It’s the beginning of December which means advent calendar time! A couple years ago we started doing an activity advent calendar which has been so much fun! (Check out this DIY version here and here.) The kids look forward to each day and what a fun way to countdown to Christmas. Not only do the activity, but we also read one holiday-themed book a day. (Read all about it here.) If you need help filling your calendar with things to do look no further. Here are more than 50 advent activities to keep you busy. The hard part will be choosing what to do!
Tips for your Activity Advent Calendar:
We’ve been doing this for a few years and have learned a few tricks or more.
- Don’t stress out! You already have a lot on your plate, so give yourself a break if you forget or skip a day. In that case….
- Double up and do a couple things on one day.
- Check your calendar and if you already have plans, include it! My son’s birthday is in December so one of our calendar items is “Celebrate birthday!” Is your child in a holiday show for school? Include that!
- Choose the number of days that fits your schedule. Don’t have time to do 25 days? You can easily do the 12 Days of Christmas or the last 10 days. It’s up to you!
- I don’t stuff the envelopes until a few days before the day. That way if things need to be changed around because of our schedule, then I can easily do so. Believe me, going through each “day” and trying to look for a specific activity is NOT fun! Plus, the kids won’t be tempted to peek (which they most likely will.)
- Have fun! After all, that is the main reason you’re doing this!
And without further ado, here are some of the ideas that we’ve done. Grab one or all the ideas. I’ll be continuously adding ideas and links so check back often! Here’s to a fun and memorable holiday season!
- Take a photo by the Christmas tree. After we decorate and set up our tree, we always look forward to taking a picture with it. This year we upgraded to an 8.5″ and love it!
- Pick out a gift from a Giving Tree. We love going to our church or library and picking out a mitten with an item on someone’s wish list.
- Have the kids decorate their own small tree. I’m really excited to try this new tradition. The kids are going to decorate their own small tree. I’m thinking they can do so with the ornaments they make.
- Go on a train ride and visit Santa. Ever since my sons could say choo choo, we’ve been going on a Santa train ride. We’ve been to Happy Holiday Railway at the Illinois Railway Museum and had a good time. For more train rides, check out this article.
- Write letters to Santa and mail them. You better believe the kids have already started writing their wish lists (like a month ago!) to Santa. We’re planning on use these and maybe DIYing our own mailbox. How cool would that be? There are also places that actually write back! For example, one of our favorite local candy stores, Around the Corner Candy, will have their mailbox out starting 11/29. Don’t forget to send them early if you want a response. Sometimes your local park district also has a Santa Mailbox.
- Paint a holiday picture. I’ve stocked up on canvases and can’t wait to paint, paint, paint. We’re in love with Kwik Stix Solid Tempura Paint). Paint in a stick. No mess at all. Easy to clean up. We love them.
- Read a Christmas book by the Christmas tree. We’ve compiled all our holiday books and wrapped them. (Hint: Stockpile throughout the year by shopping at thrift stores and garage sales.) They can each choose one from the pile. Check out our favorites here.
- Donate your time. This year, I am making more of a conscious effort to give as it’s truly the reason for the season. We plan on going to a toy packing event. I’m a part of this great Facebook group, Gratitude Generation, that hosts lots of events that kids can be a part of.
- Visit a Christmas tree farm. Cut down your own tree. Plus, the photo ops will be great!
- Make a Snowman – outside or in! You can either make a real one outside with snow, or make one inside with marshmallows or other crafty ideas.
- Go look at Christmas lights. Do a quick search and you’ll find tons of holiday lights. Some of our favorites include those in Lake Geneva, the Milwaukee area (totally recommend!), and the free local show at Mack Manor.
- Go shopping for the family. Last year, we started a new tradition by having the kids pick out their own presents for the family. Since we wanted to be budget-friendly, we went to Five Below. This year, we may take each kid on a one-on-one date and continue the shopping tradition.
- Work on teacher gifts. The kids can personalize a card or help make the teacher gifts. Plus, they love to help wrap presents.
- Help wrap presents. My little helpers are always eager to wrap presents.
- Have a Grinch Day! Everyone wears their best green outfit or pajamas, make some green hot cocoa, and watch The Grinch!
- Make your own gift wrap. Get some potatoes, cut it in half, and make the shape of the stencil. Grab some butcher paper or craft paper. Lay the wrapping paper on the floor (tip: use masking tape to secure it), then stamp away. Here are other great ideas.
- Help send out Christmas cards. I still love sending Christmas cards to our friends and family. The kids love helping out by drawing on the envelopes, putting stickers on the cards, and attaching the stamp.
- Make hot chocolate with all the fixins. This year I’m going to try having a hot chocolate station set up. I’ll include a variety of marshmallows, chocolates, and candy canes. I’ll also make sure to stock some Blue Bunny peppermint ice cream in the freezer. It’s a great alternative to peppermint candy canes and it cools the hot chocolate. So good! It’s also gives us an excuse to use these super adorable Elf narwhal cups.
- Have a Christmas movie marathon and eat popcorn. Some of our favorites include Elf, Home Alone, and The Grinch. What are some of your favorite Christmas movies?
- Go to the movies and catch a flick. When you’re in the mood for buttered popcorn, nothing beats hanging out with the family at the movie theater. (Hello, Frozen 2 here we come!) One of our favorite places to catch a flick is at CMX Cinemas in Old Orchard. They take the movie theater experience up a notch with clean and comfy seating and delicious food! We also love walking around afterwards and seeing all the lights and decorations, then going ice skating.
