Activity Advent Calendar Stay Home Edition

I just finished prepping our 2020 Advent Calendar. The way we approach it is assigning a holiday-season activity to each day. We start by making a list of all the things that feel like Christmas-time to our family. We try to imagine school starting in January and we’re looking back — what would we regret not doing before the tree comes down? (Like: Christmas is over and we didn’t watch that film? Or read this book? Oh dear!)

The Advent Calendar becomes a good way to pace ourselves over the holiday, and gives the kids a small surprise to look forward to each day.

The activities are mostly simple — like reading a particular book, or making toffee. In a non-pandemic year, our activities would also include visiting local shops, going to holiday concerts, checking out the Christmas markets (that are so popular in France and throughout Europe), and other community-minded events. This year, we are focused on staying home, so we adjusted the list a bit.

Here’s a list of stay-at-home Advent Calendar ideas in case you want to try something similar with your family. There are more than 24 items on this list, and of course, all the books and movies can be switched out for your family’s personal favorites. Sometimes we’ll double up and assign a movie AND baking on one calendar day, or listen to a certain Christmas album WHILE decorating the tree. You can adapt this as to your own situation as needed:

Advent Calendar 2020 Ideas

-Get out Christmas Storage boxes and put out the Nativity set
-Watch Elf
-Make a 2020 Holiday Season Playlist
-Start the seasonal Manger Service activity — a strip of paper with a kindness written on (my sister helped me fold my laundry) goes in the manger as if it’s a piece of straw; the more “straw” the softer the manger
-Hallmark Holiday movie marathon
-Choose and send gifts (online) for grandparents
-Watch While You Were Sleeping
-Make Cinnamon Rolls
-Hang Stockings
-Read Dream Snow and Olive the Other Reindeer
-Send Money to your local Food Bank
-Get the Christmas Tree and set it up in a stand
-Decorate the Christmas Tree
-Croissant Taste Test (this could be any type of food your town has a lot of — maybe glazed donuts or chocolate cupcakes)
-Watch The Santa Clause
-Make Toffee
-Watch Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas
-Read the Christmas Carol (we’ll usually split longer books up over 2 or 3 days — so the activity might be: Read Half of the Christmas Carol)
-Open and share a box of Christmas Chocolates
-Read The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
-Family Hot Cocoa Bar Night
-Watch Home Alone
-Order Supplies for 12 Days of Christmas — If we know of someone who could use some holiday cheer, we anonymously leave a small gift for them on their porch or in their mailbox for 11 days leading up to Christmas. On the 12th day, Christmas Day, we’ll bring them a final gift in person and visit for awhile. But this year, we’ll probably just carol from the sidewalk. : ) Sometimes the little gifts relate to the song (like a small basket of pears on the first day), but other times it’s more random and we just label the gift: The X day of Christmas.
-Watch Scrooge the Musical
-Bake Gingersnaps
-Listen to A Child’s Christmas in Wales
-Family Wassail Night
-Read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (you can do this a few chapters at a time if you like)
-Read a news story about a family or community in need and make a donation
-Watch Last Holiday
-Watch The Christmas Story
-Sing Christmas Carols (you can do this one several times if your family likes a good jam session)
-Watch It’s A Wonderful Life
-Christmas Recital — if your kids take music lessons, have a little family recital; warm them ahead of time so they can work on a piece especially for this
-Make Snoball Cookies
-Christmas Eve Feast
-Read (or even act out!) the Nativity Story

As for the Advent Calendar packaging, we don’t have anything fancy like the cute one pictured at top (it’s from Target). we try different things on different years. Last year we used little envelopes. This year we found numbered boxes at a local candy shop (the day before the shut down was instituted!). There are tons of cute options and ideas out there if you’re looking to buy or make, but it doesn’t need to be fancy at all .

Your turn. Has your family tried something like this? If yes, did you enjoy it? Do you have a reusable Advent Calendar, or do you like to DIY something each year? What ideas would you add to the list above?

28 thoughts on “Activity Advent Calendar Stay Home Edition”

  1. Fun ideas! We’re brainstorming how to make this holiday special with Covid times. Hoping to do some service things from the Light the World prompts in addition to the treats and traditions ( I’ve thought of doing a 12 days surprise for a neighbor for the traditional 12 days (between Christmas and Epiphany) so that there’s something to enjoy post-holiday. Mostly just worried about having college kids return home safely and how to make lonely grandparents still feel loved…

  2. Thank you! I’m prepping our advent calendar this weekend :) Since we celebrate Hanukkah also, lighting the candles accounts for 8 days. But I’m always game for new ideas.

