Especially for children, Advent calendars are the ultimate way to count the days until Christmas. Opening the calendar every day gives them a small delight and visibly brings them closer to the celebrations.
Of course, Advent calendars can be bought in many shops. They come with colourful pictures, glitter, chocolate and many other things. But why don't you make things a bit more personal and make an Advent calendar yourself?
This guide will tell you how to make your own fillable Advent calendar that you can use over and over again for many years. What you need is mostly: a bit of time, some patience and a little bit of skill and creativity. Some of the calendars suggested here are only for people with a certain degree of expertise whilst others can easily be made by beginners.
Every calendar in this Entry consists of a kind of 'container' and a means of hanging it up. You can mix and match all these things in whichever way you like.
The containers are the pieces of the calendar which you can later fill with little treats. You will have to make 24 or 25 of them. The exact size of your containers depends on what you want to fill them with. They can be so small that only one piece of candy fits into them, but usually boxes will be about 5cm in size and bags and socks about 10cm.
You don't have to make containers for every day. For example, you can also wrap little presents using, for instance, Christmas wrapping paper. Cut out small cards and number them from 1 to 24. Punch a hole in one corner and thread the ribbon through this, before tying it around the parcel.
If you want to fill your calendar with sweets you can also use paper to wrap them like candy. Take a rectangular piece of paper which you can wrap around the item about 1½ times. Then twist the paper at one end in one direction, twisting the other end in the opposite direction. Tie both ends with ribbon and attach a number as described above.
If you want to use little boxes as containers you can, of course, simply buy them. You can also look around in your house and see what kinds of small boxes you already have and then stick Christmas wrapping paper on them (instead of boxes the little plastic canisters from old-fashioned 35mm films work well for instance). Of course you first have to cut the paper to the right size and shape. It does not matter if the boxes do not all look exactly the same.
You can use matchboxes. Of course you first have to use up all the matches or store them somewhere else. It is also possible to buy white, empty matchboxes in some arts and crafts supply stores or online. If you have white boxes it is possible to paint them, otherwise wrap Christmas paper around the outer part of the box (not on the little drawer, otherwise you won't be able to use it any more). Glue it down smoothly on each side of the box.
You can also make little boxes yourself. For this you can use either thin cardboard or thick paper. The paper itself can be coloured or plain white or grey, in which case you will have to either paint it or decorate it with wrapping paper later. To make your own box, copy the pattern onto the paper or card, cut it out and glue it together.
In addition to paint and paper you can of course decorate the boxes using stickers, glitter, sparkly stones, artificial flowers, feathers or whatever else you or the person receiving the calendar may like. You can of course also use other kinds of paper than Christmas paper.
Instead of hanging the boxes up later you can also make a small paper train with each box looking like a carriage. If you want realistic wheels you can stick a toothpick through the box near to its bottom and attach either cardboard wheels or cut slices from a cork. If you don't want to make an engine yourself you can take one from a toy train. You can also build a town of little cardboard houses to which you add trees (for instance little green paper cones) and even people and whatever else you can think of.
To mark different boxes for different days you have the following options. If your boxes are not too colourful you can simply write the number on them in a bright, clear colour. If you used too-colourful or busily-patterned paper you can cut little paper stars or circles or other shapes, write the number on them and glue them onto the boxes. You can also use stickers with pre-printed numbers on them. If you heavily decorated the boxes and can't find any space for numbers you can also write them on small pieces of cardboard (they can be any shape you like), punch a hole in one corner and attach them with a string once the boxes are filled.
After filling your boxes, tie them decoratively with ribbon, raffia, cord, or similar. This will not only keep the boxes closed firmly until the day they should be opened but will also enable you to hang them up.
There are basically two methods to make socks for your calendar: knitting and sewing. If you can knit you can make small socks that way. Use any colour of wool that you like; remember that not all socks have to look the same so maybe this is a chance to use up any remaining wool from previous projects. Remember to attach a loop to the upper back end of the sock so you can hang it up.
