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30 Advent Calendar Ideas that are Low on Sugar and Plastic, but high on Creativity and Kindness

Growing up we had a beautiful advent calendar handmade by my mum's best friend. It was a large green felt Christmas tree attached to red cotton canvas with two pockets at the bottom. Each pocket contained 12 felt decorations (a candle, a present, a rocking horse, etc) that could be attached to the Christmas tree, one for each day of December until Christmas Eve. The excitement of rushing through to the kitchen each morning to be the first to affix the next decoration to the tree inevitably lead to a few bruises and bust-ups between my brother and I but it is the warm memories of this tradition that persists.

 

DIY advent calendars are fun, but can be quite labour intensive to make

Unfortunately, I lost this advent calendar (not the one pictured here obvs) some time ago and each year, since having kids, would scour Pinterest on November 30th in a desperate attempt to pull something together at the last moment. Last year, amidst piles of empty loo roll inners, tissue paper, and dozens of burns from the glue gun, I finally admitted defeat. 

If you are crafty and feel like trying your hand at making your own calendar, this blog has some pretty gorgeous ideas, but if, like me, the thought of making 24. TWENTY. FOUR. pockets of some description has you reaching for the brandy then I have something for you...

Behold! Not one but two stunning, sustainable advent calendars! These beauties are locally designed, printed and produced and beat the mainstream store offerings by miles. 

 

An African advent calendar really speaks to the spirit of a local, summertime Christmas

 

The first is made by local creative Lauren of Lala Art Bar. It is a magnificent celebration of the South African Christmas, with a tree resplendent in local creatures to be coloured in each day in the build up to Christmas. I love the simplicity and ease of this calendar: no need to buy anything (crayons and 24 star stickers are included in the set), no need to set-anything up (besides taping the poster to the wall), no expectations of trinkets, chocolates or to-dos. Just colour and enjoy! 

Sustainable cotton canvas forest friends advent calendar with pocketsSustainable cotton canvas festive advent calendar with pockets

The second calendar is a true win in the sustainability stakes as it can be used year after year, which also adds to the creation of enduring family traditions and memories (as my lost childhood advent calendar did). Designed by clever-cat Tessa of EnviroKid it is available in two different but equally gorgeous designs. 25 pockets of various sizes allow you to add your own daily "treats" for each day.

I personally prefer to avoid too much sugar and plasticky tat that just ends up in the eco-brick, so I drew up a list of festive activity-based advent ideas that can be included in the EnviroKid Advent Calendar or in a DIY calendar that you've made yourself. The ideas are relatively simple, and easy to implement. I have tried to find a balance between creative activities and acts of kindness and have provided links to various resources that may be helpful. I hope you enjoy this list and would love to hear what fun advent activities you do, or have planned in the comments below.

Scroll to the bottom of the page for a free condensed printable version that can be included in your own advent set-up.

 

1. Write a letter to Father Christmas. You can use the printable I have made and linked here, or just let the kids write and decorate their own sheet of paper. 

2. Smile at everyone you see. No extra materials needed :)

3. Fill a shoebox for Santa's Shoebox Project. Whilst decorating the shoebox and making cards we use the opportunity to chat to our children about our position of relative privilege, about gratitude and humility, and the value of sharing over Christmas and beyond.

4. Make your teacher a Christmas card.

 

A beautiful exploration of various Christmas traditions around the world.

5. Read a Christmas book. Honest Toys has chosen two books this year: this one for babies and toddlers - which is both a simple, yet fun and festive read and also makes a gorgeous decoration for the season, and this for older children (pictured above) which explores various festive traditions around the world.

6. Write and post (yes, the old fashioned way - but do it early so it gets to it's destination on time) a Christmas card to your friend.

7. Fold origami stars. These can be sprinkled under the Christmas tree as decoration, included in homemade Christmas crackers as a little gift, or threaded and hung on the Christmas tree as an eco alternative to tinsel. 

8. Donate old toys and books to a local charity. This is a good opportunity to clear out in advance of Christmas and the possible deluge of new toys. 

 

These air-dry clay decorations are gorgeous and surprisingly easy to make.

9. Make Christmas decorations. We like to make ornaments with air dry clay like these (pictured above), festive paper chains and wreaths made from garden foliage, but if you're short on time (or inclination) this Christmas origami paper pack makes it so easy and fuss-free.

10. Do a puzzle. We like this Christmas in the Woods puzzle but if you prefer more of a challenge we have a great selection here.

11. Decorate the Christmas tree. 

12. Paint a rock with a festive picture or message and hide it for someone else to find.

13. Make a bookmark for a friend.

14. Build a fort and have a picnic in it. We will be using these amazing giant playsilks to build ours. 

15. Put together a Christmas hamper for someone in need. This list is great for basics and essentials, but do remember to throw in some Christmas treats too! 

 

Decorating windows with festive designs using chalk markers is a mess-free and eco-friendly way to decorate for the Christmas season.

16. Decorate your windows with festive designs using chalk markers (let the kids go free-hand, or print-out festive designs, stick them to the outside of the window and trace over the design from the inside) or make Christmas silhouette window decorations.

17. Bake Christmas biscuits - make double and share with your neighbours. Speculaas (a Dutch spiced biscuit) are our festive biscuits of choice. We also love making these yoyo's with a granadilla filling since our granadilla vine is dripping with fruit this time of the year.

18. Play with a festive tinker tray set-up. Make a batch of red, green and white (uncoloured) play dough, add other festive bits and pieces like Christmas biscuit cutters, pine cones, lolly sticks, Christmas decorations, red and green pipe cleaners, etc and put your feet-up while your kids are engrossed for ages! You can thank me later (just don't be tempted to add glitter to the mix).

19. Have a family games night. 

20. Make wrapping paper. Buy a large ream of paper and let the children draw or use stamps and paint to decorate it. 

 

The Snowman is a delightful, classic Christmas movie to enjoy in the festive build up.

21. Watch a Christmas movie. This is a great list of options for kids of varying ages. The Snowman is a firm favourite in our household. 

22. Have a candle-lit dinner as a family.

23. Have a Christmas music dance off. Find some fun festive tunes on YouTube or Spotify and let loose!

24. Read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

25. Make your own Christmas gifts. Load up on ideas here.

26. Make a family gratitude list. Sit together and write down everything you're grateful for. This is a great antidote to the crazy consumerism we can so easily get swept up in during the holidays. 

 

A hot (or cold) cocoa bar is a fun and festive way to engage the kids in holiday advent activities

27. Organize a hot or cold cocoa bar. Make a large pot of cocoa and set out mugs, whipped cream (or ice cream), sprinkles, cinnamon, chocolate balls, marshmallows, crumbled eatsummores, or whatever else you can think of and let the kids design their own fancy drinks. 

28. Colour in festive pictures

29. See the Christmas lights. Put pajamas on first for an easier bedtime when you get home. (With any luck, they'll fall asleep in the car!)

30. Celebrate Christmas with friends, family, and your community.

 

Get your FREE printable advent calendar suggestions here

 

 


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