85 {Mostly} Non-Candy Ideas for Advent Calendars
85 {Mostly} Non-Candy Ideas for Advent Calendars

85 {Mostly} Non-Candy Ideas for Advent Calendars

85 {Mostly} Non-Candy Ideas for Advent Calendars

Our family celebrates Christmas, but when my kids were young I wanted to have a way for the Christmas season to

  1. Be about more than just Christmas morning (and getting presents)
  2. Feel like an extended season, rather than a single holiday
  3. Help my kids experience all the joys that come this time of year (again, beyond the gifts!)

That's when I started playing around with creating an Advent calendar.

As a kid I aways loved the idea of those calendars with the little doors and tiny winter or holiday-themed images inside but I hope for something more long lasting (as those aren't easy to use your after year) there's no shortage of calendars that open to reveal a chocolate each day, but that also wasn't the message I wanted to give my toddlers  (Christmas = gifts AND candy)

So I turned to the Internet (where else?!) which offered amazingly creative advent calendar ideas. I used these inspirations and added our own traditions. I DID included a mix of candy and gifts, but also things we could do together that were centered around family time and giving to others. 

What is the Purpose of an Advent Calendar?

An Advent calendar helps countdown the days until Christmas, usually with a small item, seasonal image, sweet treat, or devotional phrase that is revealed on each day. Traditional calendars are rectangular cards or boxes that have small sealed doors or windows meant to be opened in order on each day of Advent revealing the treat/item behind them. Having originated in the church, they were traditionally used to tally the days until the birth of Jesus. But for many, they have come to be a symbol of the countdown to the Christmas holiday more broadly, regardless of any particular religious affiliation or belief.   

What's the Difference between Advent and Christmas?

Advent is the period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas. The word Advent means 'Coming' in Latin, and thus in Christianity it refers to the coming of Jesus (December 25th). Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.

Even those who do not align with any particular faith, however, use advent calendars as a way to prepare for the coming of Christmas Day and, in our family, we use it as a way of extending the season of joy and goodwill throughout the month of December. 

What is the History of the Advent Calendar?

The modern version of the Advent calendar likely originated sometime in the 1800s, evolving out of German Lutherans’ practice of making chalk marks on a wall or lighting a candle to tally up the days until Christmas. Since then, Advent calendars have become a common and popular holiday tradition. Today you can find everything from traditional religious calendars to ones with Santa or festive winter imagery, versions shaped like Christmas trees, sports or hobby-themed varieties, or even calendars featuring your favorite cartoon characters.

When Do You Start an Advent Calendar?

Traditionally, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas which means that Advent could start any day between November 27 and December 3, depending on the year. Custom made Advent calendars may start on Advent Sunday, so that they directly correspond to the liturgical calendar.

However, since our family's tradition is not tied to the church or religious calendar, we chose to start on December 1 and simply count down until the 24th. And since our calendar is reusable, I don't have to worry about changing dates. I simply plan ahead and refill the boxes with activities or goodies each year.  

reusable advent calendar boxes

What Do You Use to Make an Advent Calendar?

The better question is: what can't you use?! Seriously, the sky is the limit! Forget all the options for store-bought calendars, a simple Google or Pinterest search for homemade advent calendars will leave you dizzy with options.

What Can you Put in an Advent Calendar Besides Candy?

Over the years our own advent calendar has morphed and evolved as the kids have gotten older, our countdowns have changed (for many years we just counted down the days until we made our annual drive home to Maine), and as we have had more or fewer resources. I started keeping track of those advent calendar ideas in 2017. During that time, I've pulled together 85 {mostly} non-candy ideas (including activities and small gift items) that you can use for your own advent calendar.

  1. Attend a Holiday orchestra or concert
  2. Attend a local marionette show
  3. Build a snowman
  4. Build holiday items out of legos
  5. Buy coffee or tea for the person in line behind you at the cafe
  6. Buy gift for a toy drive
  7. Candy canes
  8. Carol at a nursing home
  9. Chapstick
  10. Check out holiday books from the library
  11. Chocolates
  12. Choose a holiday craft
  13. Christmas movie at local movie theater
  14. Clean boots for Saint Nick
  15. Create a wish list for your family
  16. Decorate holiday cookies
  17. Deliver cookies to neighbors & friends
  18. Deliver cookies to the fire or police station
  19. Deliver holiday cards to neighbors
  20. Discover a holiday tradition from another culture
  21. Discover a holiday tradition from your family
  22. Donate clean, warm clothes to a local shelter
  23. Explore light nearby light show or luminaries
  24. Family game night with cocoa
  25. Family game night with popcorn
  26. Find a new Holiday decoration
  27. Find a place to hike or walk
  28. Find a spontaneous act of kindness
  29. Gum
  30. Have Racklett for dinner
  31. Hang a wreath on front door
  32. Hang Christmas lights or decorations outside
  33. Have a dance party with holiday music
  34. Have a snowball fight
  35. Have a tea party
  36. Have dinner out
  37. Home Alone Legos
  38. Host a cookie exchange
  39. Host a game night with neighborhood friends
  40. Host dinner with friends
  41. Hot cocoa for dessert
  42. Learn about desserts from another culture, make that dessert
  43. Leave a thank you note for your mail person
  44. Leave Santa cookies & milk
  45. Listen to holiday music & pack for upcoming trip
  46. Make & decorate gingerbread houses
  47. Make & hang snowflakes
  48. Make & light luminaries
  49. Make baked apples for dessert
  50. Make Christmas, Hanukkah count down chain
  51. Make holiday cookies
  52. Make holiday scent on stovetop (orange, cinnamon stick, whole cloves)
  53. Make homemade Christmas ornaments
  54. Make hot cocoa station
  55. Nail polish
  56. New Christmas ornaments
  57. New Crayons or colored pencils
  58. New holiday PJs
  59. Open a new book
  60. Open a new coloring book
  61. Open a new puzzle
  62. Open Christmas PJs
  63. Open new holiday socks
  64. Play winter bingo on a walk
  65. Purchase foods for local food pantry
  66. Put holiday sheets on beds
  67. Put on temporary holiday tattoos
  68. Read the nutcracker
  69. Send Christmas cards to military personnel
  70. Shop for gifts for family members
  71. Shovel a neighbor's driveway
  72. Sign & send holiday cards
  73. Small gift
  74. Surprise Lego mini figures (or playmobil or Calico Critters or ...)
  75. Take an evening drive to see Christmas lights
  76. Take flowers to the nurses station at your local hospital or nursing home
  77. Volunteer at a soup kitchen
  78. Watch a holiday movie with friends
  79. Watch Christmas movie with popcorn
  80. Watch the Nutcracker
  81. Watch town holiday parade
  82. Wrap gifts for cousins & grandparents
  83. Wrap gifts for your family
  84. Write letters to Santa
  85. You decide!

PS- If you're interested, you can follow along with our family's 2021 advent calendar adventures in our stories on instagram