To sew socks you need some pretty, colourful or seasonal printed fabric (again not every sock has to be from the same fabric). Cut a sock-shaped template out of cardboard or stiff card, so that you can use it to make several identical socks. Don't forget to cut it slightly larger all round (about 1cm) than a usual sock would be. Put the cardboard sock on the back of the cloth and draw around it, then cut it out. Turn the cardboard over and cut a second piece of fabric to mirror your first one. Put them on top of each other, with the insides out and sew all round, leaving the top open. Hem the top and turn the sock out the right way. Fix a loop of string or ribbon on the upper back end of the sock so you can later hang it up. You can decorate your sock in any way you like, with ribbons, buttons, lace, artificial fur or whatever you can think of. For adding a number to each sock you can either use embroidery (it's best to do this before you sew the parts together) or special pens for writing on textiles.
For an easier version you can use different coloured felt. Make yourself a cardboard template as explained above and draw its outline twice on felt of the same colour. Cut them out and lay them on top of each other. Use a thick, coloured thread (eg embroidery silk) to sew them together by hand using large stitches. It is good if you use a thread of a colour which contrasts with your felt. Fix a loop of string or ribbon on the sock, decorate and add numbers as above.
For each bag you need a piece of fabric about three times as long as it is wide. For your choice of fabric, see the sock ideas above. Fold it in half with the inside out and sew it together down both sides. Hem the top, then turn the bag the right way out.
Decorate the bags in any way you like. Then take a piece of not too short thick string or cord of your choice and sew it near to the top of the bag with a few stitches through the middle. When the bag is filled, tie the cord round the top. Alternatively, you can thread it through the hem at the top, tying knots at the ends so it can't slip through. If you want you can also attach a bead at each end. To attach a number you can again use the ideas mentioned above for the socks.
How to Hang Them Up
Whichever way you choose to arrange your calendar, never order your presents by number. It is much more fun to search for the right gift every day and not have them in the right order.
The easiest way to hang up your parcels, bags or socks is just taking a long piece of not too thick rope, string, washing line or some wide ribbon and string them along it. This can be done by tying them on the rope with the ribbon they are tied with or using wooden clothes pegs which can be painted. The numbers for the days can then be written on the peg, or on a little card stuck to the peg. The rope should have a length of about 2.5m or longer (remember that it won't hang straight). If you don't mind the containers hanging very close, 1.5m may be enough. If you don't have much space you can also hang the rope vertically from the ceiling or from a hook higher up on the wall.
To make the rope a bit more Christmassy you can for instance wind a garland or tinsel around it or attach it with ribbons. Or you could not use a rope at all but take the garland itself to hang up the calendar – just be sure that it can bear the weight. You can even attach (plastic) Christmas balls and other ornaments to it.
You can hang this calendar up on hooks on the wall. Just be sure not to hang it too high because it should not be too hard to reach to get the presents.
Vases and Jars
Boxes and parcels in particuar can just be attached to a long ribbon or cord with a number at its other end. You can then put them into a glass jar with the present in the jar and the number dangling over the top – be sure that the ribbons are long enough. Much fun can surely be had untangling the cords/ribbons when you pull on the number for the day!
Another option is to put some pine or fir twigs into a large vase and hang your advent calendar on it, along with decorations like ribbons and baubles as the twigs will look rather bare once the fourth week of Advent arrives. If you prefer it is even possible to take a bare branch from a tree instead of pine or fir. For a different kind of Christmas decoration you can (spray) paint it any colour and decorate it in unusual ways. Garlands? Artificial flowers? Little birds? Anything is possible if it fits with your interior design.
If you don't have much space you can hang all your presents from one or more clothes hangers. Attach ribbons or cords of different lengths to your containers and then hang them up on the clothes hanger. There should never be two ribbons of the same length too close to each other so the presents don't touch. Wooden clothes hangers can be painted or decorated with Christmas paper and ribbons.
You can also take a piece of fabric about the size of two tea towels, joined together at the narrow end, with a small hole exactly in the middle, which you then put the hook of the hanger through, so that the material hangs down on both sides. It will possibly need to be sewn down to allow for the slope of the shoulders of the hanger. Attach the presents to the cloth. You can find more ideas about decorating it in the 'textiles' section below.
