A huge list of advent calendar ideas! Plus a DIY for making your own advent calendar.
Growing up, we never did an advent calendar. I don’t think I even knew what one was until I was older?
But at some point, not all that long ago, I started seeing them and thought it was a cool idea to have a countdown to Christmas with a little present or holiday prompt each day. And then when I had a child of my own, I was like ‘oh I’m totally doing that’!
So I put together a big list of advent calendar ideas, from activity ideas to gift ideas, even a Christmas book list if you want to go the advent book route instead. AND I have a quick tutorial for how you can recreate the DIIY advent calendar I made for my little on this year.
Click through to see its all.
Advent Calendar Ideas
When I first starting putting together little items for the advent calendar, I realized a big list of advent calendar ideas would be super helpful (to me at least).
So once I had gathered enough ideas from IG suggestions and some things I cam up with as well, I started a list of advent calendar ideas to share, in hopes of making things easy around the holidays.
Advent Calendar Activity Ideas
- Pick out a Christmas tree.
- Make a gingerbread house as a family. If you have a young child, like toddler age, I highly recommend looking for a pre-assembled gingerbread house, if possible. So that you can get straight to the fun part of decorating the house with cute candies, icing, etc.
- Drive around a new neighborhood or two to see Christmas lights. OR take a walk if you have a neighborhood with lots of lights.
- Decorate cookies (could also make this more special by adding in more family or friends – like ‘cookie baking with grandma’).
- Make Christmas ornaments – I have a bunch of DIY Christmas ornaments that might help with this. Many of them are great for kids.
- Christmas crafts
- Bring a neighbor a holiday treat.
- Christmas dance party! This could be with friends or just as a family around the Christmas tree. Play holiday music and dance around for a while.
- Make hot chocolate.
- Decorate a Santa hat. This could be a fun thing for a child to decorate and wear all season long for walks to check out Christmas lights, etc. Older kids could embroider their name or little patterns onto a hat. And younger kids can glue pompoms, add glitter, draw their names with marker, etc.
- Watch a Christmas movie.
- Go see a holiday themed play (like the Nutcracker, for example)
- Make Christmas cards for family and friends. This is a really fun one! And the cards can be as elaborate or simple as you want to make them.
- Read Christmas books by the fireplace.
- Make Christmas play doh. There are many ‘recipes’ online for his, but here’s one I found for scented holiday play doh.
- Make cards or gifts (ornaments, etc) for teachers. I love this idea for teachers…and maybe slip a little gift card in there for teachers with the card if the feels right for you. When I was a teacher I know I always appreciated gift cards especially.
- Go ice skating! This one might be available in every city, but if it is, this feels like the perfect holiday activity to do with family.
- Wrap presents for siblings, family members, classmates.
- Go caroling as a family! I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but I know a couple people who have and they always say its really special.
Christmas Books Advent Calendar
I’ve seen several people do the Christmas books advent calendar thing, where each night, a different Christmas book is unwrapped (you keep the same ones every year and switch out / add new ones when needed) and read. I thought this was a really cute idea, so rounded up a handful of Christmas books that could be a fit for your family.
And even if you don’t do a whole month of Christmas books, a few of these could be fun to slip into a regular advent calendar too. And if they’re too big to fit in a pocket or be wrapped easily, you can always make it a scavenger hunt, with a note inside that day’s number to ‘look under the bed for a surprise to read’, etc. We did that with a few advent presents this year that are a little too big to be wrapped and hung from our advent calendar.
- The Little Reindeer
- Polar Express
- Little Red Sleigh
- The Nutcracker (board book)
- The Wish Tree
- Freddie The Farting Snowman
- Little Penguins
- Mr. Boddington’s Studio: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
- Construction Site on Christmas Night (one of Hayes’ faves)
- Pick a Pine Tree
I also put together a Kids Christmas Book list on my Amazon shop if you wanna take a look. I have some additional ones there.
Advent Calendar Gift Ideas
- Christmas ornaments – I did a few of these this year and made sure to put them toward the beginning of the month, so each one could be hung on the tree and enjoyed early.
- Pajamas – These could be Christmas themed or just regular cute and cozy pjs.
- Mittens – This could also symbolize a fun and festive outdoor activity planned for the family. Like a snowball fight or a nighttime Christmas walk with apples cider, etc.
- Small puzzle (or a big one for something that the whole family can get involved in)
- Socks – This is a practical gift, but it can also be cute. Maybe holiday themed OR themed to something your kid likes. I got some cat socks for Hayes last year, for example, bc the loves cats so much.
- Bath bombs, holiday lotion, etc.
- Yoyo – This is a fun one for little kids (like 6-10 years old)
- Slippers – Again this could be themed for the holidays or not.
- Candy (or cookie) – This could be as simple as just one little piece of candy or one festive holiday cookie. Nothing crazy.
- Stickers, patches, and temporary tattoos
- Christmas craft project (could be holiday themed or not). JoAnn has a bunch of cute Christmas craft packs that come with everything you need to make various holiday crafts. And a lot of them are actually pretty cute, plus they’re super affordable. Many are under $2.
