Opening the first door on an advent calendar is like the first trumpet of Christmas. It’s a simple but brilliant way to get the festive season going even if you’re not quite prepared to get the rest of the decorations up yet.
You could certainly buy a good advent calendar. There are plenty of imaginative options to choose from these days. If you’re prepared to spend a little money, you can even get calendars with daily gifts of Lego or miniature story books.
But making your own advent calendar is much cheaper and MUCH more fun. Here are three ideas to get you started.
1. The Miniature Stocking Calendar
For this, you need 24 tiny stockings. If you’ve got the time and the skills, you could knit the individual socks. For those of us who don’t, though, you can quickly assemble them out of two L-shaped pieces of felt, glued or stapled together. You need to create enough room inside to hold a small gift, such as a pick ‘n’ mix sweet or perhaps a Lego figurine. A third alternative, if you’ve still got them, is to use 12 pairs of old baby-socks, although you’ll do well to make them look festive!
Once you have your 24 stockings, attach a loop of thread to the top of each one and thread this through a piece of card with the day’s number written on it.
You’ll also need to make a backboard upon which to hang the stockings. We used a simple sheet of cloth, with buttons sewn on -- the hoop of each stocking then slips neatly over its partner button. You could alternatively adapt a pin board, or buy little hooks from a craft shop.
2. Boxes Of Delights
For this advent calendar, you’ll need to source 24 small boxes, preferably each the same size. You can make your own by copying this box pattern onto card, cutting out and glueing (but leave the final side unglued, so it opens as a door).
Alternatively (and much more exciting) get hold of lots of small boxes of sweets (e.g. candy sticks), empty them out (eat later) and turn the boxes inside out.
Once you’ve got your 24 blank boxes, you’ll need to decorate the doors individually. You can do this however you like -- with tinsel, glitter, collage or simple drawings. So long as each one is different and carries a number. Put sweets or gifts inside each box, then reseal. You can now display them however you like. You might want to form a pyramid, in imitation of a Christmas tree. Six along the bottom, then building up five, four, three, two, and then a tower of ones. Glue the boxes together for stability if you like, but make sure the doors are accessible.
3. Dangling Advent
Have you ever pinned string to a wall and hung Christmas cards off it? You can use this concept to create an alternative advent calendar. This is the easiest of the three ideas to make. All you need are 24 small pieces of paper. Fold each one over to make a ‘card’. Let the kids have fun putting seasonal decorations on to these, along with the 24 numbers. Now, you need to write a “secret advent message” inside each one. This could be a daily clue to find a treat. Or it could be a mini-challenge the kids have to complete in order to unlock a gift. Or it could just be a naff Christmas joke. Whatever works for your household.
Instead of dangling cards, you could alternatively use pendant cups, pegged onto a line. The cups should each be labelled with a number, and can contain a daily treat (make sure they’re not too heavy or you’ll suffer line sag!).
All of these designs assume a 24-day countdown, but there’s no reason you can’t adapt the tradition to count all the way to New Year if you like.
Have a jolly old time, however you plan to count down advent.
More ideas for making calendars (of all types)
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.