We have done an advent calendar for the past three years with the kids. We have one of those little wooden houses with 25 doors and windows that open, which we picked up one year after Christmas in the huge discount sales. Nothing, other than a note, fits in those little spaces… not even Hershey’s Kisses. Which is kind of OK with me because we don’t like to do candy every night.
I’ve seen a lot of suggestions for non-candy advent calendar items. Since this is going to be our fourth year with our calendar, I’ve got some that have worked well for us and that we plan on doing this year. We put notes in there and let the kids open and find out what it says. We draw pictures so non-readers can get in on the excitement. Here goes:
- Hot cocoa (and/or popcorn) and a movie (we’ve done the animated Grinch with good success)
- Ornaments (I usually buy a few in the sale the year before and then I have them set aside, that way they can hang them on the tree that night)
- Christmas crafts (think clothespin reindeer, salt dough (or these “better than salt dough”), or even something the kids can make to give away, like handprint ornaments)
- Coloring page or printable (if there is a theme I want with coloring pages, I usually just google “free Christmas coloring page”)
- Stickers (usually I buy just one sheet/book of stickers and cut them up so I get several days worth out of it)
- Outing to look at Christmas lights (pile in the car, play seasonal music, spot lights = awesome fun!)
- Books – you just can’t go wrong with books!
- Face paints – admittedly this may be aimed at the younger ones. Invest in a palate of face paints (I got mine for less than $20 on Amazon and they’ve lasted for more than a year, with tons of faces painted) and treat the kids to a snowman on their cheek. Poinsettia, snowflakes, Christmas trees, wreaths, gifts, and so on are all fairly easy to draw.
- Special events (we do a local “Santa Train” each year and it becomes our advent event for the day)
- Donate to Toys for Tots (or another charity) – depending on the rules for charities, have your kid pick out something from their own toy box to donate or take them shopping to choose something for donating
- Baking cookies (most kids love baking, plus it’s a sneaky teaching moment with all that math and following instructions and so on).
- Christmas photos (dress up or don’t, but snap some pics of the kids by the tree or in the snow or take them to see Santa or popping out of a wrapped box – whatever strikes your fancy – use them for ornament crafts, Christmas or New Year cards, frame them in fun frames to decorate your kids’ rooms).
- Decorate your kids’ rooms – we don’t generally decorate in their bedrooms because they’d just pull it all down, but letting them have a few decorations they can play with (or hung up high enough that they can’t reach them) can make their space feel so special.
- Go caroling – if you don’t want to carol around your neighborhood, how about friends and family? Or you could go to a hospital or home for the aging (call ahead to make arrangements). Another option is to Skype carol if your family isn’t nearby. Dress up, where fun hats and spread Christmas cheer by “singing loud for all to hear!”
- Nature walk crafts: winter walk findings can make excellent decorations. Pine cones, leaves, branches (bare or pine), and lots of other wintery items are great for centerpieces, wreaths, or on their own. You can leave them natural or spray them silver or gold, or add sparkle with glue and glitter.
- Make this a “Spread Cheer” day – challenge yourselves to spread cheer. Pay a toll for the car behind you. Take donations to local shelters (blankets and food or even towels and milk bones to an animal shelter – check in advance). Simply hand out candy canes or other small tokens to people you pass with a smile and a message of “Peace on Earth” or “Joy to the World” attached.
- Decorate outdoors – even though we’re going to do this anyway, our kids find this so exciting, and this is a way to make it even more festive. Don’t forget music while you’re working and hot cocoa for when you come inside.
- Put up the tree – again, we’ll do this anyway, but why not make it the fun countdown to Christmas event for the day? Music and maybe a few cookies or treats can make the whole process even more fun.
- Wrap or make the teacher gifts. We love making our own gifts for teachers. Last year we made scent jars. These are so easy for kids to help you make. The grown up can cut up the fruit and lay out the fruit slices, herbs, and spices and let the kids help you drop them into jars. They can draw cards, too. My kids are thrilled that they were a part of making the gifts.
- Christmas around the world – learn how to say “Merry Christmas” and maybe even learn a song in another language. Learn about (and try!) traditions in your chosen country. Get a special treat from that country or make a dinner that incorporates the cuisine of the country. The more you can dive in, the more fun it is! The internet makes the world so much closer!
- Make bird feed decorations to decorate the trees in your yard. Make friends with your local outdoor creatures. I love this project!
- Write a letter to Santa. Little ones can tell you what to write. If you want, you can have Santa write back, too. There are templates (“from the desk of Santa” letterhead, like this one) online to make sending the letter even more exciting.
- Throw a party! Sure, you can definitely invite friends over… or you can just have a family party (especially if your kids are still young). Dress up or dress silly (think ugly sweater party). Set the mood with festive music. Play games. Sip punch (pineapple juice + lemon/lime soda + maraschino cherry juice, for example). Or make this a cookie-exchange party and include your kids!
- On Christmas Eve, we like to give a new pair of pajamas. Our kids are young still, and PJs generally don’t fit from one year to the next. Since many of our Christmas morning photos end up taken while still sporting our sleepwear, we like to get some nice ones, especially ones that coordinate. The kids will wear them all winter, so it’s not as silly as it might first seem.
Idea: You can have your entire set of 25 “events” printed out but not stuff the entire calendar ahead of time – this way it prevents peeking ahead, plus you can play it by ear and pick good days to do each of the items (a day when it’s raining might be a good one for doing a craft or watching a movie, but not such a great night for going to look at lights, for example).
Idea: Wrap some of the items (e.g., books and ornaments) and put them in container and let them pick one to unwrap.
Idea: If you know your family will love just a few of these, repeat them (watch several different movies in the run-up to Christmas, make a bunch of craft days, do Christmas around the world for several countries, get a handful of books to read, print out tons of coloring pages) – whatever works!
And now, since it’s already the ninth, and several weeks since I drafted this and I still haven’t posted it, I’ll let you know what we have already done this year:
- Put up and decorate the tree
- Go to Meadow Lights (which is a lights display place with some other fun stuff to do near where we live)
- Coloring: I got a pack of 4 color-in place mats from the Target dollar spot
- Baking: magic cookie bars
- Disney on Ice: we scored half-price tix on opening night and took our own glow sticks for the kids
- Movie night! “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (animated)
- Painting: We painted some Target dollar spot ‘paint with water’ pictures (penguins and reindeer)
- Movie night! “Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol”
We’re having a blast and making memories!