12 Advent Calendar Ideas for the Countdown to Christmas

illustrated advent calendar
Devon Jarvis; Illustration by Stuart Kolakovic

For many families, opening 24 Advent gifts is always the best part of the holiday season. Now's the perfect time to start gathering gifts to be opened throughout December. The season of Advent begins on the first of December. As the countdown to Christmas begins, you can keep track of the passing days by marking them on a handmade Advent calendar. The tradition originates in the mid-19th century, when Germans would mark their doors with chalk or light candles to count the days leading up to Christmas. Today, most Advent calendars include paper doors that open to reveal an image, gift, or piece of chocolate. Your calendar can incorporate a theme, too, like family photographs, kids' toys, or treats for your pets. And just like your Christmas gifts, the Advent calendar can be another way to show your appreciation of the people in your life.

Even household staples can be upcycled into an Advent calendar for the home: For one, a shoe organizer is perfect for holding small gifts and treats in the days leading up to Christmas. It's also quick and easy to hang up and display. For another, a photo chain Advent calendar can be a way to celebrate your favorite memories through the years. Just hide photos behind the sliding cards and each day can reveal a new family story.

No matter how your calendar is crafted, it's meant to get everyone into the holiday spirit. It's the countdown to Christmas Day and just as meaningful as the morning of the day itself. Let these handmade Advent calendars inspire you this season.

01 of 12

Envelope Advent Calendar

Seth Smoot

Our simplest Advent calendar to date, this is a minimalist take on the holiday tradition: Form the shape of a Christmas tree with envelopes in various sizes, and mark each with adhesive numbers. Stuff them with thin, lightweight presents, such as gift cards and stickers. Use painters' tape to secure the envelopes to the wall.

Shop Now: Chartpak Vinyl Numbers, 1 1/2", $17.88, amazon.com. Paper Presentation Rouge A9 Envelopes, from $17 for 50, paperpresentation.com.

02 of 12

Shoe-Organizer Advent Calendar

shoe organizer Advent calendar
Addie Juell

Youngsters can hardly contain their excitement this time of year. But you can, with a fun-filled Advent calendar. We stenciled numbers onto a 24-pair canvas hanging shoe bag, stuffed some compartments with wrapped gifts, and filled the rest with supplies for holiday merriment. (The ninth, for instance, holds kid-size utensils for a cookie-baking spree they'll love looking forward to.) Customize the countdown to your family's celebration: Do all 24 pre-Christmas days of December, or trim off a few rows to encompass Hanukkah's eight nights.

Shop Now: HomeCrate 24-Pocket Hanging Canvas Shoe Organizer, in Beige, $27, amazon.com. Ann Clark Cookie Cutters Christmas set, $14 for 11, amazon.com. Pick a Toy Wooden Paddle-Ball Set, $15, amazon.com. Toysmith Pickup-Sticks Game, $8.75, amazon.com. Animal Alley Stuffed Labrador, $35, amazon.com. Yulia Kochevykh Felted Finger Puppets, from $14 each, yuliakochevykh.etsy.com. Cambridge Chocolates Mustache Lollipops, $3 each, cambridgechocolates.etsy.com. Gotham Chocolates "Wild" Bar, $10, gothambarandgrill.com.

03 of 12

Glittered Cones Advent Calendar

glittered cone advent calendar
Pernille Loof

Whether you're lighting up eight nights or counting down 24 days, half the fun of the holidays is the anticipation. Extend the excitement with a twinkling treeline full of hidden presents. We covered paper cones in ray adhesive and metallic glitter, slipped a treat under each, and attached a paper tag with a number sticker to create a free-form calendar. A word to wise men (and women): Wrap your miniature gifts, in case someone sneaks a peek.

Shop Now: Save-on-Crafts Papier-Mâché Cones, 10 1/2", $13 for 6, save-on-crafts.com. Martha Stewart Vintage Leaf Glitter, $16 for 12 0.14-oz. jars, amazon.com. Meyer Imports German Glass Glitter, from $6 for a 1-oz. jar, meyerimports.com.

04 of 12

Pegboard Advent Calendar

Advent calendar
Ryan Liebe

This whimsical Advent calendar comes together in a few basic steps. First, paint a two-by-four-foot pegboard slat; let dry overnight. Using stencils, craft paint, and a brush or sponge, paint the numbers one through 24 on muslin gift bags; let dry overnight. The next day, evenly space 24 small wooden pegs in the board; fill the bags with little toys, candy, and handwritten messages, and hang the bags in order. Then just place it on a console table or ledge, lean it against the wall (or mount it, if you have small children), and let the anticipation build.

Shop Now: Dimensions White Pegboard, 3/16" by 2' by 4', $22, homedepot.com. Snuggly Monkey Cotton Muslin Pouches, 4" by 6", $17.50 for 25, snugglymonkey.com. Krylon ColorMaster Gloss Enamel Spray Paint, in Banner Red, $9.25 for 12 oz., amazon.com. Lara's Crafts Wood Axle Pegs, 1 3/8", $4 for 31, createforless.com. Craftsmart Stencils, in Western Alphabet, $6, michaels.com. Martha Stewart Crafts Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic Craft Paint, in Habanero, from $2.50 for 2 oz., michaels.com.

