Supercharge the Holidays with a "Living" Advent Calendar: 60 Ideas to Get You Started!

Looking for an extra special way to celebrate the holidays with your family this year? Do what we do and try a “living” Advent calendar.

Most of us are familiar with the chocolate versions that countdown the 22 days (Dec. 2-24) before Christmas. But this spin, friends, is so much more meaningful. And it’s fitting for any and all families, even those that don’t celebrate Christmas (more on that below).

So what’s it all about? Each morning, my kids open a special box and pull out an activity for the day (we do this for all 22 days of Advent). Some are exciting events like going to a Christmas market or show. Others are quiet moments at home or give-back opportunities. My hope is that these activities keep my kids engaged, bring us closer together as a family, ready our spirits for Christmas and serve as a reminder that the holidays are so much more than the big commercial racket that they have become.

 The kids opening up their final Advent activity.

The kids opening up their final Advent activity.

“The holidays are busy enough, who has the time to do this?” you say. I hear you. But frankly, it’s probably easier than Elf on a Shelf and way more meaningful. Most of the time, I only plan a few days in advance and incorporate the activities I had planned to do already. And I make sure to include plenty of things that don’t require much prep, like praying together, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas or writing a letter to Grandma or Grandpa.

But I don’t celebrate Christmas. This calendar focuses mostly on Christmas because that’s what my family celebrates. But I know some of my near and dear don’t. The great thing about a living calendar like this is that a lot of these ideas would work for any family celebrating most anything this time of year. Simply replace “Advent” or “Christmas” with the “the holidays” or “holiday,” or the specific event that’s special to you. Tweak any of the 60 Ideas for a Living Advent Calendar below so they fit your family.

How do I start? Make your own list of activities or cut and paste from my 60 Ideas for a Living Advent Calendar below. Use what you want, don’t use what you don’t. Change the activities based on your kids’ ages and your family’s interests and faith. And remember!! You don’t have to do something every day. Maybe once a week fits your lifestyle. Do whatever your schedule allows!

 One of our Advent activities. I like to dress up each slip of paper with a fun holiday font and decorative cardstock, and display them once opened so we can look back and recall the fun we’ve had.

One of our Advent activities. I like to dress up each slip of paper with a fun holiday font and decorative cardstock, and display them once opened so we can look back and recall the fun we’ve had.

60 IDEAS FOR A LIVING ADVENT CALENDAR

December 2 is the first day of Advent. Let’s put on our Sunday best and celebrate at church.  

The countdown is on! Open your special gifts for a sweet start to Advent. (We give them chocolate advent calendars to unwrap.)

Remembering the elderly this time of year is important. Let’s create a care package to send to Great Grandma.

Advent is a time to thank the people who keep us safe. Let’s write a letter of appreciation to our local first responders (police, fire department, emergency room staff).

December 4 is National Cookie Day. Let’s make our first batch of sugar cookies!

 Getting messy in the kitchen as we bake our first batch of sugar cookies for the season.

Getting messy in the kitchen as we bake our first batch of sugar cookies for the season.

Take it inside! When the weather outside is frightful, hotdogs and marshmallows toasted around the fireplace are delightful.

Ready to pay it forward? We’re hitting a drive-thru and paying for the car waiting behind us. 

Keep someone warm with a little DIY comfort. Let’s make a fleece tie blanket and donate it to a shelter.

Remember the everyday people who make our lives a little easier. Thank your bus driver with a handshake, kind note and small gift.

December 12 is National Gingerbread House Day. Let’s decorate our very own today!

 The kiddos with the gingerbread house (from a kit) they decorated together. Love those smiles!

The kiddos with the gingerbread house (from a kit) they decorated together. Love those smiles!

Let’s have a flurry of fun inside! Let’s crank the Christmas music and cut out snowflakes to hang from the windows and ceiling.

Lights, camera, action! Tonight is the holiday concert at school. Let’s celebrate after with some ice cream!

Advent is about appreciating the people we see each day. Let’s each take turns saying something kind about each other.

December 21 is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Let’s light up the night by lighting candles all over the house.

Deck the halls! Time to put up and decorate your mini bedroom Christmas trees. (We bought the kids mini tree for a few dollars each at a local craft store.)

minitrees.JPG

It’s movie Monday. Let’s enjoy a mug of hot cocoa together and watch the movie “Elf!” 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Let’s decorate the family tree together.

Let’s do a little Christmas shopping! Each of you may buy one ornament for your mini tree tonight!

Advent is a time to help those who are struggling. After school, we will go shopping for local charities.

Advent is a time for family. Tonight your cousins are coming over for cookie decorating and games. Let’s bring the Christmas cheer!

 The kids and some of their cousins over for cookie decorating!

The kids and some of their cousins over for cookie decorating!

Advent is a merry and bright time. Tonight we go on a holiday light scavenger hunt!

Advent is about giving. Make like an elf and hand out your teacher gifts today with a smile and a “Happy Holidays!”

