If you are looking to replace your kids’ advent calendar full of chocolate with meaningful activities, but have babies or a full schedule, this list is for you! Here’s a printable list of 133 advent activity ideas that even the busiest of families can enjoy this holiday season.
Every family that celebrates Christmas counts down to Christmas day in some way… and really, there are so many ways to choose from! You might like a simple chocolate advent calendar, a printable countdown to Christmas, a mischievous elf on the shelf (no thank you, for this mama!), or if you’re like me… you might crave those mini magic moments and christmas activities that you remember growing up as you look forward to Christmas day.
One of my favourite holiday traditions we started with our kids is doing an activity advent calendar each year instead of a traditional advent calendar full of chocolate, treats or small toys.
Much like a holiday bucket list, it’s a great way to make sure that the magical time of the year doesn’t slip away through your busy hands, reminding you to make time for quality time and fun Christmas traditions this month of December leading up to Christmas morning.
Every year it looks a little different as we prepare it for kids of different ages, but the idea is that on each card, envelope, or with a note inside a box every day, fun activities are written. But if you’ve ever attempted to pull this off… you might have found yourself flipping through all the cards to change what the 13th said because now there’s a school concert and no time to go visit grandma and also there’s no snow today but the calendar said build a snowman!!?
So my biggest tip for enjoying an activity advent calendar is to leave most of the days blank and fill them in the night before or even the week before once you know what your capacity (and weather!) are looking like.
This makes the Christmas activity advent calendar completely customizable to your family and your life season. You can only choose advent activities that you are sure you have the time/energy/stuff to make happen.
For example… one year Aubrey broke her collarbone. So we had virtually NO outdoor activities.
Others… we had babies right around the holidays so we needed a pretty low-key Christmas (holiday story, anyone?!).
And if there’s no snow, then don’t write down ‘sledding’ and save it for the day you get a big dump.
Kind of awesome to have that flexibility, right?
BUT coming up with ideas in the moment… at 10pm because you forgot… can be a challenge.
So I created a printable list of 133 simple activity ideas so that you never stand there staring at your kids’ advent activity calendar questioning why you started one in the first place. Even though it really is your favourite tradition. Not that I’ve been there 😉
Some of these take a little more prep than others, so you can choose some that feel like magic to you to prep for and rely on the super easy ones the rest of the month. Even the smallest activities will make holiday moments and memories that will remind you of that magical Christmas season as your kids grow.
I’m always surprised at the little things my kids remember and bring up throughout the year as some of our ‘traditions’. Like sprinkle pancakes (red sprinkles at Christmas, green on Saint Patrick’s Day, pink on Valentines and so on) or stopping in for slushies after school on the last day before summer break.
On this list of activities, some of our most talked about traditions came out of last minute, exhausted mom days. Like the gingerbread smash. I was so tired of them breaking and the kids being upset and trying to fix them. And them begging to eat more candy off them even after they were rock hard. So I said they could smash them in the driveway and we’d make a slow-mo video. Every year now we do this and it’s so much fun.
Or staying in PJs all day or hot chocolate with breakfast. These are all, ‘I give up!’ moments that have turned into such special holiday traditions that we look forward to each year. We have some more time consuming traditions of course, like visiting the local zoo lights and baking a batch of holiday cookies. But those don’t get talked about with the same fondness as some of the others.
Although… our holiday s’mores activity gets talked about all year ’round too 🙂
Because I like *options* I’ve added a TON here. Obviously, 133 is way more than you can squeeze into one month… and a busy month at that. But some years, your life season will look different and as our family has grown and the kids have become more independent, we find we change it up year to year.
What used to feel really difficult for us as a family of 4 kids 4 and under (like playing outside in the snow) now seems like a typical Tuesday. Likewise, we’ve outgrown some of these as our kids are older and don’t want a parent led advent activity after school.
Take what works for you and leave the rest!
133 Fun Advent Calendar Activities to Try
- Backyard S’mores (by candlelight!)
