Tired of advent calendar ideas that cost a lot of money and consume all your time and energy? This list is designed for you–the tired parent–in mind. Enjoy!
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For many years, I did activity-based advent calendars with my kids. For twenty-four days we would make DIY gifts, visit every major attraction in our town, and attend a series of Christmas parties. They loved it–obviously–but for us it was exhausting.
One week in and we’d be desperate for Christmas to just come and be done so we could get some rest. It was such an unfortunate way to spend “the most wonderful time of the year.”
We took a break for a while because we simply didn’t have the energy to keep up with the kids’ expectations about the advent calendar activities.
But then we realized there was another way: lower their expectations.
Nobody said advent calendars have to be filled with time-consuming activities that require a lot of energy, supplies, or money. In fact, they probably shouldn’t. If they’re wearing you down, they’re missing the point.
So, this year, we’re going to try something different. We’re raising the bar for what makes it onto the calendar. These advent calendar ideas need to be simple, easy, and cheap (preferably free!)
I hope you enjoy the list! Scroll to the bottom to grab a set of printable activity cards and whip up your own DIY advent calendar in just a few minutes.
Leave a comment if you have other suggestions to add.
50+ Advent Calendar Ideas for Kids
1. Make a basic DIY advent wreath. Gather a few sprigs from a a cedar or pine tree and arrange them on a platter or cake stand. You can tie them together with twine if you wish, or just leave them loose. Add pinecones if you like. In the centre of the platter, place four white or purple candles. Tie twine around the candles if you want a more rustic look. You can also add a fifth candle to the centre to be lit on Christmas Eve.
2. Do a weekly Bible reading and light your advent candles. Here are some suggestions of what you might read:
- First Sunday: Isaiah 9
- Second Sunday: Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-6
- Third Sunday: Luke 2:8-12
- Fourth Sunday: Luke 2:13-20
3. Make a Names of Jesus paper chain. This printable activity from Spell Out Loud could actually be your whole advent calendar in one shot! You may also enjoy Unwrapping the Names of Jesus: An Advent Devotional.
4. Make your own wrapping paper. We like to get a big roll or white or Kraft paper and create designs with sponges or stamps that are easily repeated. My best tip on this one: don’t aim for perfection. This can easily become stressful if you try to get it to look perfect. If you just let the kids have fun with it, it will go much better.
5. Make paper snowflakes.
6. Drive around your neighbourhood at night to view Christmas lights. Put pajamas on first for an easier bedtime when you get home. (With any luck, they’ll fall asleep in the car!)
7. Read Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.
8. Watch a favourite Christmas movie.
9. Have a family games night. This is our favorite game.
10. Do a puzzle together. This is my top choice for a perfect Christmas season family puzzle.
11. Write a family update letter and send it to family and friends, with or without a Christmas card. Our kids love to make their own cards for each person. This is another great way to keep them busy, as long as you don’t set the bar too high.
12. Make DIY Christmas Gifts. Load up on ideas here. For particularly easy options, try #16, 24, 47, 81, 82, 88, and 90.
13. Play Christmas carol charades. To make it easy, print out this list of Christmas songs and cut into strips that participants can pull out of a hat.
14. Have a Christmas dance party. Okay, this one might not be that restful for you, but at least it’s easy to pull off. And you can always sit down after you get the kids going. Here’s a Kids Christmas Dance Party playlist you can grab.
15. Christmas karaoke! We started this tradition last year and it’s now our favorite activity. We could literally do this every day of December and never tire of it. You don’t need a karaoke machine to do this, though I’m sure it would make it even more fun. We just load karaoke videos from YouTube on the TV and take turns singing along as dramatically as possible. Instant bliss!
16. Have friends or family over for a Christmas tea. Consider inviting over friends who might be particularly lonely at this time of year.
17. Do a quick Christmas craft. I love this DIY wood block nativity set and this adorable penguin handprint craft.
18. Make your own beeswax candles. This is much easier than it sounds and is so much fun for kids to do once they get the hang of it. Get a DIY beeswax candle starter kit here.
19. Make a gingerbread house. This is the best tutorial I’ve seen on building DIY gingerbread houses but if that seems overwhelming, you can always go with a gingerbread house kit.
20. Make cupcakes for to celebrate Jesus’s birthday.
21. Go to a candlelight church service.
22. Grab some library books and read about Christmas traditions around the world.
23. Make a birdfeeder to give the birds in your neighborhood their own Christmas treats.
24. Organize a hot chocolate bar. Make a large pot of hot chocolate and set out mugs, whipped cream, sprinkles, candy canes, hot fudge, marshmallows, crumbled peanuts, or whatever else you can think of and let the kids design their own fancy drinks.
