There are a ton of different advent calendars these days, filled with everything from from whiskey to nail polish to LEGO bricks. They’re a lot of fun, but they lack a certain personal touch. If you want to give one, or build one for yourself, here are some superior DIY advent calendar suggestions to celebrate the season.
Illustration by Angelica Alzona. Photos by Claire Lower.
Choose the Right Format
First of all, forget what you know about the word “calendar”. Advent calendars aren’t confined the typical calendar size, and can take on many different shapes and sizes. An advent calendar has two very important features: It has to be numbered, and it has to hide gifts. Sure, you could buy one and fill it with whatever, but if you know what you want to fill it with, you can do better if you DIY. Here are some material suggestions.
- Jewellery/Gift Boxes: Buy some cheap small, gift boxes from a craft supply or dollar store; decorate them with paint, stickers or washi tape; and number them. You can keep it super simple, or you can use this printout for a designer look. Arrange them on a side table or mantle in a pleasing manner, or set them all in a suitcase for a super cute presentation.
- Small Gift Bags: Grab a whole bunch of colourful, festive gift bags of various (smallish) sizes and fill them with treats. You can draw, tape, stamp or paint numbers directly on them, or you can attach numbered gift tags to the handles. Set them out in a row, string them up as a garland of gifts, or hang them directly on the Christmas tree.
- Envelopes: Due to their flat nature, envelopes don’t work well for all gifts, but if you wish to give 24 days of love notes, poems, photos or gift certificates (or a mixture of any,) they’re the way to go. Once filled and numbered, you can pin ’em to a cork board, string them up with twine and clothespins or clip them directly onto a garland or tree.
- Party Hats: Not only are party hats festive by nature, you can set them on top of gifts, making them a super easy option. If you don’t feel like buying party hats, you can also make paper cones from almost any construction-type paper, as A Lovely Lark does here.
- Shoe Organiser: There are two types of shoe organisers: The cubby kind and the over-the-door kind, and both make pretty good advent calendars. For the over-the-door kind (which you can see a tutorial for here), make sure you get one with opaque pockets, and just slap some numbers on there. The cubby kind is great because you can set pretty much anything in those little slots, from bottles of wine to little wrapped treasures. You can place numbered tags on the gifts, or you can cover each cubby hole with a piece of numbered construction or brown craft paper, securing with double-sided (if you don’t want the tape to be visible) or washi tape (if you do).
- Tiny Stockings: You can order a bunch of little stockings for pretty cheap, number and fill them and then pin them up on a corkboard or hang them up by the chimney with care.
- Mason Jars: Since they come in a whole variety of shapes and sizes, mason jars are a great candidate for an advent calendar. You can write, tape or paint the numbers on the lids, and hide the gifts in colourful confetti or festive tissue paper.
- Go Digital: Services like AdventMyFriend deliver a festive picture or video to friend each day. This may seem kind of limiting at first, but you can get really creative here. Beyond songs and funny YouTube clips, you can use this to reveal bigger, experience-based gifts. For example, if you bought concert tickets, you can include a clip of the artist with the message “Guess who we’re going to see!”
Once you have the format of your calendar figured out, it’s time to fill it with goodies. Chocolate is never a bad option, but there are other, more personal treats you can dole out on a daily basis.
For the Booze Aficionado
Every year I yearn for the whiskey advent calendar, and every year no one buys it for me because it is $208. Luckily, you can show your favourite imbiber a little Christmas love by filling their calendars with any of the following:
- Beer: Grab an over-the-wall shoe organiser (make sure it holds 24 pairs); stick, stencil or paint on some numbers; and nestle various bottles of craft (or domestic) beer in each little pouch. Make sure to attach a bottle opener for easy access. Alternatively, you can buy a 24-pack of your giftee’s favourite brew and just Sharpie numbers on the cans or bottles.
- Wine: This one is a little pricey, depending on just how discerning your wine snob is, but it makes a big impression. You can format in a few different ways: You can just plunk it in a numbered paper bag, or you can get some craft paper; draw, paint or stick numbers on it; and wrap it around the bottle, securing it with a single piece of tape so it can be removed without damaging the original label. You can also simply tie a little, tasteful gift tag around the neck of each bottle. You can line the bottles up on a table of mantle, or place them in a wine rack (you’re gonna need a big rack, or restock a smaller one) for maximum impact.
- Cocktails and Spirits: Little hotel bottles are your friend here, and these guys fit into almost any advent calendar you can construct. For an extra clever delivery system, you can nestle each bottle into a numbered shot glass (either plastic or glass). Also, don’t forget about accessories and accoutrements: Mini (or full-sized) bottles of bitters, cocktail olives and cherries, syrups, cute swizzle sticks, bottle openers, coasters and cocktail napkins are all good candidates.
