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In this post: Looking for Advent calendar ideas for the whole family to enjoy? Check out these options that range from yummy treats to simple activities to more complex projects to fill your Christmas countdown calendar.
Although Advent Calendars haven’t been around for long, they’ve become rather a holiday tradition and a mainstay of the Holiday Season. Here are several Advent Calendar ideas for the whole family to enjoy!
The Advent Season
The Advent Season represents the start of a new church calendar (also called a liturgical calendar) and marks the four weeks of celebration and preparation leading up to Christmas and the birth of baby Jesus.
The word ‘advent’ means coming in Latin.
Advent traditionally begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas, making it last for about a month. Although some simply begin on the first day of December and use December 1st to the 24th or 25th to celebrate – especially when using an Advent Calendar to celebrate – just to simplify and know exactly when to begin.
Here are the next few years’ traditional (based on the four Sundays before Christmas) Advent dates for you:
- In 2021, Advent begins on Sunday, November 28th, and runs until Friday, December 24th.
- In 2022, it begins on Sunday, November 27th, and runs until Saturday, December 24th.
- In 2023, Advent begins on Sunday, December 3rd, and runs until Sunday, December 14th.
- In 2024, it begins on Sunday, December 1st, and runs until Tuesday, December 24th.
- In 2025, Advent begins on Sunday, November 20th, and runs until Wednesday, December 24th.
How do people celebrate Advent?
Advent is celebrated around the world by Christians everywhere and there are many traditions and ways of celebrating, including some of the following.
01. The Advent Wreath
The Advent Wreath is made of various greens and as a never-ending circle symbolizes the eternity of God and everlasting life because of Christ.
02. Advent Candles
The four Advent candles, each lit on one of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, represent different things each week.
- The first week’s candle, traditionally a purple candle, represents hope.
- The second week, also a purple candle, symbolizes faith.
- The third week’s candle, a pink one usually, represents joy.
- And the fourth week’s candle, a final purple candle, symbolizes peace.
Sometimes the Advent Wreath and Candles are combined on one beautiful display of faith, hope, love, and joy.
03. Other ways to celebrate Advent include:
- putting up a Christmas tree
- listening to music like Handel’s Messiah
And of course by using…
04. An Advent Calendar
What is an Advent Calendar?
An Advent Calendar is a way to count down the days until Christmas and build excitement.
There are all sorts of Advent calendars ranging from disposable cardboard calendars filled with small chocolates to more elaborate DIY advent calendars that involve activities instead of treats. We’ll look at several ideas and options in this article.
Typically, Advent Calendars begin on December 1st and go until the 24th or 25th.
The History of the Christmas Advent Calendar
The Advent Calendar dates back to the 19th century when families would mark every day leading up to Christmas Eve with a chalk line.
Pre World War 2 German-born Gerhard Lang was printing Advent calendars. But during the war, cardboard was rationed and he had to stop.
After the war, Richard Sellmer of Stuttgart created a calendar called “Little Lawn” with a traditional winter scene. By 1946, Sellmer was producing them en masse. Then in the 1950s, his calendars were exported to the US and were more affordable.
Later, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandchildren were photographed opening an Advent Calendar. The photo ran in several national newspapers in the U.S. After that it seemed that Advent Calendars became more popular.
Today, many commercial Advent Calendars are aimed at children or as a means for companies to get sample-sized versions of their products into consumers’ hands.
But much like all parts of modern-day, consumer-driven Christmas celebrations, we can choose to make our Advent Calendars focus on whatever we like.
Who started the idea of advent chocolate calendars?
The first chocolate Advent calendar appeared in 1958. But in 1971 Cadbury began making them and they sold them intermittently from 1972 to 1986. They finally made them a regular mainstay of the Holiday Season beginning in 1993.
Should an Advent Calendar have 24 or 25 days?
Advent Calendars can actually have either 24 or 25 days. Usually, how many days one has depends on family traditions and personal preferences.
Many calendars with 25 days have 24 smaller treats, or gifts and a larger one on the 25th.
Types of Advent Calendars
There are SO many types of Advent Calendars ranging from big to small and every size and type in between.
- Grocery and big-box stores carry ready-made calendars filled with small treats or chocolates. These are usually made by companies like Cadbury, Hershey’s, or Lindt.
