Over the years, we have searched for ideas to count down the days until Christmas in a meaningful way. We wanted to foster a spirit of excited anticipation, have activities that would bring us together as a family, and help us all to remember the true spirit of the season. A number of years ago, my mom developed this homemade advent calendar which has grown and changed with our children throughout the years. It contains daily activities which celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and get us all in the mindset for the holiday. When our kids were younger, they really looked forward to opening a gift each day. As they have grown into tweens and now teens, it’s not so important to them to have that tangible object to open. At the bottom, I have included downloadable activity messages for each age group, as well as a set that is focused more on the Christian/devotional aspects of the season. You can download them and then adjust to your own needs, but this gives you a head start without having to type them up yourself! I have also detailed how we make this work. It’s a bit time (and possibly money, depending on how you do this) intensive on the front side, but preparing throughout the year can help cut down on cost and time in the long run.
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The first step in the process is obtaining the calendar itself. I like the cloth ones with a pocket, but you could do drawers, envelopes, or anything you can come up with.
Then you come up with various activities to put on each slip of paper.
When my mom has made this for our family, she has given me the list of activity slips without giving a specific day designated for each one. That way, I could look at our calendar and see which ones were better for earlier or later in the month, for weekends vs. weekdays, etc. Each one has a spot to correspond to a numbered gift. We wrap all of the gifts and put numbers on each one. The kids don’t know what they contain, so it creates more of an anticipation and surprise. It is not important that the number on the gift match the number of the day when you open the slip. A child could presumably open gift #24 on day 1, so unless this will drive you or your child bonkers, don’t worry about matching the two, it just makes things much more complicated to do it that way.
Here is a list of potential ideas for different daily activities, with the corresponding gift to go with it. These are just ideas for gifts to go with each one. Be creative, check out your local dollar store, Target dollar spot, look in your pantry and closets and see what you have. You honestly could do this spending no money at all, and just concentrate on donating your time and energy to others. It’s also easy to save certain things (like jingle bells, music, books, battery operated candles) to use from one year to the next.
Choose 24 (or 25, depending on how many pockets there are in your calendar) and print them out. Templates at the bottom have pre-done options, but you can certainly change them to fit your desires. Here are much more than 24 options for the daily activities, pick your favorites and then change it up for next year to include some others!
Call your cousins and wish them a Merry Christmas.
Find some clothes or a toy in your room to give to the needy. Mommy or Daddy will take it to Goodwill.(sack)
Make a pie for dinner.(pie mix)
Give the money to the needy. Put it in a bell ringer’s bucket or into the church offering.($)
–Bag full of loose change
Take a name from the Angel Tree. Buy gifts for the person.($)
Make up a Christmas dance and do it for Mommy and Daddy.(Christmas music)
At dinner, each person share your favorite Christmas memory, your favorite Christmas food, and your biggest Christmas wish.
Give candy canes to your friends.(candy canes)
Call Grandma and Grandpa and sing Jingle Bells to them.(bells)
Merry Christmas!!!!! Give everyone a hug and kiss.
Spread a blanket or tablecloth on the floor in front of the Christmas tree and have a pizza party.(tablecloth, $ for pizza)
Treat Mommy and Daddy. Take them to Taco Bell (or Subway or another favorite low cost place) for dinner.($)
Canned goods to donate (cans of food or $ to buy cans–my kids were very serious when they went to purchase food with their money, they would try to get the best food and most number of cans)
Good deeds manger. Slips of paper in a manger. Put good deeds on the slips to form a nice soft bed for baby Jesus.(papers and manger)
Light candles on an advent wreath (advent wreath)
Make a chain and tear off a strip each day. These could have Bible verses on them relating to Christmas. (chain strips with or without verses)
Take mom and dad out for a treat–ice cream or frozen yogurt ($)
Downloadable PDFs of the different activity strips:
These activities have brought an immense amount of pleasure to my family over the years. I hope you will consider making it a new tradition for your family as well. My kids’ favorite activities are those where they get to bless others–they love buying gifts for the Angel tree, putting coins in the Salvation Army bucket, taking cookies to a neighbor, sending cards to their friends.