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An easy, no-frills Advent calendar

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by Tsh

Tsh is the founder of this blog and lives in Bend, Oregon with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

I know you’re up to your eyeballs preparing for Thanksgiving. I am, too. But one of my favorite post-meal activities is to craft, so I make sure I have the craft supplies I need by Wednesday. As in today.

Yeah, there’s football. But I’ve never been good at just sitting there in front of the TV.

We’re headed to our in-laws today, and I’m bringing stuff to make Jesse Tree ornaments. But an advent calendar is another great Thanksgiving Day craft project—I’ve always had intentions on making one, but time slips by, and before I know it, it’s December 1. Kinda defeating to make one after that.

A ridiculously easy advent calendar

So I made one this week, and it couldn’t be simpler. It was made from things around the house and a quick trip to the local craft store.

Our super simple advent calendar

I should warn you in advance—I’ve been working on the calendar at night, so as to surprise the kids, so the photos aren’t the best. Night photos and all. Anyway.

I already had a large frame I snagged from the Habitat ReStore. It was glassless—perfect.

I then taped rows of ribbon along the back.

Then I bought some plain bookmarks from Joann’s. Sets of 20 were $2.50, so I had to buy two. Still not bad.

I was planning on using number stickers to label the tags 1 through 25, but I bumped into this scrapbook paper. Couldn’t be more perfect.

I cut out the numbers and glued them on upside down, near the bottom. I may coat the top with Mod Podge later, but I just wanted it done for now.

Then I folded them in half.

I had a few more sheets of scrapbook paper, which I cut into strips and gluestick-ed on clothespins. They’re the miniature versions, also from Joann’s.

advent

Now, I knew I wanted an activity-oriented advent calendar, but I didn’t want to write anything permanent. We’ve spent Christmases in a wide variety of places; there’s no telling where we’ll be from year to year.

So, I just wrote activities on Sticky Notes. Yeah, I could make it look more festive… but if I wait to make everything perfect, it would never happen. My kids won’t care, and I’m fine with it.

Inside the advent calendar

This way, I can change activities from year to year, or even switch them around this year as the month rolls on. A fresh coat of snow today? Let’s bump up “make a snowman” to today and push back “bake cookies.”

Then, once we’ve done the day’s activity, we’ll flip the card inside out and hang the little picture.

Here are this year’s activities:

  1. Open a gift! (Inside are new Christmas pajamas)
  2. Find and decorate a Christmas tree
  3. Go downtown for the Christmas parade
  4. Go to The Nutcracker! (this is just the girls… the boys will probably do something manly, like have a snowball war)
  5. Drink hot cocoa and watch The Polar Express
  6. String popcorn garland for the tree
  7. Help address cards and watch classic Christmas cartoons
  8. Make paper snowflakes
  9. Attend our homeschool co-op’s Christmas party!
  10. Get together with family friends to play games
  11. Pop popcorn and Watch Elf
  12. Make a new ornament for the tree
  13. Go to the local museum (which has recreated Christmas from the 19th century)
  14. Build a snowman
  15. Bake cookies
  16. Buy a gift for a child with Angel Tree
  17. Walk around Sisters (a nearby small town that’s decked out for the holidays)
  18. Make snow angels
  19. Watch A Christmas Story
  20. Skype with friends to wish them a merry Christmas
  21. Make easy gingerbread houses
  22. Drive around and look at Christmas lights
  23. Watch A Nativity Story
  24. Go to the Christmas Eve service at church
  25. Have a Merry Christmas!

An easy, no-frills Advent calendar, on The Art of Simple

If you plan on making an advent calendar, don’t forget to do it early—as in, before December 1. But don’t stress over making it elaborate or perfect. Your kids will be excited either way.

What’s one of your favorite holiday activities?

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Comments

  1. I was looking forward to reading your post today, as always. I love this idea, and I would totally do it, but we have very little wall space with a 4 person family in barely 900 square feet. Do you have space saving ideas for this? I guess if you put magnets on the back of the clothes pins, it could be used on the fridge. But then the kids would probably play with it…

    • There are tons of ideas on Pinterest—on the fridge, strung together as garland on a shelf, etc. If it helps, our house is only 1098 square feet, and we’ve got room for this. It’s not huge.