- Some brands fill Advent Calendars with sample- or travel-size versions of their products in an effort to get them hooked on buying full-size versions. Stores like The Body Shop, Sephora, and others do this with beauty products.
- Others like Lego, include pieces you can use to build something. Puzzle Advent Calendars are another version of this type of calendar.
- There are reusable Advent Calendars that can be filled with whatever small gifts you like.
- You can also make your own DIY Advent Calendar filled with treats or even a variety of family activities.
The choice is completely up to you!
Ideas for Advent Calendar Fillers
Of course, the simplest way to fill your calendar is to put a small piece of individually-wrapped chocolate, candy canes, or candy behind each door.
But since Advent falls smack dab in the middle of cold and flu season, all that sugar is not really a good idea if you want to stay healthy through the Holidays. (Sugar weakens/suppresses your immune system making it harder to fight off sicknesses.)
So here are some little gifts that you can put into your Advent Calendars this year…
What else can you put in an Advent calendar besides candy?
Depending on the physical size of your Advent Calendar of choice, there are almost infinite ideas for fillers.
Here are just a few Advent Calendar Filler ideas for you…
Advent Calendar Filler Ideas for Kids
Depending on the age of your kiddos, you can put the following fillers in your Advent Calendar:
- Something small and healthy to eat or drink (see below for specific edible Advent Calendar ideas)
- Something to wear like a new shirt or socks
- Stuff for creating like markers, pens, stamps, etc.
- Coloring pages
- Play food
- Activity sheets
- Lego set
- Puzzle pieces
- Mini craft kits
- Other toys
- Flavored lip gloss/chapstick
- Christmas book or other books in a series they love
- Temporary tattoos
- Bath bombs
- Bible verse of the day
- Hair accessories like clips/ties/ribbons
- Christmas jewelry
- Everyday jewelry
Advent Calendar Ideas for Adults
Here are several Advent gift ideas for her + Advent gift ideas for him:
- Temporary tattoos or stickers
- Bubble bath
- Bath bombs
- Travel-size hand moisturizers
- Nail polish/lip balm/the essentials
- Christmas jewelry
- Regular jewelry like bracelets, earrings, rings, necklaces
- Christmas movies/specials
- New recipes
- Individual eye shadows
- Photos of the years that passed
- Daily joke or riddle
- Bible verse of the day
- Movie/concert tickets
Edible Advent Calendar Filler Ideas
There are all sorts of ideas of edible things you can include in your Advent Calendar. Try mini versions of:
- Christmas cookies (still watch the sugar with these thou
- granola bars
- juice boxes
- nut/seed butters
- condiments/hot sauces
- k-cups or Nespresso pods (not recommended for the kiddos 😉)
- flavored teas
- specialty cheeses
- cured meats
- flavored popcorns or popcorn seasonings
- alcohol (obviously strictly for the drinking-age adults only!)
*Just be sure to keep Advent Calendars filled with food out of reach of pets and young children.
DIY Advent Calendar Ideas
We have shared a few different kinds of DIY Advent Calendars here at Home Made Lovely, including one using cheapo paper bags and another with Bible verse printables! Check out the video and tutorials below.
Advent Calendar Activity Ideas
Of course, while gifts are fun, your Advent Calendar can also be an activity calendar filled with Christmas activities and random acts of kindness for those around you.
How to Plan an Activity Advent Calendar
When planning activities for your Advent Calendar be sure to look at the family schedule for the month of December and be realistic. There’s nothing worse than planning all sorts of fun activities that you can’t actually do because someone has a dentist appointment or there’s a school concert to go to.
01 | After you’ve looked at your schedule, grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and brainstorm a list of activities your family loves to do together. Include an estimate of how long each one takes to do from start to finish.
02 | Then include any activities you’d like to do to help others in need this season.
03 | Sort each brainstormed list into the order you’d most like to do them in. If tobogganing is high on the list then it should take precedence on your list over something else that’s less of a priority. Remember this is mostly for fun, so don’t worry too much. You can always include an activity on next year’s Advent Calendar.
04 | Now plot out on a piece of paper when you can fit your chosen activities into your calendar based on time and existing events.
05 | Write out/type and print out the activities on a small paper or card stock and tuck them into your Advent Calendar on the appropriate day.
