December is a month of celebration in many religious and social traditions. As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, we welcome a reminder that the warmth will return, that things will get easier. One tradition that began with early Christians is the celebration of Advent by creating an Advent calendar. We'll show you how to make an Advent calendar so that you can bring this tradition into your home.

What Is an Advent Calendar?

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An Advent calendar is a way of marking the days of anticipation, traditionally moving up to the Christmas holiday. These days, an Advent calendar tradition is not restricted to one belief system but can be a traditional part of any holiday celebration.

Advent Then and Now

Advent refers to the arrival of something special. When you're thinking about how to make an Advent calendar for your holiday celebrations, it is helpful to know a bit about the history of this tradition.

The ancient Christians marked the weeks before Christmas in their liturgical calendar as a period of Advent, the anticipation of the day they celebrate as the birthday of Jesus. It was a way of emphasizing the importance of that special day by honoring and preparing for it in the days beforehand.

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They celebrated these special days in their churches with special colors, hymns, and readings in their services. Some adherents also fasted during the Advent period.

In the late 19th Century, a German mom wanted to help her child, Gerhard Lang, celebrate this eager anticipation of the Christmas holiday, and she made him a simple calendar for the 24 days beginning on December 1st and leading up to Christmas. She stuck little sweets onto a board, one for each day.

As an adult, in 1908, Gerhard Lang, remembering the lovely tradition his mom had started, created what is thought of as the first printed Advent calendar. It featured a small colored picture for each day of Advent. After a few years, he and his partner began to print the calendars with tiny cut-out and numbered doors which hid the pictures and only revealed them on the specific numbered day.

For decades, this form of the Advent calendar was the most well-known: a sometimes glittery winter or Christmas scene with numbered doors that opened to reveal a small picture or maybe a Bible quote.

Until the First World War, Advent calendars were a very popular tradition in Christian households. Throughout the war period, however, and until the end of the Second World War, paper and printing supplies were scarcer, and Advent calendars faded from popularity.

Printer Richard Sellmer began printing these colorful calendars again in 1946, and their popularity again rose, this time not only among Christian families, but with children everywhere.

An Advent calendar is a lovely way to celebrate the anticipation of the Christmas or other winter holiday season with children. These days, you can find a variety of commercial Advent calendars. Some stick to traditional Christian images and words. Others celebrate the Santa Claus story with images of reindeer and elves. Some are printed and the doors open to a charming image or inspirational quote. Others are more elaborate, three-dimensional affairs whose doors open to treats or toys.

A handmade Advent calendar is a lovely way to help children mark the days leading up to the holiday itself. And you can customize your design to fit with your established family traditions. We'll show you how to make an advent calendar for your family.

What Kinds of Advent Calendars Are There?

Advent traditionally begins on either December 1st, or on the fourth Sunday before Christmas day. And most Advent calendars have numbers 1-24 to mark the days from December 1 to Christmas Eve. Some more modern calendars mark numbered days all the way to December 31st to count down the days until New Year's Eve. Or you can use yours to mark the days until Kwanza or Hanukkah.

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When thinking about how to make an Advent calendar for your family, consider how much space you want your calendar to take up and how much crafting you want to do.

An Advent calendar can be as simple as one sheet of colored or decorated paper, with little openings cut out and stuck onto another sheet which sports hidden images. Or your homemade calendar can take up an entire wall.

Advent calendars can be painted, crocheted, cut from wood, made of fabric or poster board, or even crafted like a mobile, hanging from the wall or ceiling.

Your Advent calendar can have a religious or secular motif. Do you enjoy the traditional holiday colors? Or would more neutral tones fit better in your décor? Really, the types of Advent calendars you can make are only limited by your imagination, and perhaps by your crafting ability.

How to Make an Advent Calendar

Before You Begin

First, think about what materials you have on hand or that you want to buy. An Advent calendar can be made of virtually anything. We've seen gorgeous calendars made simply from toilet paper rolls. If you like to sew or crochet, you can easily make a lovely Advent calendar with those skills. Or maybe you're a woodworker. You can make an Advent calendar that can be used over and over again for years.

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Secondly, think about where you want to display your creation. When thinking about how to make an Advent calendar, you'll need to know where you're going to show it off. If you have a lot of wall space, you can make one that hangs up on the wall. Or if your space is small, you might want to think about a smaller tabletop or garland design.