- Make candy cane reindeer. In the past, we made these then gave them out during our holiday Christmas party.
- Make an ugly sweater. This year we’re doing an ugly sweater theme and I thought it would be fun to make our own ugly sweaters. For a budget-friendly option, check out Pinterest for inspiration, hit your local thrift store and dollar store, and start making!
- Hang out with Santa at Santa’s Village. What better place to celebrate Santa than at Santa’s Village? During Magical Christmas Days, you can hang out with Santa and his friends while riding amusement rides or indulging in holiday treats. Need more convincing? Here are 6 reasons why you’ll want to visit.
- Have breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner with Santa. There are tons of places to do so. In the past, we’ve had an awesome Santa brunch at Pinstripes Barrington. Then we went bowling afterwards! We’ve also had a delicious Santa Brunch at Pheasant Run Resort.
- Open one stocking stuffer. I have them pick out one thing in their stocking.
- Make your own snow globe. My daughter is obsessed with snow globes, so I thought it would be fun to make our own snow globe this year. Grab some DIY snowglobes at Dollar Tree or these on Amazon.
- Make snow ice cream! We’ve never heard of this but I am intrigued. Grab a clean bowl, wait for snow to accumulate, then add condensed milk, add your fav topping and voila! (Grab the details here.) We’ll probably try making our own with our super adorable Snoopy snow cone machine.
- Visit the Santa Suite. One of our favorite Chicago holiday events is going to the Santa Suite at Swissotel The suite is festively decorated, there are crafts, the chance to write Santa a letter, and we can even take a picture with Santa.Read all about our visit here.
- Go to the Museum of Science and Industry and take a picture with your favorite tree. This is our family tradition. It’s already one of our favorite museums but becomes extra special during the holidays with all the other festively decorated holiday trees.
- Game Night. The kids are finally into board games like chess and Battleship. I’ve heard great things about the Pie Face game too!
- Make and decorate gingerbread houses (or make gingerbread ninja men!). I like getting gingerbread kits with 3 or more houses so each of my kids has a house to work on. Trust me, fighting to decorate a gingerbread house is not needed. If you’d like like to bake your own gingerbread men, you can’t go wrong with gingerbread ninja men. So fun!
- Donate a toy. Toys for Tots is a wonderful option for donations. Plus, it seems they have donation boxes everywhere!
- Bake Christmas cookies or treats for Santa. What is your favorite recipe that is easy to make with the kids? Or if you’re pressed for time, buy cookie dough in the refrigerated section and bake. Make it even easier and buy cookies. Done and done!
- Make snowflakes. Make paper snowflakes the old-fashioned way or try these easy popsicle stick ones. I’m especially loving these coffee filter ones!
- See Mrs. Claus. Not only does Jolly St. Nick make an appearance, but it’s always fun to see Mrs. Claus as well. Our library has an excellent story time with Mrs. Claus.
- Pick one gift to open on Christmas Eve. Or….
- Make a Christmas Eve Box. This is also a first for us. We’re always at a family party and to help keep the kids busy until it hits midnight, I thought having a Christmas Eve box would be fun. I’m planning to add PJs, Christmas crafts, a holiday coloring book, holiday socks, and other goodies.
- Make paper gift tags. All you’ll need is cardstock, string or ribbon, and a hole puncher. Dress it up with glitter or stickers. Some ideas include Christmas trees, circle ornaments. The ideas are endless – check out these Pinterest crafts.
- Go on a getaway. If you can swing it, try taking the family on a small getaway. In our Chicago winters, we love escaping to the waterpark. One of our favorite places is Great Wolf Lodge Gurnee. They truly get decked out for the holidays with their Snowland Celebration. Imagine a magical wonderland with twinkling lights, shimmering holiday trees, daily snow showers, and other cheerful decorations. We’ll be staying here and can’t wait to share our experience, so stay tuned!
- Make paper ornaments. I got this ornament cutter at Dollar Tree and I’m dying to try it out! Here are a few other ideas for you!
- See a holiday show. In the past, we’ve seen the Nutcracker made specifically for kids. They have tons of holiday shows to put you in the holiday mood. Need some ideas? Check out these shows.
- Have a holiday tea party or go somewhere for holiday tea. We’ve had tea at Drury Lane and absolutely loved it. This year, I may have my own holiday tea party with all the cute tea cups I’ve collected. Or I may take my daughter to any of these cool tea spots that I highlighted in Chicago Parent.
- Go to a restaurant that goes all out. Looks like Kelsey Road House in Barrington goes all out decorating their basement. Will be checking it out soon! Plus, on Fridays they offer All You Can Eat Fish Fry.
- See real reindeer.
- Make reindeer food. Sprinkle some outside on Christmas Eve so the reindeer know where to go. Here’s a recipe.
- Go on a sleigh ride or wagon ride.
- Go ice skating. There are plenty of places where you can go ice skating.
- Make homemade gifts. Making homemade gifts is fun and thoughtful. Here are some gifts that even kids can make!
- Make snowman pancakes. Another new one for us! Totally lovin’ these!
- Attend a winter festival. Check your local listings, there’s bound to be a fun winter event happening. We have our eyes on the Elgin Winter Wonderland in Downtown Elgin. They’ll have vendors, sleigh rides, food trucks, and more!
- Make a holiday gnome. These things are just so darn cute! And it looks pretty easy (and cheap!) to make.
- Celebrate Jesus’ birthday. It is Jesus’ birthday after all, so bake or buy a cake. Don’t forget the candle.
Looking for more inspiration? Check out my Pinterest board.