I’ve always adored traditions at Christmastime, but as an adult, I’m learning sometimes you have to sacrifice traditions because of schedules, sickness, family situations, and just for sanity’s sake. After getting married, it was really frustrating for me to give up doing the same things every year on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and I definitely felt some of the warm fuzzies associated with the holiday season begin to slip away.
Through the years I’ve figured out ways to come up with consistent holiday traditions that can be adjusted as life throws curveballs our way—the recipes I make, the records we play, and the few activities we can depend on every year, like decorating the tree together and driving around to look at Christmas lights. And this year I’ve thrown a new tradition into the mix: An advent calendar!
This is the first time I’ve made a full 25-day advent calendar, and I think I’m just as excited about it as my kids. I had made an advent calendar with surprise activities and gifts for my husband a few years ago, but it was pretty stressful making sure our calendars allowed for the surprise activities, not to mention our budget allowing for the gifts. So when I set out to make this calendar, I made sure the activities and gifts would be easy and simple. For me, the fun of an advent calendar is just being together and setting aside a bit of time, as small as it might be, to connect with one another, even if it’s just to open a little box with candy inside.
So check out how I made this advent calendar garland, and take a peek at what we planned for our 25 days!
-star boxes—I used these 4″ paper mache boxes as well as these 2″ paper mache boxes (this is another option here).
-twine, string, or ribbon
–gold liquid gilding or gold leaf kit (leaf sheets + sizing + sealer—I prefer this for texture.)
–numbered stamp set or number stickers (I ended up using these American Crafts stickers.)
-ink pad (if using stamps)
-fine cloth (if using gold leaf)
Step One: Decorate the outside of all 25 boxes. I chose to gold leaf rather than paint because I love the shine and texture gold leafing adds. Perfect for the holiday season! This was definitely a time consuming process, though, so if you’re not up for the task, you could choose to brush on paint or liquid gilding, or perhaps spray the boxes with primer and metallic paint.
If you choose to gold leaf the boxes, as I did, you’ll need to make sure you have enough gold leaf sheets for all boxes. I had plenty of sizing and sealant in one gold leaf kit, but I did end up purchasing additional sheets at Michaels to finish all of my boxes. I sliced the sheets into strips to help me conserve them when applying the sheets to the sides of the boxes.
To apply gold leaf, brush a coat of sizing onto the box, let the sizing dry a bit (wait about 15 minutes), then lay sheets of gold leaf onto the sticky sizing. Use a fine cloth to burnish the gold leaf onto the box, and try not to handle too much with your fingers. The oils from your hand will cause the metal to tarnish. Seal the gold leaf as soon as possible.
Work with just a few boxes or lids at a time, as letting the sizing sit for too long will make them less tacky, making it difficult for the gold leaf to adhere to the boxes. I found working with 4-5 boxes or lids as a time was a good amount for the time it took to apply the gold leaf.
Step Two: Paint the interior of the boxes. It took me 3 coats of acrylic paint to completely cover the paper mache boxes I used.
Step Three: Add numbers to the box lids. I had intended to use stamps for this, but I couldn’t get any of my ink pads to work with the shiny metal surface created by gold leafing the lids. So I decided to use stickers instead. If you’re a scrapbooker like me, you’ll probably have a lot of random numbers from old sticker sets that you could use in combination with each other to come up with enough ones and twos for all of the days in an advent calendar.
Step Four: Poke or drill tiny holes into the tops of your boxes, then screw in the eyelet screws. If you don’t want to use eyelet screws, you could certainly poke holes for threading the string through, but it will be less polished looking and more difficult to thread.
Step Five: Thread the string or ribbon through the hooks and tie it in place. I spaced my stars about 5″ from each other.
Step Six: Fill the boxes and hang up the garland in your home. I chose to hang my garland on a leaning ladder because I sadly don’t have a mantel to decorate. But I love the way it looks draped on the ladder!
Most of the lids fit snugly onto the boxes, but the looser lids are secured with clear tape. I might use tape on all of the boxes to discourage curious little hands from taking premature peeks at the surprises inside.