      • Thanks Tsh! I always forget about Pinterest. I’ll have to check them out on there. Wow – you don’t have much more space than we do!

      • I don’t have much wall space in my house, so I’m trying to think of a way to do mine differently too. I might hang them off my banister, off a shelf (garland style as Tsh suggested) or put them on a long length of wide ribbon, hanging vertically on a wall. Still figuring it out, but I love the idea of it. Thanks Tsh!

    • avatar
      Andrea at TheTrainToCrazy.com says:

      You could put it in a window if that works.

    • I just use the curtain on my kitchen window. This way I already have decoration for our very small kitchen and the girls look forward to open each days envelop before breakfast. We have bistro curtains, that only go halfway up the window. Just clip the numbers on with little clothes-pins.

  2. Thanks for the great idea Tsh. I tried a make your own Advent Calendar last year with my son, but it didn’t quite go as planned and was never fully completed. This gives me a bit more direction, I’ll have to get started right away!

  3. I absolutely love this. I’ve always seen elaborate calendars that would take hours to make. I would print out instructions and lists and then just let it sit. Another year gone with no calendar except the cheap chocolate candy kind from the grocery store. ;) I can do this without much prep and little time. Thanks!

  4. What a great post! Detailed, yet not overwhelming. I’m adding necessary pieces to my store list for today.

  5. Oh thank you! I’m not the most crafty person but this I can do!

  6. Love, love, love!!! I want to do it!!!

  7. I love this advent idea! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful post and for pointing out that it does not need to be perfect to be great! I get so hung up sometimes on getting things “just right” that I end up with a lot of unfinished projects. I think this project would be easy enough to even get the kids involved! One question, what is the name of the scrapbook paper and where did you find it? It is so cute!

    • Let’s see…. it’s a packet of paper I bought at Joann’s, and it’s called Tidings of Comfort and Joy by K&Company.

  8. Awesome Idea! I love this! They sell advent calendars in the store but of course, you can’t personalize them with your own activities. Since I’m planning on simplifying everything else surrounding my Holiday festivities I’ll have more time to do fun things with family…and I’ll be making one of these calendars very soon! : ) Thanks Again!

  9. I like this idea, and I’m going to share this post on the Onespot Allergy Facebook page. My fans have trouble finding allergen friendly advent calendars (the chocolate type) that are affordable. If you’d like to comment there, my page is http://www.facebook.com/OnespotAllergy.

  10. I have asked my family for things they would like to do one on one with my kids so I can add these to our Advent calendar (bake cookies with Auntie, go look at tractors with Grampa). It not only gives the kids special time with grandparents, aunts, uncles and older siblings but it will buy me a few moments to wrap presents or just drink a cup of coffee while it’s hot!

  11. I love it! Thanks for inspiring us. I do have a wooden calendar with little boxes, but I am going to grab your list and use quite a few. Thank you. Someday my crafty daughter will make one like this though, I feel sure.
    Blessings! Beth

  12. Love it! I switch around my activities from day to day too…depending on what comes our way…or sometimes I just have a lot of ideas in my mind and put something in there each night before bed! :)

    • Oh, I love the freedom to switch it up (or create it) last minute! The kids see all the numbers and can get excited for what’s coming, but they don’t have to know that some days are waiting for inspiration. Perfect.

  13. Thanks for the great idea. I’ve always wanted to make one but it seemed too overwhelming. This is perfect!

  14. I did something similar for Thanksgiving–with scraps…you just inspired me: ) Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

  15. I love, love, love this idea! How fun! Thanks as always.

  16. Love this! I already made my Joanne’s shopping list ;)
    Thanks for Sharing!

  17. We did a similar version last year with just 3×5 index cards, ribbon on our pantry door, and… paper clips! Not as cute as yours, but it was quick, festive, and served the purpose.

    Our cards included a portion of the Christmas story and the kids got a small gift that related to that part of the story, but I like the idea of listing activities instead of small gifts.

  18. Love this idea! And I love the “vintage” Christmas scrapbook paper. Can I sneak off to JoAnn’s today??? Maybe! Thanks…and Happy Thanksgiving!