25. Make scrapbooks or online photo albums to commemorate some of your favorite memories from the past year. Last year, we made a family scrapbook and each person was responsible for picking the pictures for 2-3 months. We stocked up on scrapbook paper, cardstock, washi tape, and stickers and printed a huge stack of pictures. We had so much fun reliving all the memories.
26. Organize a group to go Christmas carolling at a senior’s home. We do this every year on Christmas morning with a group from our church and we have the best time roaming the halls with an acoustic guitar, singing to and with the residents. If you do this, make sure everyone in the group has a flu shot first in order to protect the residents.
27. Fill a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child.
28. Spend some time reflecting on the year past. We love to use reflection sheets like this one at the end of the year.
29. Make caramel corn. Here’s a healthier caramel corn recipe that doesn’t use corn syrup.
30. Make a family gratitude list. Sit together and write down everything you’re grateful for. This is a great antidote to the crazy consumerism we can so easily get swept up in during the holidays.
31. Volunteer to help serve or wash dishes at a holiday dinner.
32. This is kind of silly, but watching the Holderness family’s annual Christmas Jammies videos has definitely become a tradition for us. Keep an eye on their YouTube channel, they usually release the annual video about a week before Christmas. They’ll keep you laughing through to the new year!
33. Make super easy Christmas ornaments and decorations together. Or, if your kids are older, let them browse Pinterest and pick their own Christmas decorating project to lead. Here are some lovely options:
34. Bake your favorite Christmas cookies or treats. Make double–or triple–and share with your neighbors.
35. Read A Christmas Carol. Read it free online here or pick up a hardcover edition for a more classical experience.
36. Decorate white mugs with Sharpies. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool completely.
37. Donate food to a local food drive.
38. Skype or Facetime with a family member who lives in another city.
39. Play in the snow. Make a snowman and snow angels. Have a snowball fight. Or, if you’re anything like me, sit inside by the fire while you watch your kids doing all these things through the window.
40. Dress up for a “fancy” dinner. Make a menu (or get your kids to make one), and light candles. Play instrumental music. They will remember this one for a long time.
41. Sponsor/put together the contents of a Christmas hamper.
42. Go to Midnight Mass. Okay, yes, this will exhaust you. But everyone should have this experience at least once in their life! It’s magical.
43. Go ice skating outside.
44. Get cozy beside a real fire, curl up with blankets, and just talk.
45. Pick up some of these Jesus-focused advent books to help kids really understand the meaning of advent and Christmas.
46. Do your Christmas shopping at a local craft fair or market. Buy crafts made by your children’s friends or other people from your community.
47. Create a progressive manger. Add one thing to it each day, finishing with a baby Jesus.
48. Help your kids (if they need it) organize their own Christmas concert for the family.
49. Take a walk through a winter wonderland near your home. In our area, there is a lake that is the main Christmas attraction of the city. The whole perimeter is lit up with different light displays and ecorations. Grab some thermoses of apple cider and take the family for an evening stroll.
50. Make a chalkboard sign with your favorite Bible verse about Jesus or a quote from your favorite Christmas song. Or grab a printable version if you don’t have a chalkboard.
51. Grab a Jesse Tree advent gift set from my friends at Intentional Traditions.
Intentional Traditions Jesse Tree Advent Gift Set with Reading Guide
Your turn! Leave a comment and let me know some of your favorite advent traditions. Which ones are you most excited to try?
Click the image to grab your printable advent calendar activity cards
Sophie Agbonkhese is a writer, homeschooling mother of four, and a recovering overachiever (who occasionally relapses). She is the founder of My Cup Runs Over, a site dedicated to helping busy women simplify and enrich their lives. When she’s not writing or debugging websites, Sophie spends her time reading, dancing, bullet journaling, reading, gardening, listening to audiobooks, and striving fruitlessly to have a clean house for at least five minutes.
Friday 12th of November 2021
Hi Sophie! This is an awesome list! One thing I would add is putting on your own nativity play. Dress up in bathrobes or towels and read the christmas story while family members act it out. Lots of fun and another way to remind kids what Christmas is all about.
Saturday 13th of November 2021
Thanks so much, Allison. I'd like to add this to the list!
Wednesday 27th of October 2021
These are fantastic! Thank you!