It wasn’t long ago that I felt disenchanted with our advent calendar. The holidays are stressful. Instead of building anticipation about the coming holiday, our advent calendar simply dispensed bits of chocolate to my already sugared-out kids.
Each day my kids ate their chocolate and I felt a little more frazzled as Christmas day approached. There was no real meaning to it. My family hadn’t had much time together. It all felt disjointed, fake, and grumpy. I was grumpy.
I had little kids and I felt as if I had not had a chance to enjoy them because we were so busy with all the things. Last year, I decided to take Christmas back. I did it by changing our advent calendar to be more meaningful. What I wanted was advent activities for families. I wanted to spend time with my people. My husband and kids. That change in our advent calendar made all the difference. Christmas was magical again. Yours can be too!
The tradition of advent
Advent has been a Christian tradition since the middle ages. What started as fasting in preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ, has transformed into a way count down the days until Christmas.
Traditionally, advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, or December 1.
Although Christians worldwide still practice the spiritual components of advent like fasting and prayer, many who create advent calendars today do it as a count-down. Regardless or your reasons for celebrating advent, I think most families like to celebrate the Christmas holiday creating memories with their family.
Homemade advent calendar ideas
When we are talking about homemade advent calendars there are two components. These include:
- The physical calendar
- What the calendar contains
Choose a physical calendar for your advent that you love. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. Match it to your décor. All you really need is a place to store a slip of paper and candies for your kids (optional).
A homemade advent calendar with advent activities for families needs to include 24 containers that will hold papers with a family activity for the day. These containers might include:
- Pockets on a large fabric wall hanging. This one is super cute!
- Wooden box with smaller boxes. Here is one you could decorate (or leave plain). Or, you could snag this one that is already decorated.
- Wrapped gifts.
- Fabric sewn pouches, hung on string with clips. These are the bags my family uses.
- Papers rolled into “scrolls”.
- Paper bags.
- Tags. These wood tags would be so fun to decorate before you hang them!
- Origami containers.
- Stockings. This set of stockings is the perfect size for an advent.
- Paper or plastic cups.
- Instead of 24 containers, just a jar with 24 slips of paper inside.
When we decided to reinvent our advent calendar, I put away the store-bought chocolate calendar with tiny sweets and we came up my own family time advent calendar. We bought an inexpensive set of 24 small bags. I glued plastic numbers on the front of the bags and then hung the bags on a string.
My family loves this little homemade advent calendar. We can hang them on the wall nearly anywhere. Each bag fits four small pieces of candy (one for each kid) and a piece of paper that lists our family advent calendar idea for the day.
How to plan advent activities for your family
Planning out your advent activities is a bit of up-front work. The first year we tried incorporating more family activities into our advent calendar we scrambled on a day-to-day basis to find something fun to do. This year we planned out our calendar activities ahead of time.
I came up with 24 fun family activities that encourage time together. I had papers stuffed into our little advent calendar bags long before advent started. Here’s some ideas for planning your family advent activities.
- Look at your calendar. The holidays are so busy. There will be some days when you’ll only have 5 minutes to devote to a family activity. That’s okay! Just plan something simple that day. There will be other days when you’ll have more space for the time-intensive stuff.
- Use events you are doing anyway! You might have piano recitals, family parties or a yearly tradition of going to the Nutcracker. Plan those activities into your advent! Just because you were already planning on it, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun family time.
- Choose 24 family activities to do during advent. Write them down. I also like to add a couple of alternates in case something doesn’t work out or you change your mind. Your schedule or ability might change during the month. Having a couple of extra activities will help you stick with your advent commitments.
- Gather supplies. Some of your activities might require you to purchase some supplies. Write down what you need so you can budget and purchase those items ahead of time. When possible, work with supplies you already have. You don’t need to blow your budget on a bunch of new stuff when you could plan activities around things you already own.
- Create an “opening” ritual or tradition. Decide a time or person who will open the advent calendar each day. This could be as simple as letting each of your children open the calendar in turns. Our family opens it from oldest to youngest and then repeats. It’s also a good idea to specify when you plan on opening your advent calendar most days.
Make it simple
If you want to spend time with your family this December, keep the activities simple! That super intense Polar Express night with hot chocolate, crafts, reading the book and watching the movie might be fun. But it might also be stressful. Instead of setting yourself up to quit before the month is through, keep things easy. If you want to do a Polar Express night, chose just one or two activities.
I like to choose family activities that are easily planned and accomplished. When I feel like an activity has too many steps or things to prepare, I’m much more likely to put it off.
In addition, be flexible with your schedule! Although it’s a great idea to have a schedule, tell yourself it’s just a loose plan. You want to give yourself the freedom to change things at the last minute if your original plan is too complicated or does not work with your day.
Free printable advent calendar activities
I’ve done the hard work for you! I’ve included the 62 activities found below, as well as some blank cards so you can write your own. Grab the free printable activity cards below.
Family advent calendar ideas
There are many fun and easy ways for families to spend time together during December. Below is a list of our favorite family time activities for advent.
- Give a gift to someone in need.
- Visit a nursing home to sing carols or bring gifts
- Bring gifts to neighbors and friends
- Create gift baskets to deliver to those in need
- Send a care package to someone who lives far away
In the Kitchen
- Make gingerbread houses
- Use cookie cutters to make sugar cookies
- Bake treats for a friend
- Create a hot chocolate bar (and then drink hot chocolate)
- Make reindeer food (oatmeal and glitter—dusted in the yard on Christmas Eve)
- Make breakfast for dinner
- Kids choice dinner
- Order takeout for dinner
- Make a stovetop Christmas potpourri
- Make snow cones using real snow and fruit juice
- Make hot apple cider
- Attend, or listen to a Christmas devotional
- Read or re-enact the story of Christs birth
- Attend a Christmas church service
- Visit a live nativity
- Decorate the Christmas tree
- Put up holiday decorations
- Make a paper chain to count down to Christmas
- Make a popcorn and cranberry garland
- Go see Santa
- Go to a restaurant for a pie taste off (order 1 slice per person and decide whose pie is the best)
- Drive around to look at Christmas lights
- Go caroling
- Go to the library and check out holiday books
- Go purchase a Christmas tree.
- Go star gazing
- Go see a Christmas parade
- Visit an ice castle or similar local attraction
- Make an ornament
- Color Christmas pictures
- Make homemade Christmas cards
- Make homemade wrapping paper
- Make homemade birdfeeders
- Make orange and clove pomander balls
- Make and hang snowflakes
- Make origami ornaments
- Make snow globes out of mason jars
Fun at home
- Read a Christmas book
- Do an eggnog taste off (choose 2 or 3 different brands to test)
- Donate unwanted toys
- Write a letter to Santa
- Have a picnic by the Christmas tree
- Bow hunt (Hide inexpensive gift bows around the house, turn out the light and have the kids find them with flashlights).
- Candy cane hunt
- Watch a Christmas movie.
- Play a board game
- Do a puzzle
- Make a fort in front of the Christmas tree
- Dance party
- Pillow fight
- Learn about a Christmas tradition from another culture
- Roast marshmallows in the fireplace
- Go ice skating
- Have a snowball fight (use balled up socks if there is no snow)
- Build a snowman
- Go snowshoeing
- Go sledding