Now think about the tradition you're creating. What is important to you and your family about this holiday time of year? What images do you enjoy that celebrate the holiday? What colors do you want to use? What treats will be hidden in your Advent calendar? Take a look below for some non-traditional ideas.

And don't forget the kids. Are they going to take part in the creation of your Advent calendar? Are the windows or boxes or other openings you create going to be easy for them to open?

Finally, think about how you want to store your Advent calendar until next year. If storage space is tight, you'll probably want to think about a smaller design.

How to Make an Advent Calendar - Six Fun and Festive Tips

You want to create a container that can be opened for each of the days of your celebration. And you'll want to mount those containers together in a pleasing design.

  • A simple alternative is to cut out small, fun images from magazines or catalogs. Glue them to a sturdy piece of paper, like watercolor paper or poster board. Next, mark the location of each picture on the back of another piece of paper and cut little doorways that your child can fold back to reveal the picture. Glue the cut paper on top of the picture paper. Then decorate with paint or colored markers and number the little doorways 1-24.
  • To get more elaborate, you can use gift boxes or bags, matchboxes, or even empty cans. Decorate them and number them. Then fill them and attach them to a wood or poster board backing. Your backing can be any shape, from a plain rectangle to a traditional Christmas tree or wreath shape.
  • Alternatively, you can create an Advent calendar garland. Use gift bags, or decorated brown paper sandwich bags, or even sew up little drawstring sacks. Number them and hang them from a holiday garland or twine or ribbon. You can hang your garland on the wall or suspend it in a doorway or across a corner. Hang your containers from the garland with clothespins, or tie them to it with ribbon.
  • For a three-dimensional Advent calendar, use empty toilet paper rolls, closed off at each end with paper. Fill, number and decorate them. Then stack them in a triangular Christmas tree shape. Each day you can open one by tearing through the paper at the end. You can use empty gift boxes for a similar sculptural effect.
  • Or try quilting or crocheting a holiday shape backing like a Christmas tree or a snowman. Add numbered pockets to the backing to hold the treats. If quilting or crocheting seems like too much, you can get the same effect with felt. Just cut out your shape, glue on numbered pockets and hang on the wall.
  • Another simple idea for how to make an Advent calendar, for those of us who may feel overwhelmed by all these crafting ideas, is to buy a simple chalkboard and decorate with ribbon. Each day, just erase and change the chalked-in number starting with 24 days until Christmas and counting down. You can achieve the same effect with a small pad of drawing paper. Decorate the front and number the pages from 24 to 1. Simply tear off a new page each day.

Even More Ideas

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The first Advent calendars were printed. Inside the little windows, a child would discover a pretty image or maybe a verse from the Bible. These days the treats and gifts have gotten more elaborate. Carefully consider what you want your children to receive as you think about how to make an Advent calendar for your family celebration.

Here are some ideas;

Pictures. The first printed Advent calendars had lovely pictures hidden behind little paper doors.

Candy. Remember Gerhard Lang's mother stuck sweets onto a piece of cardboard. Most commercial Advent calendars these days have chocolate treats. There are even commercial Advent calendars for our furry friends, which reveal pet treats for each day of Advent.

Messages. Do you and your family like inspirational sayings or Bible verses? One nice advantage to this approach is that the family can revisit the words over and over again throughout the season.

Random acts of kindness. If you'd like the holiday emphasis in your family to be more on giving than receiving, try hiding ideas for different random acts of kindness your family can do each day of the season. You can include activities that family members can do individually, and some you can do together as a family.

Ornaments. Another way to celebrate is to conceal an ornament in your Advent calendar. Each day can reveal another tree decoration to place on the tree.

Craft or baking ideas. This idea requires a little more planning. Think of a holiday activity you'd like to do each day of Advent. Let the children open and reveal the activity of the day. These activities can be baking, shopping, wrapping, or creating.

Trinkets or toys. Many families like to surprise with small toys or trinkets in their Advent calendars. These can be purchased or handmade, and they can be very simple, like a whistle or a beautiful stone or shell.

Conclusion

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The holiday season is a special time of year. No matter what your traditions are, it is a time of family closeness and celebration. Once you know how to make an Advent calendar, you can include this time-honored tradition in your family celebrations.