Advent Calendar Activity Ideas
We have a whole printable list of printable Advent Activity Calendar Ideas here in this article. But here are 15 ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Check them out and then go download the full set of printables.
- making a bird feeder
- going caroling
- writing a letter to Santa
- making paper chains
- make a classic popcorn garland
- bake cookies
- build a gingerbread house (to eat or just for decor)
- make salt dough ornaments
- make and eat a red and green only meal together
- visit a local nativity
- read the Christmas story from the Bible (Luke 2: 1-20)
- attend a candlelit church service
- decorate the tree
- spray snow the windows
- drive around on Christmas eve and look at Christmas lights
Ideas for Advent Activities that Help Others
Often the Holiday Season is a time when those in need or having a rough time feel their pain more acutely than at other times. As Christians, we are called to help the ‘windows and orphans’ – or more broadly the needy. If you’re not Christian, you’re still a human being, and with that comes the responsibility to look after others.
If you want to add activities that help others to your Advent Calendar celebrations leading up to the holidays, here are ten ideas. Of course, also check with your local charities and non-profit organizations to see what needs you can best fill in your area right now.
- Fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child
- Visit a retirement home and hand out Christmas cookies or small gifts
- Write letters to family and friends, or members of the military serving overseas or away from home
- Go to the store to specifically donate to the Salvation Army Christmas kettlebell
- Serve a meal together at a local soup kitchen
- Raid the pantry and donate to the local food kitchen/pantry
- Anonymously pay for the person behind you in line at the coffee shop or restaurant
- Take pet treats to your local animal shelter
- Declutter your in good shape but not used toys, books, and clothes and bring them to your local donation center
- Go through a charity’s catalog and choose a gift to donate together. World Vision, Compassion, Feed the Children, Save the Children, and others all have Christmas catalogs that you can order from.
Family-Friendly Christmas Movies for the Advent Season
Of course, late fall and winter is a great time to curl up with the fam for a great movie. Here are some ideas for your family movie night during the Advent Season:
- Home Alone. A modern classic that’s not really Christian-focused. But it does focus in the end on loving your family and neighbors no matter how flawed they (we) all are. Of course, it’s humorous and there is one decent sequel (and a couple not-so-good ones).
- White Christmas. A musical we all love. The lessons here involve telling the truth, communication, and remembering to include family and friends in our lives (not just work). The dance numbers are so fun too.
- Miracle on 25th Street. Although the movie does focus on Santa being real, there’s also a lot of love and rallying behind the good and kind, vs the “just out to make a buck” mentality of Christmas. Plus I’m a sucker for a romantic ending. (I like the more recent version more than the old one.)
- The Santa Claus. This one is just plain fun. The two sequels are good too.
- Christmas with the Kranks. Aside from an awkward scene in a mall tanning place, this is my favorite holiday movie. It’s funny, speaks to the meaning of love, selfishness AND selflessness, and rallying behind neighbors when they’re struggling – even when they’re struggling because they’ve been foolish. (And now as my kids are much older, I can totally relate to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Nora Krank character when her daughter leaves for the Peace Corps and then comes home for the Holidays unexpectedly.)
Of course, there’s also Elf, The Grinch, The Polar Express, Jingle All the Way, and several others. And if your kids are younger, Veggie Tales has a few classic Christmas movies that tell good stories in a kid-friendly way.
Pre-Made Advent Calendars For Kids and Adults from Amazon
If you’re looking for a ready-made option, Amazon has loads. Just check the shipping dates to be sure you get it asap. And definitely look into Amazon Prime if you don’t have it already. We save so much money on shipping with Prime, it’s crazy!
From Amazon.ca (for my Canadian friends):
- LEGO City Advent Calendar 60303 Building Kit
- Disney and Pixar’s Cars Minis Advent Calendar Playset
- Playmobil Back to The Future Advent Calendar
- 2021 Advent Calendar MAGIC & TRICKS by The Purple Cow
From Amazon.com (for my U.S. friends):
Resources used for this post
These are for reference only. We do not recommend or endorse these websites or their content.
- What Is Advent Season? A Closer Look at the Christian Tradition – Our Little Roses
- A Short History of the Advent Calendar – Parenta
- A Brief History of Advent Calendars – Mental Floss
- Advent Explained – Vox