- Cozy up for your very fave holiday movie
- Hot chocolate bar! (with marshmallows & candy canes)
- Snowball fight! (indoor “snowball” fights are fun too!)
- Shovel a neighbor’s drive
- Bake cookies – heck, pick up the pre-made dough if that lets you skip to the fun part! Our kids love to bake anything that uses cookie cutters!
- Wrap Christmas gifts while listening to festive music!
- Donate some food
- Decorate gingerbread houses
- Build a snowman (real or playdoh!)
- Build a cozy winter fort
- Read stories by the fire (or the fireplace channel)
- Drive to see the best Christmas lights
- Crank the holiday tunes for some Christmas coloring
- Hot cocoa with breakfast! Don’t forget the marshmallows.
- Paint a winter wonderland
- Read your fave Christmas storybook
- Turn on the twinkle lights and do a puzzle
- Play outside in the snow
- Call an out of town loved one
- Decorate your outdoor trees and bushes
- Take turns telling Christmas jokes
- Make paper snowflakes
- Sing Christmas carols loudly
- Make someone a Christmas gift
- String a popcorn garland
- Send some festive mail
- Write a letter to Santa
- Make some thank-you cards (garbage man, mail carrier etc.)
- Play a card game by the Christmas tree light
- Design the ugliest Christmas sweater you can! (DIY or draw)
- Take winter family photos or a tacky traditional Christmas picture (the sillier the better)
- Wear red and green today, the more Christmas spirit the better!
- Make a christmas ornament (or just stuff a clear plastic one!)
- Forage for some holiday greens
- Donate old toys
- Put up Christmas decorations in the house (Or just a room! Our older children have really enjoyed getting having their own bedroom christmas decorations in recent years)
- Have a meal by candlelight
- Address Christmas Cards
- Create Christmas puppets and put on a show
- Bundle up for a winter walk, cocoa when you get home!
- Do something kind for a neighbour or loved one (random acts of kindness!)
- Visit Santa Claus!
- Volunteer at a shelter or charity
- Deliver holiday treats to someone’s doorstep
- Ice skating!
- Create Santa’s workshop! Lego, playdoh, or painted
- Hang mistletoe and surprise someone with a kiss
- Sleepover under the Christmas tree!
- Learn a new Christmas song
- Pyjama day! Bonus points for cozy slippers
- Christmas music dance party
- Make a paper chain to countdown the days ‘til Christmas!
- Make reindeer feed
- Make some Christmas ornaments out of pinecones
- Watch the Nutcracker
- Learn about another culture’s holiday celebrations
- Time for a Christmas Craft! Maybe DIY stars out of twigs
- Holiday Themed Bingo! Find things around the house!
- Write a holiday wish list
- Watch Elf!
- Time for some holiday puzzling (with Christmas songs or carols on in the background!)
- Plan a feast for winter solstice
- Make cheaters ice cream in the snow (ziplock bag)
- Share your most special holiday memories
- Make some Christmas cards for each other
- Decorate your windows for Christmas
- Create a Christmas Quiz
- Decorate cookies (sugar cookies or gingerbread men are our faves to decorate, you can buy them ready to decorate if baking isn’t your jam!)
- Play charades with Christmas Carols
- Talent show time! Share your best holiday song or performance
- Hit the library for some new holiday-themed library books
- Invite a family member or friends over for Christmas cookies and tea
- Build a snow fort
- Make a family gratitude list
- Craft photo ornaments (fun gifts for grandparents!)
- Make holiday popcorn (caramel corn or white chocolate candy cane!)
- Christmas Song Karaoke! Skip the fancy machine and hit YouTube
- Make apple cider & enjoy the scent as it simmers
- Tonight’s a formal christmas dinner! Dress up, light candles, make a menu
- Create a bough or wreath with foraged greenery
- Star gaze with lots of blankets and cocoa
- Decorate store-bought ornaments
- Paint pillar candles to light during the holiday season
- Snow painting! Add some food color to spray bottles full of water
- Watch a holiday movie you’ve never seen before
- Visit a Christmas tree farm
- Visit a Christmas market, night market, or other holiday event
- Bead some candy cane or wreath ornaments on pipe cleaners
- Create some handprint art!