Or you could just buy that expensive whiskey advent calendar. (Someone please buy me the whiskey advent calendar. If you are unclear on where you can purchase the whiskey advent calendar, the whiskey advent calendar can be purchased here.)
For the Foodie Friend
Some of the best gifts are edible, and no one will be upset if you shower them with 24-days worth of tasty treats. Some options:
- Chocolate: Duh.
- Childhood Favourite Treats: The holidays are all about nostalgia, and snack packs of Oreos, Fruit-by-the-Foot, and Goldfish Crackers are all winners in my book. You may need to adjust the treats based on when and where the childhood in question occurred.
- Fancy Freaking Condiments: Little bottles and jars of hot sauce, mustard, flavoured salts and fancy honey would all be well-received.
- Cured Pork Products: Don’t act like you don’t want a nice hard salami. Lots of sausages are preserved in such a way that they don’t have to be refrigerated until you slice into them.
It may be tempting to and make a cheese advent calendar, and 24 cheeses would be delightful, but you’d have to keep the whole thing in the fridge, and I don’t know if you have the room for that.
For the Beauty Queen or King
If the target of your affection is all about getting the perfect look, little beauty and bath products are the way to go. Sephora has a ton of mini, stocking-stuffer sized products this time of year, or you can hit the makeup counters at a few stores and raid their sample sizes, but here are a few of my favourites:
- Mani Pedi Goodies: One can never have enough nail polish, and cute little mini bottles are made for advent calendars. Beyond that, cute files, nourishing cuticle oils and balms, prep wipes and nail stickers are all good options.
- Gift Sets: Lots of brands put out multi-packs and gift sets of all kinds of beauty treats for the holidays, and you should take advantage of them. Just buy a set of something, open it up and distribute the products over several days.
- Sheet Masks: I could receive a sheet mask every single day of December and be absolutely thrilled. Added bonus: You get to look horrifying while making yourself more beautiful.
- Cheap But Good: The budget cosmetic brand e.l.f. is your advent calendar saviour. (Also, if anyone is making me a cosmetic-themed calendar, I wouldn’t mind a few of their brow powder kits, as I have no naturally-visible eyebrows.) The Sephora Collection is also worth checking out, as they have their own in-house brand of everything from skincare products to make up brushes.
There’s also nothing wrong with just going to Target or Rite Aid and grabbing a whole bunch of fun makeup items in ridiculous colours. Personally, I never buy super crazy, neon or glittery makeup for myself — it’s just not practical! — but I Iove receiving it as a gift.
If You Don’t Want to Spend a Lot
Twenty four days of gift giving can get a little expensive, but it is — as they say — the thought that counts. If you want to make someone’s day a little brighter each day of December, but don’t want to exhaust your already strained finances, consider these inexpensive, though still very thoughtful advent calendars:
- Love Notes: These notes don’t have to be of the romantic variety, but 24 compliments, words of encouragement or even goofy jokes tucked into festive envelopes will bring a little daily cheer. Honestly, as someone who thrives on positive attention, 24 compliments by way of calendar would be a most welcome gift.
- The Gift of Song: To shower your intended with sonic delight, you can either make a playlist of 24 songs in a platform like Spotify, send them a song a day or use the aforementioned AdventMyFriend to gift a music video for each day leading up to Christmas. You can also tuck digital download codes into traditional advent calendars, if you wish to keep it slightly more analogue.
- Poems, Sketches, Drawings or Other Creative Bits: If you have been blessed with some sort of creative talent, mine that gift and bestow upon your giftee a nice poem, drawing, painting or hand-crafted ornament each day. (For example: my dad texts me haikus, and it brings me much joy.)
- Little Memories: I am a sucker for inside jokes and nostalgic memorabilia, particularly during this time of year. Due the personal nature of this category, it’s hard for me to recommend gifts for this one, but photobooth strips are never a bad idea, and any little tokens you’ve collected throughout the relationship would work. Think matchbooks from first date locations, travel versions of a game you love playing together or cheap souvenirs from cities you’ve travelled. For further inspiration, refer to the Christmas teapot scene from The Office.
Of course, remember that you are not beholden to any one format or “theme”. Feel free to mix it up, both in terms of type of gift and delivery system. There’s no reason you can’t give chocolate on December 5, nail polish on the 6th and a poem on the 7th. Twenty four days of any type of gift is super generous, and anyone would be super lucky to receive such.