  3. We’ve done something similar for the past 7 or 8 years. I wanted my daughters to know that Christmas wasn’t just about presents but about showing gratitude for family, friends and community. We do activities to get ready for the holidays (i.e. baking cookies, writing Christmas cards), activities for our community (i.e. supporting a local charity, donating items and/or volunteering in the community) and neighbors, family activities (i.e. movie night, game night, singing carols together along with some special treats (ie. hot chocolate night or breakfast for dinner). This year my girls told me that they were just as excited for the advent to start as they are for Christmas! I was so pleased to hear that these memories are being made and are important to them too. Happy Holidays!

  4. We do this every year! I cut gold card stock into circle holiday ornament shapes and string them with yarn. I write numbers one through 24 on the front. We write the activities on each ornament and then hang them on the Xmas tree. The children take turns finding the ornament for that day and reading aloud the activity. Our favorite things will have to be adjusted for this year- maybe watching the Nutcracker Ballet on Netflix instead of going to see it at the theater.

  5. We do Christmas MadLibs one day and a neighborhood light ride with a scavenger hunt (find an angel, a house with Santa on the roof, luminarias, funny inflatables, etc.). We also do a day where we buy a few gifts for our dog as well as an excursion to select fun wrapping paper for our gifts. These will be done online with curbside pickup this year.

  6. We do this every year too! We have so many great memories of doing it when the kiddos were little and it’s always fun to flash back to those things while adding new “grown up” activities. One of our favorites is driving different neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights.

  7. A wonderful list of ideas as always! Up until last year I would do an activity based countdown for my kiddo, we’d have some themed weeks too with a book, movie, craft, and treat around that theme, eg. Polar Express, or the Nutcracker.

  8. Omg, I love that you’re sharing this! I do a homemade Advent calendar each year and I’m always looking to freshen it up. I made mine years ago w/ recycled toilet paper tubes that I’ve stapled at the bottom and painted.

  9. I usually do trivia with candy but this year I’ll do it without candy since one child is away at school and the last couple of years they were not eating the candy and then I started eating it!

  10. We do the same with our wooden advent calendar. Here are a few of our activities in Phoenix:
    – Setting up the Polar Express train under the tree
    – Driving by the most beautiful lights in the neighborhood
    – Eating tamales with hot sauce (spicy food balances out the sweets)
    – Playing with the Playmobil Christmas marketplace set
    – Going to see luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden
    – Eating Christmas cookies for breakfast
    – Having a Christmas book-a-thon in our pajamas (“Olivia helps with Christmas” is one of our faves)
    – Harvesting oranges to share with neighbors
    -Taking a hike to gather desert mistletoe

  11. My mother made me a beautiful fabric advent calendar and sent it to me when I was in college. Now, 20 years later, I get to enjoy it with my young daughter. Each of the pockets has an ornament to hang on the sewn tree, but this year I also may add a little note to some pockets featuring an activity of the day.

    1. Love this! We do something similar and you have given me some great ideas to add. Some other things we have planned:

      Christmas Light Scavenger Hunt (drive around our town and look for different Christmas lights /decorations)

      Candy cane hunt (hide candy canes for kids to find)

      Make paper snowflakes

      Gingerbread houses (we just use kits)

      Classic Animated Christmas night

      Rockin’ Around the Christmas tree (dance party)

      Wrapping Party

      Deliver neighbor gifts

  12. I started an advent calendar like this when my (then 11 mo. old) baby had his first Christmas. It was then something for *me* since he wouldn’t remember but it made his days more enjoyable and gave me something to look forward to. If anyone was looking for stuff for baby or young toddlers, a few activities included:

    Getting a christmas balloon (tie to baby’s feet if they are not crawling yet. Helps eyes practice tracking)

    “Helping” bake (and then giving goodies to librarians or babysitters or family)

    Practicing *unwrapping* gifts because its a skill too and helps with fine motor skills. I used newspaper.

    Play with (large) jingle bells

    Play the “stocking game” where scarves tied together could be pulled out.

    And, of course, many books and a soft, toy nativity.