05 of 12

Traditional Advent Chain

advent gifts
Emily Kate Roemer

Hang this vertically with gift 24 at the top. Snip one from the bottom each day. Wrap each gift. Tie each with twine, leaving several inches of twine at the top. Stamp or write numbers on tags, and tie them to the gifts. Arrange the gifts in order from one to 24. Tie the loose twine on gift one to the twine on the bottom of gift two. Continue, joining all 24. Hang the chain.

Shop Now: Pepin Gift & Creative Papers, in Japanese Patterns, $16, store.metmuseum.org.

06 of 12

Photo-Chain Advent Calendar

advent gifts photo chain
Emily Kate Roemer

A photo-chain Advent calendar for faraway friends and family that also serves as a picture-perfect keepsake. Order doubles of ones you like, which makes it less work to assemble the gift as December approaches. Slide pictures of the kids (that you collect throughout the year) into postcard holders and hide them with numbered cards. You can use swatches of decorative paper or even holiday wrapping paper instead of the numbered cards.

Shop Now: Classic Linen Cover Paper, in Natural White, 8 1/2" by 11", $9 for 25 sheets, paperpresentation.com. Exposures Online Hanging Collage Panel, $43, exposuresonline.com.

07 of 12

Advent Gift Bags

advent gift bags
Emily Kate Roemer

Simplify the Advent-chain tradition: Instead of wrapping each gift, we placed the little tokens in red-and-white striped paper bags and clip them to a cord. It's a lot quicker for you, and no less fun for the kids. The striped bags are festive, but you can use solid-color ones, too. Place one gift in each of 24 paper bags. Stamp or write numbers on stickers, and adhere them to the bags. Hang the cord. Fold over the tops of the bags, and clip them to the cord, in numerical or a random order.

Shop Now: In the Clear Traditional Sweet Shop Red Stripe Paper Bags, $5.35 for 25, etsy.com. Avery Mailing Seals, 1 1/2", $8.70 for 240, avery.com. Woodworks Clothespins, 1 3/4", $2.40 for 24, craftparts.com.

08 of 12

Gift Box Advent Calendar

gift boxes on a Christmas mantel
Janelle Jones

Amplify the joy of Christmas morning by unwrapping a gift every day leading up to December 25. For a cohesive set, package the boxes in a palette of complementary tones: calming blues, terra-cotta pinks, and earthy ochres. For each one, wrap the box in paper, tie it with a bow of dual-sided satin ribbon, and stamp a round tag with a gilded number.

Shop Now: GSS USA Small Gift Boxes, in Brown, 4" by 4" by 4", $14 for 50, amazon.com. Paper Source Number Set Medium Rubber Stamps, $30 for 10, papersource.com.

  • See More Ideas to Decorate Your Mantel for Christmas
09 of 12

Greeting Cards Advent Calendar

advent calendar of greeting cards
Charles Schiller

Open a numbered window for each December day before Christmas. On Christmas Day, open the front door. To make this Advent calendar, enlarge the house template by 200 percent. Trace the outline on two sheets of heavy card stock to use as the front and back "walls." Mark the position of the door and window shutters with a pencil. Cut slits for the door and shutters; number shutters randomly. Place images from old greeting cards behind each opening; adhere with a glue stick. Edge the roof, chimney, and foundation with red paper; add gold trim. Glue ribbon loop between boards, to use as hanger, before gluing back to the front.

Shop Now: Paper Source Superfine White Card Stock, 26" by 20", $2 each, papersource.com. Pepe Postcards 1950s Vintage Christmas Cards, $8 for 8, etsy.com. Martha Stewart Craft Knife, $8.49, michaels.com.

10 of 12

Christmas Tree Advent Calendar

gift box advent calendar
Mike Krautter

Little ones will delight in counting down the days to Christmas. Who doesn't like getting a present every day? To make this Advent calendar, attach stickers to each box in sequential numbers. Print the holly leaf template and cut out shapes from various colors of card stock. Punch a small hole in the top of each holly leaf using a screw punch. Use gold string to tie the leaves to each box. Arrange boxes in a tree pattern, as in the picture, and mount to a surface using double-sided tape.

Shop Now: Paper Source Pillow Favor Box, in Luxe White, $5.25, papersource.com. Everbilt Self-Adhesive Mylar Number Set, $2.28, homedepot.com.

11 of 12

Matchbox Advent Calendar

matchbox advent calendar
Sang An

This little chest harbors many secrets. To retrieve its treasures (tiny gifts and notes), kids open numbered drawers—one each day until Christmas. Slide drawers in backward to reveal another surprise—a painted tree. To make this Advent calendar, remove matches from 24 matchboxes; glue boxes in three stacks of eight. Glue the stacks together, then cut a strip of paper and glue around the sides of the chest. Remove drawers; number the fronts with acrylic paint, then tape ribbon tabs to the undersides. Place drawers in the chest. Paint a tree or other design on the back. Cut a construction-paper backing to keep the drawers in place.

Shop Now: Kendra's Bowtique Match Kraft Paper Matchboxes, in Large, $1.40, etsy.com. Martha Stewart Family Friendly Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic Craft Paint, $2.49, michaels.com.

12 of 12

Mini Advent Stockings


These mini stockings are just large enough to hold a small gift or sweet for each of the 24 days of Advent. If your tree is too small to hold 24 stockings, hang the rest from a ribbon.

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