  19. Love this! What a great idea and I love that you didn’t wait for it to be perfect. Perfect never gets done. Good enough is, well, good enough! And I love that you can change them around!
    Bernice

  20. This is nice and pretty but it still sounds like quite a lot of hassle. Just for one year, could we not consider not having an Advent calendar at all? What would happen?
    Regards,
    Gosia

    • I find that the years I don’t have an advent calendar or at least a plan are the very years I get too consumed with the business of the holiday instead of focusing on the real reason. This year I am making a concerted effort to do more meaningful family time and traiditions!

      • Good stuff! Thank you, Jennifer. See, I come from a culture where we do not have Advent calendars but we do observe the entire Advent season with fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving. Ie, we fast through the season, following what can be best described, in Western terms, as a vegan diet (which, of course, means no chocolate!! ;-)

        I am Russian Orthodox.

        Have a good Advent and a blessed Christimas.

        Gosia :-))

  21. avatar
    Suzie Bourne says:

    Soooooooooooooo lovely! I love it – will have to get working on something like this for our kids too!

  22. This is really cute! My 19 month old is too young this year, but I’m excited for a fun advent calendar next year.

    And, “manly snowball fight” made me laugh. :)

    • Kyle pointed out after I wrote it that they would be, “manly putting up lights around the house.” That works for me. :)

  23. What a fun idea! I don’t have kids yet, but it would be a fun way for my husband and I to enjoy the season and do some fun things together. I am going to start brainstorming right now!

  24. I love this. My girls are out-of-control crafty these days and this would be perfect to give them something specific to focus on every day. We have dug out the stack of Christmas books and have started reading one or two every day. It seems so exciting to them because they have not seen these books since last Christmas! It is also time to get out our “giving box” which we add groceries to every week to give to the food bank. It is tough to find little ways of being charitable that young children can understand, but this one works well.

  25. I love this idea, but as I am extremely un-crafty I’m really pleased with an advent “box” I picked up at Target on clearance a few years ago. There are little drawers that slide out and have the numbered days on the front… perfect for little treats, activities, or scripture verses. Sooo fun!

  26. Hey! Where’s “Watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’?”

    Just kidding. We can still be friends if you don’t consider that movie to be an integral part of your December. :-)

    And I’m totally snitching this lovely idea. During date night tonight, we were just talking about planning some activities in an intentional way like this …

    • Um… Wait for next Thursday’s post. :)

      We totally watch it, but the kids don’t love it. It’s a grownup, after-the-kids-are-in-bed thing.

      • And same with Christmas Vacation. We love it, but the kids don’t get the humor enough to be worth the screen time. It’s not Christmas without it for us, though.

  27. This idea is perfect. I am tucking it away for where my kiddies are a litte older!

  28. I am so doing this!! I don’t know when, or how, but I am!
    Thanks for the great tutorial!

  29. love this!!! We’re going to do this over the thanksgiving weekend!!! Happy thanksgiving!

  30. Fabulous! Celebrating advent is a great activity to do with children to deeply plant the truths of the season in their hearts.

    Anyone looking for Advent ornaments/Jesse Tree Ornaments, please stop by my Etsy shop. Ornaments are made to order: etsy.com/acupofjoy

    Deborah
    homemakerhoney.com
    Find me on Etsy: acupofjoy
    Find me on Twitter: @Homemaker_Honey

  31. I am not a crafty person at all, but I love this idea and it’s something my daughter and I can do together. I bought everything, except the frame. I even found the sheet paper. I did buy a strip of magnet to put on the clothespins. All 25 are going on the side of my refrigerator. We started on Wednesday night and still have a ways to go but we will be done by December 1st.

  32. Hey! I have to travel 30 minutes to get to a Joann’s so I thought i would ask about the paper- is it sold by the sheet or in a pack? If it is in a pack, how much does it run? I’m on a tight budget :) Also- did anyone find it somewhere other than Joann’s- like maybe hobby lobby?

    • I could only find the pack, not individual sheets at Joann’s. The book was $7.50. I almost didn’t buy it but couldn’t find anything similar with the numbers. Way more paper than I needed but my daughter loved it and I know it won’t go to waste.