My husband and I went out for dinner and planned each of the days’ gifts or activities in our advent calendar together. Here’s what we came up with for the boxes, reserving the right to change around the box contents to better fit our schedules! 🙂
Day 1: Light-up Christmas lights necklaces
Day 2: Paint—Paint mini stain glass window decals
Day 3: Mini marshmallows—Drink hot chocolate and watch a Christmas movie together
Day 4: Mini book—Unwrap a new Christmas book to read together
Day 5: Chocolates
Day 6: Colored beads—Make bracelets with elastic string
Day 7: Mini teddy bears
Day 8: Mini wooden peg people—Kids paint the pegs and Mom adds faces
Day 9: Life Saver candies
Day 10: Dice—Family game night
Day 11: Mini gingerbread house—Decorate gingerbread houses
Day 12: Mini deer figurines
Day 13: Mini wreath—Make pipe cleaner wreaths for the dollhouse
Day 14: Chocolates
Day 15: Jingle bells—Make jingle bell necklaces
Day 16: Life Saver candies
Day 17: Mini Christmas light bulb ornaments—Drive around to look at Christmas lights
Day 18: Mini gingerbread ornament—Decorate gingerbread cookies
Day 19: Dice—Family game night
Day 20: Wooden snowflakes—Paint snowflakes to make magnets for the refrigerator
Day 21: Disco ball ornament—Family dance party to Christmas party playlist
Day 22: Mini marshmallows—Drink hot chocolate and watch a Christmas movie together
Day 23: Mini stand mixer—Bake cookies with Mom
Day 24: Mini pillow—Camp out in the living room beside the Christmas tree
Day 25: Mini book—Read the Christmas story together
I’d love to hear what kinds of things you put in your advent calendars. Since this is my first year making one, I have a feeling it’s on the ambitious side, and each subsequent year will be simpler and perhaps full of more candy! Ha! But we’ll see. Wish me luck! –Mandi
Credits //Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with the NEW A Beautiful Mess actions.
What a great holiday tradition! I like the idea of having little activities to do every day. I have a little one on the way, so that might need to be something we start doing next year.
My husband just released a new Christmas album, and I’m looking forward to having it become a holiday tradition/classic in our home. You can listen to it here: forestcreatures.bandcamp.com
I don’t think I would ever go to that much trouble, but that is too cute. I would oooh and ahhh if I saw that in someone else’s house. 🙂
I made it a couple of years ago and shared the tutorial here at A Beautiful Mess! It’s very affordable if you have a drill and access to a hole saw bit or forstner bits. https://abeautifulmess.com/2013/12/make-your-own-leaning-blanket-ladder.html
This is such a cute idea! I really like how simple it is and fun! Also, the ladder! Is this something you guys made or purchased somewhere? Do you mind sharing where I can get one like yours?
Wow! I can’t believe you made all of those! And I really like the way they look natural Great job! -Mandi
I think my problem is I don’t ever wait for an advent calendar to give me permission to eat chocolate every morning! Ha! (oops…) -Mandi
Oh my gosh! That’s incredible. And I know what you mean about the big lead up to Christmas. I like extending the holiday because of the decorations and traditions, but it can be a lot of materialism and making the kids go crazy waiting. -Mandi
I love the paper town idea! If I had a mantle, I would definitely do that. -mandi
Ha! Well, I might have to resort to that on some of these days, as I didn’t really look at our family calendar when making the list of activities. Oops! -Mandi
Wow, thank you! That’s so nice to hear. 🙂 -Mandi
Whoa this is AWESOME!
I’ve been wanting to do somethign like this for awhile and it’s perfect!
I think it might need to wait till next year for me though..! 😉
Ohh, I love this. We just made a similar advent calendar (http://www.littlehouseonthecorner.com/diy-star-advent-calendar/) and I wish I’d been clever enough to buy the star boxes. It took forever to cut out and fold them all! 😉
This is so so great! x
Jessica — NinetyCo
Ahhh this is such a cute idea!! It’s so pretty too, would make for a great holiday decor! <3
This is such a wonderful idea! I love alternative advent calendars, especially when they are so lovely and creative. Much better than a cheap chocolate each morning (although I do kinda love that too >:) Immy x
I love that this advent calendar is activity based, it’s such a great idea. Looks pretty too!
This is adorable and love the fact you can reuse it every year. Especially love the idea of little trinkets linked to activities you can do together – i want to camp out next to the Christmas tree!
I love this! When my nephews and niece were little I made 3D advent calendars with a present for each of them every day (numbered) to help Christmas come more quickly. They also had windows with little pictures behind. I made a house then a castle then a ship. They took ages to make but were a real labour of love! Weekdays they were at school so usually got sweets but at weekends they got things to do like plasticine, colouring books, etc. It must seem such a long time (when they are old enough to understand – about 3) between Christmas first being mentioned and actually arriving. It’s worse than ever these days.
That is so adorable 🙂 I went with a paper town this year, but that is so much cuter!