  13. We have a reusable advent calendar that is little cloth bags clipped to twine in three rows – I made it from scratch when my oldest was a few years old. I’m impressed now that I somehow made that happen! :) It is usually a mix of activities and some small candy, depending on the day. This year I also bought everyone their own individual advent calendars as a surprise because this year has been so challenging and it seemed like something fun to add to the season. LEGO advent calendars for my younger two, cookies for my husband, a Bonne Maman jam one for my oldest. I had initially gotten a different one for my oldest so will take that one for myself. Thanks for all these great suggestions – loving your holiday posts this year. They are unique and so, so enjoyable and helpful!!

  14. This year we bought a beautiful 500 pièces puzzle for my 7 y old and will divide the puzzle into 20 bags of pieces and that will be our “calendar” . Each morning there will be a bag of pieces with a chocolate (brought by our 2 elves). But FIRST, my husband and I have to make the puzzle!!! (Because we will make the bags from the puzzle). It is a challenging project ah ah but we are excited. The puzzle is from djeco, beautiful. Lock down has booster our creativity for sure!!

  15. I did something very similar when my kids were younger and they loved it. We used a reusable felt calendar with pockets. On busy days sometimes it was a small gift like Christmas stickers or a Christmas pencil. On St. Nicholas Day it was a new Christmas book. Be flexible so you can change your activity if the weather is foul, the kids (or you) are too tired or cranky to enjoy something.

    When my younger daughter was in first year university I did a photo email Advent Calendar. Emailing her a photo of our Christmas decorations each day and copying my sister and an out of town friend who had never seen the decorations. Everyone enjoyed it and looked forward to the daily emails.

  16. Rosa Beltran Design

    Lol nothing says Christmas like “While You Were Sleeping!” 😂 We do an activity based advent calendar too. A few years back I wanted to imbue more meaning into the standard variety chocolate calendar my kid was obsessed with (because candy.) So I bought small cotton drawstring gift pouches at the craft store and numbered them 1-25 with red felt hearts and a sharpie. These hang from our tree and each day contains a bit of candy and a slip of paper with a random act of kindness on it. Things like “go to a drive through and pay the tab of the car behind you” and “leave $5 and a kind note on a stranger’s car” and “bake cookies for the neighbors” etc etc. My son gets giddy with excitement and it helps shift the focus of the season from “getting” to “giving.” xo Rosa

    1. Ohhhh hang on…my brain registered “Sleeping With The Enemy” not “While You Sleeping.” I was so confused about why that was a Christmas movie :) Whoops!

  17. O, I LOVE our advent calendar and my daughter (age 8) is now equally excited for the advent calendar as she is Christmas morning. I’ve done a range of things from kids Christmas decorations for their rooms or lego’s or mix of small gifts (lip balm, nail polish) and always with a mix of activities (acts of service and acts of getting ready for Christmas) and some chocolate. I usually end with a new holiday book. With this list, I think I’ll sprinkle in more activities than gifts. Thanks!

  18. We never pass a holiday without listening to a recording of David Sedaris reading one of his Christmasy essays. “Santaland Diaries” and “Six to Eight Black Men” are favorites with my teenagers. It’s an easy (and funny!) activity that can be done at home.

  19. I made one with little paper bags hung on a string that goes on the wall up the stairs. Each day has a piece of the Christmas story and an activity. There are usually 1/2 “fun” activities and 1-2 service activities (many of which are actually fun). The reigning favorite we call candy cane bombing, where we walk around our neighborhood handing out candy canes (trying to figure out how to reimagine it for this year).

  20. I kind of feel like I missed out on a bit of childhood. We never had advent calendars growing up. I love the idea of doing something special/intentional each day though.

  21. We’ve done an advent activity calendar for many years. My kids are both teenagers now and it’s a little harder to fit an activity into the schedule for every day (soccer practice, dance, homework). So, for the past few years, I have gathered a bunch of corny holiday jokes and there is a joke in the envelope every day…sometimes with an activity, sometimes just a joke. That has also led me to printing out little holiday/Christmas comics or memes that come across my Facebook feed, etc. So now it has morphed into a joke or a funny and then we have activities as often as we are able. I try to throw in something new each year, for a surprise, along with the old standards. This year, I’m hearing a lot about the movie, Jingle Jangle, so I think we’ll watch that one night.

    1. I love this! My kids are 10 and 15 and while there’s still magic…things are a little different. Very clever idea. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top