  33. Thank you for this idea! I was looking for an easy and fun advent calendar to make and this one really fit the bill. We shopped for the supplies earlier in the week and just finished the calendar this evening. It was so much fun decorating the bookmarks for the calendar (I did not find the scrapbook paper at our small Jo-ann store). Thanks for sharing! Now I just have to think of activities to put on the inside….

  34. I spent October creating an Advent that focuses on a different name of Jesus every day in December. I still need to finish getting it set up , but I’m fairly close to being finished.

  35. Thank-you! I am newly creative with two little ones and needed help getting this idea off the ground!

  36. Thanks for the encouragement/inspiration! I have been thinking all weekend of things for our family to do this holiday season. Our list includes a Christmas Carol-a-thon. (Even though it will probably involve singing jingle bells at least 20x!) Some phone caroling (probably just to the grandparents), making pine cone bird feeders, and Christmas eve we will take down the advent calendar and hang up our stockings in their place :) (Mainly b/c I am still making the stockings and they are not ready yet!)… I am using alot of your ideas too, thanks again for getting me in gear!

  37. It turned out so beautifully! Maybe I’ll do one next year. My daughter is pretty young and might appreciate it more in 2012.

  38. Nice and simple! I’ve been planning a random-acts-of-kindness advent calendar, but I think I’ll work in some similar activities to foster more enthusiasm from the kiddos.

  39. I love this idea! I’ve been looking for an advent calendar that we could use for a few years and that the kids could have fun with. I love that I could involve the kids in making this one too!

  40. Hi, Tsh. I love this idea – thank you! In case anyone is having trouble finding cute numbers to use (I couldn’t find the scrapbook paper at my local Joann’s or Michael’s), Target has a roll of wrapping paper that is perfect for it. It is all beautiful numbers (#1-25), and the whole roll was only $2.50, so after making the advent calendar there will be wrapping paper left for Christmas (nice!).

  41. Fantastic idea! I’ve been researching different advent calendars, but hadn’t decided on one yet. Like you, if I waited for perfection, it would never get done. I happen to have a large glass-less wood frame I picked out of the neighbor’s trash (they had just bought it and were cleaning out the attic). Now I know what I’m going to do with it!! Thanks!

  42. Thank you, Tsh. I made this calendar over the weekend, and LOVE it. So fun and so simple…perfect for this time of year. It felt great to start and complete a project in the same evening!

  43. I’m almost done making mine- so thankful to have my shopping done so I can plan something fun like this for my kids!

    I especially like that not all of your rows are even…i was trying to figure out how to fit 25 cards in my frame and I was glad to see that yours weren’t quite even steven- you just stuck #25 at the end!

  44. While looking at ideas for my 5 year old twins Advent Calender I stumbled upon your site. Upon looking at your advent calender list, I noticed you mentioned Sisters and then found out you live in Bend (so do we)! I got some great ideas from this post, thank you!!

  45. Thanks so much for the simple idea! I made one for my kids!

  46. Don’t laugh. I know Advent has already begun. I had the flu the week before Thanksgiving, though, and my hubby has it now. I’m also terrified because I’m not crafty. My seven-year old fairy-girl is, though. Seaux- I decided to steal away during half time (Geaux Tigers!). I went to Joann’s (what an overwhelming place) and a kind lady helped me gather all the supplies. She had ideas for deviations, but I explained that I’ve got to crawl before I can walk… I did pick a different color ribbon, though. I’ve not cut or glued a thing, yet, and already I’m quite pleased with myself! Thanks for the inspiration!

  47. Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas with all of us other mamas! Can’t wait to do this! So many of your ideas make it easier for me to be the mommy God has called me to be. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  48. I love how you used things you had on hand (or cheap) to make a frugal, pretty advent calendar

  49. I saw this at some point last year and have been looking forward to making it ever since. I went to Michael\’s tonight and found some really cute, inexpensive materials. I always have such over-the top ambitions to have an epic holiday season, and then I end up burned out and not doing half the stuff I had imagined up. I really love that this incorporates things we would be doing anyway. I don\’t do tons of crafts with my kids, so other advent activities that involve a craft a day are just too much for me. I look forward to having a simple and realistic part of our celebrations this year. Thanks Tsh!

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