DIY Advent calendar

We’re just past the middle of November, and Christmas decorations are already popping up everywhere. You’ll have seen Advent calendars in stores too – the ones that consist of opening up a new piece of candy or some other small surprise every day of December until Christmas. They’re fun, yet predictable since you know more or less what you’re getting before you open them.

So what can you do if you’re tired of them, don’t want to ingest so much sugar, or are a minimalist? You can make your own customized Advent calendar that will bring a smile to someone’s face and warm their heart – an Avent calendar that’s more about giving than receiving.

This is something I did once in the past with a partner, and it was a really fun experience. This project is ideal for two people living together, but at the end I’ll talk about ways it can be customized for families, groups of three or more, or even a single person.

Advent calendar for two people living together: Each person separately writes 24 or 25 uplifting little messages to the other consisting of a compliment, a love note, a drawing, an inside joke or reference that’s special just for the two of you, a “gift certificate” for something like a massage, a dinner or a free pass on a household chore, making sure that the recipient cannot see what they are writing or drawing. Each person should use a separate, easily identifiable type of paper – different colors or one with lines, one without – so it’s clear who wrote which ones (in this post, the notes shown are example ones that I created to give you an idea, so they’re on just one type of paper). Each should then fold up their notes into a small size.

Then you’ll need something to contain the notes. Above is an Advent calendar I originally got from Ara Chocolat in Paris a few Christmases ago (the one they have this year is different). It came with a piece of chocolate inside each of the striped boxes, which could be removed from the cardboard tree. I was glad I saved the calendar after the chocolate was gone, because the little boxes were also the perfect size to hold two little notes.

Another idea is to get a large poster board and attach little paper pockets to it, with a number on each one (remember doing this kind of thing in elementary school?). Small envelopes would also serve this purpose well. Alternatively, tape the envelopes directly to the wall if you have the right kind of (non-damageable) wall surface. And the most minimalist solution of all would be to have each person write numbers from 1 to 24 right onto their folded messages.

Mix up each separate collection of notes so they aren’t in any particular order. Put one note from each person into each box or pocket/envelope.

Below are some example messages.

Then, every day of December, either in the morning after breakfast or some other time when you’re usually together, each of you opens the message written by the other and you get to watch each other’s reaction. It’s a lot of fun!

Other ideas:

  • Treasure hunt: On one or more of the days, send your partner hunting through your house for a small gift using easy or cryptic clues that take them from one spot to another until they finally find it. This requires some advance planning and preparation, but you could for example get up early in the morning and plant all the clues before your partner gets out of bed.
  • Appreciation messages collected over the year. This one takes a lot more advance planning and requires keeping the project in mind over time, but it’s well worthwhile. Over the course of the year, whenever you feel especially appreciative of your partner (if they’ve showed special kindness or support to you or someone else, or just for no special reason), take a few minutes to write down what you feel or describe what happened and how much you appreciated them. Then put that note into a jar or box and take them out at the end of November to use as December Advent calendar messages (if you don’t have 24, or if both partners don’t have the same number, it’s okay). Alternatively, you could bundle together your notes from the year and present them to your partner all at once, for Christmas or any other time of year. Little notes like these can create a great deal of closeness and are an opportunity to share and strengthen your love. Opening one after a fight could be helpful in coming back together and forgiving each other.
  • Advent calendar for a family or group of roommates/flatmates: Here you could opt to focus more on giving the gift of services (offering to do a chore in someone’s place) or covering small household expenses (you pay for the next container of laundry detergent). You could also write about a memorable experience that the whole group had together or just express your appreciation for the family or group.
  • Advent calendar for your child: If they’re old enough to understand, write notes about favorite shared memories or times when the child did something they could be proud of (showing kindness to a classmate, sharing their toys). Or tell them things that are great about them, being careful to stress personal qualities, or just that they are themselves, rather than mentioning achievements, looks or other external things. Older children could be encouraged to join in making heart-warming notes for their siblings and/or you or their grandparents.
  • Advent calendar for yourself: Spend some time in November remembering times when you accomplished something impressive or when you were just proud of yourself, and write notes to yourself about them. Alternatively, note down small goals you want to accomplish in the month of December or small treats you would like to indulge in. By mixing up the notes, you’ll be drawing one at random each day and can feel like destiny has selected that day for you to indulge in the treat! (and who are you to question destiny?)
  • Advent calendar for two people not living together: Same as for the first calendar described above, except that each person takes all of the other person’s messages at once and has to promise not to peek at any of them early. They can be kept together in an envelope or jar and pulled out at random. You can call each other every morning at a certain time and share your reactions in real time, or take a photo of the message you open each day and send it to the giver along with your thoughts.

Have you ever tried something like this, or do you have suggestions for other ways to vary the Advent calendar experience? Share in the comments!

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