If you don't want to sew something yourself you can also buy a T-shirt which you hang on your clothes hanger. Attach the presents with safety pins. The T-shirt itself could be the final present for Christmas.
If you have a jigsaw and are able to use it, you can make a wooden panel as a background for your calendar. The size depends on the size of your containers, they should have enough space around them and not touch each other when you hang them up. Take a wooden board and draw a shape of your chosen size on it. This can for instance be a star, a Christmas tree, a snowman, Santa or anything else with a winter or Christmas theme. Cut it out, smooth the edges with sandpaper or a file, and remove any splinters. Drill a hole in the top so it can be hung up. Then paint it in any colours you like, varnish it or leave it as it is. You can also decorate the wood with Christmas paper napkins, coloured paper or wallpaper. Put nails or little hooks in the places where you want to hang up your presents. (This may not be suitable in households where there are small children).
Instead of hanging it up you can also stand it on a flat wooden base, but take care that the bottom edge of your panel is not too short (a star shape would therefore not be suitable for this). Stabilise it with two triangular pieces of wood at right angles both to the base and to your panel. Glue, screw or nail everything together – hammering in nails or inserting the screws from underneath the base plate. If you put this somewhere where it stands free, on an occasional table, for example, you can now hang up your little gifts on both sides.
If you want to make something more three-dimensional you can, for instance, cut out two Christmas tree (or other symmetrical) shapes and put them together at right angles. To do this, measure the thickness of your wood and cut a slit of that width from the bottom to half way up on one tree shape and from the top to halfway down on the other. This way they fit into each other. If they don't, you may have to file or sand them down. You can hang things on all sides of your ornament now.
People who are good at sewing may prefer this method to make something for hanging up your calendar. Measure out a piece of fairly heavy-duty fabric big enough to take all your bags or socks, parcels or boxes with a little space to spare. Hem the edges.
To make your cloth background for your calendar hang straight, cut two pieces of dowelling, each as long or a bit longer than your cloth is wide (depending on if you want it to be visible later). Sew a 'tunnel' on the upper and the lower side of your cloth, wide enough to stick the pole through it. Tie a long piece of cord or ribbon to the ends of the top dowel to hang it up by. You can also pull your material like a sleeve over a piece of cardboard or wood to make it hang straight. Alternatively to dowelling a clothes hanger can be used.
If you have used a plain fabric for the background, you can cut stars or other shapes from different colour fabrics and sew them on to it. You can even appliqué a picture with people, a colourful Christmas tree, angels, Santa and anything else you like by using many different kinds of cloth, lace, wool (for instance as hair) and so on. You can also use embroidery, there are plenty of motifs for Christmas to be found in books or magazines. It is even possible to make the whole background look like a small patchwork quilt.
For hanging up the presents, sew an appropriate number of buttons or little hooks onto your background. Choose something that fits your design in colour, shape and size. Be aware that once you hang everything up, a big part of your background will be covered, but when you take the empty bags down there will be more and more visible each day.
Instead of making separate containers you can also sew pockets directly on your cloth. Just leave them open or add a button and button hole to close them properly.
Filling your Calendar
Of course you can fill your calendar with whatever you like and whatever fits into the containers you made. The most obvious thing to use may be candy and small pieces of chocolate. It is best to buy a bag with various flavours so there is something different in the calendar every day.
Another option is small toys, which you can also put into the calendar as an alternative to sweets or on special days (for instance every Sunday). If you prefer something more fancy you can also take one bigger toy that comes in smaller parts (Lego for instance) or a collection of toys that belong together (such as a zoo or a farm with different animals) and put one piece per day into the calendar. If the toy has less than 24 pieces, fill up the remaining days with sweets. Older children may even enjoy a model building kit.
Rather than sweets, adults may like a small Christmas ornament or a short poem every day. You can write your poems on small pieces of paper which you roll like a scroll and tie with a narrow ribbon before putting into the calendar. You can even put figures for a crib into it.
Now you hopefully have some ideas about how to make an Advent calendar. If you feel anything is missing or have a completely different idea please feel free to start a conversation below. And if you had fun making a calendar, maybe you will also make home-made Christmas presents this year?