- Watch the Grinch
- Create a holiday play!
- Make Salt Dough Ornaments
- Hang your stockings with care
- Make Latkes or another new holiday food
- Watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas
- Holiday-shaped pancakes! (trees, snowmen, ornaments & candy canes)
- Make a Christmas tree out of Lego
- Brainstorm kind things to do for others, choose one and do it!
- Decorate your own Christmas wrapping paper (draw on kraft paper)
- Wear holiday socks
- Mini Games! Throw jingle bells into cups
- Invent your own holiday hot chocolate recipe
- Hand out candy canes to friends and neighbors
- Only red and green foods today at dinner!
- Make your own snow globe
- Make a gingerbread house village out of cardboard
- Gingerbread SMASH! (When those houses get old)
- Holiday Scavenger Hunt!
- Make a bird feeder with pinecone and peanut butter
- Thumbprint art for relatives!
- Make a jingle bell garland
- Open 1 gift (we love PJs as an early gift but if you gift a new Christmas ornament each year, this would be great here too!)
- Watch the Polar Express
- Have eggnog… hot or cold!
- Make snow angels
- Play snowball tag
- Set up a holiday train
- Read The Night Before Christmas
- Try a new recipe (we love eggnog pancakes! Perhaps try mince pies?)
- Print some holiday printable activity sheets (look & find, word search)
- Dry orange slices for a garland or ornaments
- Time for a festive drink! (our kids love Cranberry juice with soda)
- Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses
- Make a stop motion video of a Christmas scene
- Learn to say ‘Merry Christmas’ in a new language (or two!)
- Create a nativity made with candy
- Dress in Holiday PJs all day!
- Decorate an area you don’t normally (the playhouse!)
- Hide the pickle ornament (one of our fave traditions!)
- Write a Christmas poem, story, or comic
- Build a Lego (or playdoh!) gingerbread house
- Learn about advent candles and light one together.
- If your family is religious, swaddle a baby doll like baby Jesus using toilet paper and read the nativity story
- Make small gifts for each family member in the house with recycling and craft supplies (like the 3 kings, if you’re religious!)
- Open a new holiday book (one of our favourite story books to read this time of year is the canadian christmas jingle bells) or the jesus storybook bible
Phew! I added a few more after I made the printable… if you like any of those last few, maybe write those down 😉
I’ve listed out the list in the post here, but you can also download it as a free printable list to tuck away with your Christmas decorations, countdown calendar or wherever is handy for you! I keep ours on top of the fridge during the holiday season to remind myself of fun ideas when it’s the last thing my brain wants to think of before I crawl into bed 😉
I hope that this gives you some great ideas and new things to try so you can enjoy an activity-based advent calendar with your family in a more simple way. All of these advent ideas are really just family traditions waiting to be made! It makes me happy to think that these will be some of the memories our kids will have of the holidays as they grow.
What are some of your favourite memories of the holidays growing up? Why not carry that on with your kids as an advent activity?
DIY ADVENT CALENDAR IDEAS
So you want to switch to an activity Christmas advent calendar… how do you display it? Here’s some of the ways we’ve done it over the years! I’ve linked to blog posts from my DIY blog where there’s tutorials or more information!
The last few years, I’ve stuck to the printable advent calendar mini envelopes– they’re so easy, really cute and easy to pull together in a hurry. We display ours on a small dining room christmas tree to open every morning over breakfast.
If you don’t have a printer and feel like getting creative, making your own activity cards using watercolor paper and a brush pen is a great alternative! I just taped these to the wall above our island while we had babies in the house- anything else would have been torn down immediately 😉
Or if your kiddos want to be able to see what the activity is for themselves… and don’t read yet?! Consider an option that’s all images! Here we printed our favourite photos from past holidays and made a photo based activity advent calendar.
I’ll leave it at that! This is such a fun tradition and I hope that this printable list of christmas activities gives you some great new ideas to try with your family without adding a ton of work to your plate!
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