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Five ideas for alternative advent calendars

One of the most magic things about Christmas is the time leading up to it. It can provide a whole month of magic and fun, spending quality time with friends and family and getting into the festive spirit. 

There is nothing more fun for all of the family than seeing the magic in children’s eyes as they write their letter to Santa, visit Father Christmas at his grotto or open a new door of their advent calendar, waiting for the big day. 

At this time, we are often faced with lots of gift and advent options revolving around chocolate. While most of us love a sweet treat, there are also lots of alternative and DIY advent calendar options out there which have the potential to make each day a little more meaningful. 

As well as providing opportunities for you to play together and spend some quality time during the festive season, getting your child involved in alternative advent activities can help to develop their creative and social skills too. 

Most of all, they will bring lots of joy and excitement to your little one in the run up to Christmas.


Alternative advent calendars and activities

Looking beyond sweet treats, the magic of opening the door of the calendar each day can be captured with just about anything. 

There are lots of ready-made, alternative advent calendars available to buy which range from those featuring popular dolls and figures, modelling clay, trains and cars to storybooks for each night of advent. 

We also have some more creative ideas to help you get started in celebrating the run up to Christmas. Here are some activities that capture the magic of something new and exciting for each day of advent:


Make your own advent calendar

By buying or sewing a reusable calendar that features pockets or boxes, you can fill each day with something of your choice. This adds a personal touch because it means you can base the advent treats on things your child is interested in. 

It also gives you the choice to have a few chocolate treats as well as more varied treats such as coloured pencils, a toy car, bubbles or notes of affirmation or activity ideas. These are a sustainable choice too as they can be reused year after year and filled with different, age-appropriate treats as your child grows.


Start an advent creative project

Just because it is advent, doesn’t mean every day has to contain an individual treat to open. The festive season can equally be celebrated through fun and discovery – there are lots of creative ideas out there to get the children involved in. 

Art-based ideas can challenge your child to add to their creation every day. For example, start the month with this simple sheep template, featuring numbered circles for each day of advent. Each day, children can add more cotton wool to the correct circle, resulting in a fluffier sheep as you near Christmas day. 

Alternatively, you could start an advent art project together, such as a simple model for younger children or a simple sewing project for those who are a bit older. Each day, put aside a bit of time and challenge them to add something new to their model or sewing creation. This inspires creativity and teaches them about logical thinking and planning.

Elf on the shelf

Lots of families enjoy the fun and hijinks of the ‘Elf on The Shelf’. This is where each night of advent while the children are asleep, the elf is moved to a new weird and wacky location. 

There will be lots of laughter as you come up with what mischief the elf could have been getting up to next, eating some biscuits in the cupboard, watering the plants, or even having a tea party with other toys! 

Children will love the challenge of trying to find the elf each day and describing what they have been doing teaches them important literacy skills including storytelling and comprehension. They can also provide a behavioural incentive too, as they watch over the children all day and ‘leave’ before christmas, reporting good (and bad) behaviour to Santa!


Kindness calendar

There are many different themes you can come up with for an advent calendar that don’t have to revolve around the traditional sweet treat or gift. In fact, you can make an ‘activity’ themed calendar where you do something different together each day. 

A lovely idea is a ‘Kindness Calendar’, containing 24 acts of kindness to do each day – from donating a jumper to a homeless charity, to paying three people a compliment, to sharing something with a friend. This is a great way to encourage citizenship and the value of helping others, especially at Christmas-time.


Create a treasure hunt

You can turn the advent experience into a fun new tradition by creating a treasure hunt. As well as engaging children in the magic of Christmas, it helps to develop their concentration, memory and logical thinking skills. 

Wrap a small gift, hide it somewhere in the house at nighttime, and then give your child a new clue each morning to find it. The gifts don’t have to be big, they could be Christmas themed temporary tattoos, a sweet treat, or even an activity idea or voucher for something fun to do together.



Lots of children (and adults!) enjoy celebrating advent, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be limited to the traditional calendar containing sweet treats. With a little creativity, you can make some new traditions that involve the whole family and help children to get in the Christmas spirit through making, giving and taking part in activities each day. 

As well as being a great form of family bonding, it also provides the opportunity to help your children to develop skills in communication, creativity and citizenship. Try some of our ideas for alternative calendars to think outside the box this advent and let us know what festive fun your family gets up to!


By Sarah Welland