- A wooden blocks or toy set that can be broken up. For example, I did this with a wooden fruit set that I bought for Hayes’ play kitchen. This is the fruit set I got. It’s not cheap, BUT there are 9 pieces of fruit in the set, so it could be broken up into 9 different days of advent calendar gifts. OR only use a few for advent and then include the remainder of the set as a regular gift for Christmas or as stocking stuffers. That’s what I did.
- Mini stuffed animal – OR make your own. I have a tutorial for how to make a stuffed animal that is pretty easy (and adorable).
- Cute bandaids – Another practical idea, I guess. But some kids (mine included) really like bandaids for some reason, even when he doesn’t need one. So this could be a fun little advent calendar idea.
- Hair ties, headbands, etc
- Glitter pens, washi tape, beads to make little bracelets or necklaces
- Non-Christmas books – Xmas themed books are great, of course. But throwing in a regular (year round) book or two that your child might look is always fun. You could also make custom board books for your kiddo, if you have some extra time. Hayes LOVES the board books I made for him a couple of years ago…. I think because the books include things he recognizes from our home (and he is in them as well).
How to Make an Advent Calendar (DIY)
It’s a DIY advent calendar that you can complete super last minute. Bonus! It still looks p cool and no one will know you barely planned ahead. My fave kind of DIYs. Haha.
- scrap Stendig calendar pages*
- small gifts, books, or activity ideas from the lists above
*Obviously, not everyone has a Stendig calendar. But if you do have one, make sure to save those pages each month when you rip them off the wall. They make great wrapping paper for advent calendar presents AND for larger presents under the tree as well.
If you don’t have a Stendig, you can use any wall calendar that has large enough numbers for wrapping. And if you don’t have a wall calendar on hand, you can use any paper you have and just write the numbers on each one.
1. Cut numbers for your wrapping paper.
Cut numbers 1-24 from a Stendig calendar (of you have one), making sure to leave enough room around each number to completely wrap each gift or activity note. OR if you only have a few calendar pages to work with, you could always just cut each number without any room around each one and then attach the numbers to wrapping gifts or activity notes separately. Whatever is easiest for you.
2. Plan each day and wrap presents.
I found it really helpful to plan out the activities and gifts each day quickly before staring to wrap everything. I saved all the family activities for weekends and days I knew we’d all be available and around all day. And smaller activities / gifts around the house (like small craft project days, books, etc) on the weekdays. And any ornaments or the sensitive items (like Christmas books), I tried to put toward the beginning of the month so we’d have more time to enjoy them.
Once everything was planned out, I wrapped each gift, added a little tape, and set them aside for tying string (next step).
3. Hang the wrapped gifts from a string wherever you’d like.
I hung our advent calendar on a peg rail (from this Etsy shop) that we have in the kitchen already and added some garland and ornaments to make it feel more festive. Already had both on hand from decorating other parts of the house.
I’m all about keeping it simple when it comes to this stuff though. So there’s no need to add any extra decoration unless you’re feeling extra festive. I’m constantly reminding myself that the magic is in attempting to make it stress-free, otherwise it won’t be fun for me or my kid.
You can also hang all of the calendar ‘gifts’ from a large branch, wood dowel, a doorknob, even a staircase. Pretty much anywhere you can think of.
Let me know if you have any questions. But that’s how I made our advent calendar. Hope it’s helpful for those that want to give it a try.
How to Make an Advent Calendar (DIY)
- scrap Stendig calendar pages*
- small gifts books, or activity ideas from the lists above
- Cut numbers for your wrapping paper.
- Cut numbers 1-24 from a Stendig calendar (of you have one), making sure to leave enough room around each number to completely wrap each gift or activity note. OR if you only have a few calendar pages to work with, you could always just cut each number without any room around each one and then attach the numbers to wrapping gifts or activity notes separately. Whatever is easiest for you.
- Plan each day and wrap presents.
- I found it really helpful to plan out the activities and gifts each day quickly before staring to wrap everything. I saved all the family activities for weekends and days I knew we'd all be available and around all day. And smaller activities / gifts around the house (like small craft project days, books, etc) on the weekdays. And any ornaments or the sensitive items (like Christmas books), I tried to put toward the beginning of the month so we'd have more time to enjoy them.
- Once everything was planned out, I wrapped each gift, added a little tape, and set them aside for tying string (next step).
- Hang the wrapped gifts from a string wherever you'd like.
- I hung our advent calendar on a peg rail (from this Etsy shop) that we have in the kitchen already and added some garland and ornaments to make it feel more festive. Already had both on hand from decorating other parts of the house.
- I'm all about keeping it simple when it comes to this stuff though. So there's no need to add any extra decoration unless you're feeling extra festive. I'm constantly reminding myself that the magic is in attempting to make it stress-free, otherwise it won't be fun for me or my kid.
- You can also hang all of the calendar 'gifts' from a large branch, wood dowel, a doorknob, even a staircase. Pretty much anywhere you can think of.
- And that's it! Let me know if you have any questions. But that's how we made our advent calendar. Hope it's helpful for those that want to give it a try.
That’s all for all things advent calendar related. Let me know if you have your own activity and/or gift ideas you want to add to the list, that I might have missed.