Spread the love this season. Make a stranger feel special by paying them a compliment.

Calling all sweet tooths! Let’s make a batch of homemade Christmas candy.

Hooray for homemade gifts for our homies. Let’s make friends feel like family by assembling and gifting candy cane hot cocoa mix!

 We love making  Taste of Home’s Candy Cane Hot Cocoa Mix  for friends and family.

We love making Taste of Home’s Candy Cane Hot Cocoa Mix for friends and family.

Proud to be Polish? Let’s celebrate our heritage by making cheddar-potato pierogis and kolache cookies.

Prost! Let’s hit up an outdoor German Christmas market.

Remember the reason for the season. Let’s read the nativity story together, Luke 2:1-20.

Good morning, sleepyheads. Look under your mini trees for a sweet sibling surprise. (We encourage each kid a few days before to make or buy a small gift for their sibling. Then we hide it under their tree the night before.)

Dinner is served. Let’s cozy up to a fireside picnic dinner on the floor in front of the Christmas tree tonight.

 A Christmas picnic in front of the tree. On tonight’s menu? Caesar salad and spaghetti. :)

A Christmas picnic in front of the tree. On tonight’s menu? Caesar salad and spaghetti. :)

Advent is about caring for our neighbor. Let’s surprise one of them with a random act of kindness (shoveling driveway, leaving a gift on the front stoop, etc.)

Advent is about feeding our hungry. Let’s hit the grocery store and donate everything to the local food pantry!

Snowball fight! Let’s make white sock “snowballs” and have an indoor snowball fight tonight.

Let’s take a ride on the “Polar Express.” Movie starts in the living room at 6PM sharp!

It’s Friday fudge day! Let’s make Great Grandma’s signature recipe.

 Not sure what they enjoy more…making the fudge or eating it.

Not sure what they enjoy more…making the fudge or eating it.

Perform 3 random acts of kindness today. Help someone with a task, hold open a door or play with a lonely kid at recess, for example.

Hut! Hut! Hike! We’re playing a friendly family game of tag football in the backyard today.

It’s Sunday story time. Each member of the family gets to read aloud a Christmas book of their choosing in front of the fire.

Make someone’s stomach happy. Drop off a platter of cookies at a local nursing home, fire or police station.

Let’s visit the big guy. We’re off to visit Santa at the mall after school!!!

 Patiently waiting in line with their lists to see Santa!

Patiently waiting in line with their lists to see Santa!

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me” – Jesus. Let’s go shopping tonight so each member of the family can buy a toy to donate to Toys for Tots or another charity for children.

Give some of the busiest workers this holiday season a much-needed break. Write a thank you note and leave a treat for our UPS, Fed Ex or USPS worker.

Help keep God’s creation beautiful for everyone. We’re going to spend an hour picking up litter at a local park or along the roadside.

Honor the brave men and women who are far from home. Let’s pack and send a member of the military a care package.

Growing up in the Jewish faith, Jesus may have celebrated Hanukkah (Feast of Dedication) himself. Let’s learn about this holiday and enjoy some of its awesome traditions. (We have made latkes, played dreidel and handed out chocolate coins called gelt.)

 The kids and their cousins playing dreidel.

The kids and their cousins playing dreidel.

Advent is about preparing your soul for God’s greatest gift. Wipe the slate clean by forgiving someone you are angry with.

Celebrate the simple things. Let’s cozy under a blanket and read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Show someone special that you care. Take on someone else’s chore in the family (without them knowing, if possible!).

Celebrate the season of light and love. Let’s light a candle and say a prayer for a loved one.

Let’s pause from the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Yep, we’re lounging around the house in our pajamas ALL DAY LONG!

PJs.JPG

Love thy neighbor. Let’s invite the neighbors over for a backyard bonfire.

Be thankful we have a roof over our heads. Let’s show our appreciation by assembling blessing bags to be given out to the homeless.

Advent is the sweetest time of the year. Let’s spread cheer by candy cane bombing a parking lot.

Game on! Turn off the phones. It’s family game night up in here.

Now playing! Dinner with friends and tickets to the local holiday show.

 Taking in a local holiday show at  First Stage Children’s Theater .

Taking in a local holiday show at First Stage Children’s Theater.

Flex your Christmas creativity. Let’s make artwork or a Christmas craft for Grandpa and Grandma.

Advent is a time to reflect on one of God’s most awesome gifts: nature. Today we will make treats for the birds to help them survive the winter.

Cha-ching! Make someone’s day by leaving a bunch of change in a vending machine.

Let love do the talking. Leave an anonymous kind note on a stranger’s car.

Nature nurtures our soul. Let’s spend some quiet time with it by taking a hike in the woods.

 Walking in a winter wonderland.

Walking in a winter wonderland.

If you do a living Advent calendar this year, I’d love to hear all about it!! Drop me a comment below with details!

© Rachael Liska, happyhearthappyhome.com

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