first time, and each night we pick the deed for the next day. The kids love it! Last year I just did it with stickers and if they filled up the whole chart they got a medium sized prize. I don’t really let my kids at candy during the week so I think they really enjoy their little treat each evening. I’m a big nerd and like to make it each year and kids kids help me come up with the deeds, my son loves to come up with deeds that are easy for him, but hard for the girls. Now my girls are getting bigger though and well it’s payback time. Today’s deed was tell people you love them AND (my husband added this) give mom and dad kisses and hugs when ever we ask! Love it!

  16. So cute! I love all those stockings. I just made one with activities for this year (we’ve always done candy before)

    Some of our activities include
    –cut snowflakes
    –make peppermint ice cream
    –make gingerbread houses (using graham crackers)
    –make cards for their teachers
    –on the 24th we’ll read the Christmas story from the scriptures

    I even put “eat cinnamon rolls” in there one day because one of my daughters put it on her list, and I thought it was a great idea 🙂

  17. Oh thank you for sharing the details, ideas, and close up pictures! I saw the Lego advent calendar at the store the other day and thought it was way too cool. And I am so forwarding this post on to my sister because she was looking for good advent calendar activity ideas. PS the Christmas book idea is a favorite of mine too!

  18. We do a book thing too, but I have to wrap so much other stuff, I hated wrapping the 24 books. Soo…I went to the Dollar Tree and bought 24 reusable bags. They work perfectly. Someone much craftier than me could make them…

    We also listen to the Nativity story on a Hallmark Advent ornament.

  19. Oh my goodness, I didn’t know The Jolly Postman books were still being published! They were some of my favorite books as a kid 🙂 Also, what a great advent calendar. I love the mix of activities for the family you have, especially the ones that involve your kids in serving the community!

  20. I found this in my inbox today:

    I thought it was adorable, and could be good for adults and children alike. We don’t really have any christmas traditions in place yet. My husband and I have only been together 3 years and our son is only 2, so we’ve been piggy-backing on our parents’ traditions so far. Once we have a bigger place (hopefully sooner than later), I’m sure I’ll start going nuts with the decorating again. Right now our only real tradition (that is truly our own) is spending a couple days baking and then handing out tins of cookies around the neighborhood.

    Last year all our son contributed was a couple handprints in the shortbread. This year I’m sure he’ll have more fun with it.

    1. The button tree would be fun decorating with buttons collected during the year from trips or other reasons.

  21. Ohhh, I love the book idea! My mil has given us so many advent items over the year I just stick with the easier ones, but I think we’ll add the book wrapping one to our list!! I have lots of Christmas books – I always buy them on after Christmas clearances!!

  22. I love these ideas! I need to get an advent calendar now….loved this post 🙂
    We actually have a birthday party for Christ’s birthday on Christmas. It is a full on birthday party complete with cake, balloons, party hats, and presents for Jesus. My kids love it.
    I can’t wait to start doing a daily activity with them to celebrate the season. Thanks!

  23. What a darling advent calendar. I have mine half way done so it will have to wait until next year. No young children in the house but I still enjoy doing it.

  24. When my kids were little, many years ago, some friends and I got together and created a felt nativity advent calendar. There was a different member/item of the nativity to put up on the calendar each day until Christmas. There was a scripture that went along with each item. Of course baby Jesus was the last thing added to the manager scene.

    1. Leigh Anne–will you share a picture of your advent calendar on your blog? I have been wanting to make a nativity one and I’d love to see yours!

  25. I did a copy of a Halloween PBkids calendar a couple of years ago. It was so time-consuming and detail-oriented, but the final product is much more durable than the original. Worth it if you have oodles of time!