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Ideas for Filling an Advent Calendar (Part 1)

Now that you've got your cloth advent calendar - or even if you're just thinking about getting one - it's time to start getting creative about how you fill it. While candy and little gifts are popular ways of filling advent calendar pockets, this post is about filling your advent calendar with activities to maximize family time.

Filling an Advent Calendar

When planning for this, there are some things to keep in mind. First, the key is keeping the activities manageable, otherwise it becomes overwhelming to try to fit things in every day. Make a list of the 24 activities you'd like to include and the things you'll need, then check your calendar for the month of December and work out how the activities you choose can fit into your schedule. Plan the more complex activities for week-ends, and leave the simple ones for busy days. Finally, make sure you keep a special family activity for Christmas Eve. Here goes, in no particular order...

  1. Advent activity hot chocolateMake hot chocolate with all the "fixins."
    Think marshmallows, candy canes, and cinnamon sticks
  2. Watch a Christmas movie.
    Polar Express (2004), Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964), The Muppet Christmas Carol (2002), A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), and Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
  3. Color a Christmas picture.
  4. Write a letter to Santa.
  5. Make a popcorn garland.
    Blunt darning needles work well for smaller hands, and bright red or green embroidery thread is a nice touch. The popcorn (and cranberries, if you choose) can be strung an inch or so apart instead of right up against each other, making a longer strand for those with shorter attention spans.
  6. Make cookies.
    This can be as easy as store-bought slice-and-bake decorated with colored sugar or sprinkles, or this child-friendly recipe for Marzipan ("like play dough, only edible," says my sister Kristin, from whom the recipe originates):

    3 cups butter
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
    and 7 1/2 cups flour
    Mix everything together and divide into as many balls as you have colors. Be sure to leave one uncolored for "white." Flatten a ball of dough and place a bit of the "paste" type food coloring on it. Fold it and place it in a baggie, seal the baggie, and work the dough until it's completely colored. Chill all the colored balls of dough for 30 minutes, then form into "rainbows, flowers, Christmas trees, wreaths, aliens, animals, (including a flattened squirrel complete with tire tracks), olives, fruit bowls, a place setting, dice, lips, a name, faces...." These are suggestions from my sister, by the way, based on things her family has made through the years.
    This dough is virtually indestructible; if it gets a little sticky from lots of shaping and forming - play dough style - just throw it back in the fridge for a bit.
    Bake your family's creations for 30 minutes at 300F on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  7. Make paper snowflakes.
    Start with a square piece of paper and fold diagonally into a triangle. Fold the triangle in half again so the corners meet. Lay the triangle on the table with the "wide side" facing you, and fold into thirds. There will be two pointy ends facing you. Make sure all the sides match and are firmly creased, then cut the two points off across the bottom so you are left with a tallish triangle. Cut the folded paper with variations of straight and curved cuts. Unfold carefully.

  8. Dance to Christmas music.
  9. Read the Biblical Christmas story from the book of Luke, Chapter 2.
  10. Call Grandpa and Grandma, or a older Aunt or Uncle who may not hear from you often.
  11. Make Wassail.
    Here's a quick family-friendly recipe for that traditional hot drink:

    In a slow cooker or large pot over low heat, combine 2 qts. apple cider, 2 cups orange juice, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 12 whole cloves, 4 cinnamon sticks, 1 pinch each ground ginger and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer. If using a crock pot, cook 8 hours on low. Serve hot with a cinnamon stick to stir.
  12. Decorate the Christmas tree.
  13. Go to a grocery store and purchase some canned goods for a local food bank.
    Be sure to call first to see what kind of foods they need most.
  14. Go to the library - or bookstore - and choose a Christmas book to read over several nights.
    Our family liked "Miracle on 34th Street" by Valentine Davies.
  15. Camp out under (well, beside) the Christmas tree.
    Blankets or sleeping bags, pillows, a book or two and a light snack are all you need. Christmas lights on the tree are nice, but flash lights might be more fun.
  16. Twas the Night Before ChristmasRead "Twas the Night Before Christmas" together.
    The proper name is actually "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore. You can find the text online here.
  17. Get some wild Christmas pajamas for everyone in your family; take a picture together and frame it.
  18. Make paper chains and string them around the house.
    Double-sided scrap book paper makes beautiful chains. Using regular or double-stick tape instead of glue makes it easier and faster.
  19. Gather up some gently worn coats (or buy new), and buy some warm hats and mittens, and take them to a local shelter.
  20. Invite some family or friends over for an evening of games.

In a few days, I'll conclude with several more ideas so you'll have a variety of activities for different ages. Please comment below if you have additional ideas or questions!