Steps To Making Your Advent Calendar More Meaningful

matchboxes wrapped in Christmas decorations

To me, it never used to matter what kind of Advent calendar our family used, as long as there was chocolate involved. And, true to form, over the years, our family has plowed through our share of dollar store Advent calendars—the kind with the peekaboo paper doors concealing dime-sized chocolate squares. 

But another Advent “calendar” tradition has proved far more meaningful. 

It started years ago when I was part of a group for moms of young kids. One woman in the group hosted a craft day. The adults would put together a unique Advent project, she said, while the kids played. Since I was always on the hunt for activities to keep my kids busy (complete with grownup conversation—bonus!), I didn’t take much convincing to attend. 

Over coffee and Christmas cookies, we dove right into the project, an unusual countdown to Christmas craft that started with 25 empty matchboxes, each decorated with Christmas wrapping paper and stickered with the 25 digits of the month leading up to Christmas. 

RELATED: The Sounds of Advent: Music to Contemplate the Season

From there, each box could be filled with any item small enough to fit in it, like chocolate, handwritten notes, or even money. All 25 boxes would then go into a see-through receptacle (like a vase) to be drawn out one by one each day of December.

Upon taking my craft project home, I decided to get creative about filling each box. In addition to the little Dove chocolates that slid neatly into some of them, I realized I could add a dash of the true meaning of Christmas to this customizable calendar. (As a Catholic, it’s important to me to make the holiday a spiritual celebration as well as a material one.) 

As much as I’ve always enjoyed candy-based Advent calendars, they never seemed to do much to center my thoughts around the Christ child in the manger. And I knew if they didn’t have this effect on me, an adult, they probably wouldn’t help my kids focus on Jesus, either. This new form of Advent calendar seemed like a good way to remind the whole family that although Advent is partly about unwrapping delicious goodies, its real purpose is to prepare our hearts for celebrating Jesus’ birth. 

To infuse this deeper meaning, I proceeded to write Bible verses from the Christmas story on strips of paper for some of the days, each in succession. The angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary might go in the box for first of December, perhaps, then the journey to Bethlehem in the fifth, and so on. 

In others, I wrote fun holiday quotes, like the line from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” about carving the roast beast. I even realized I could enhance holiday experiences by writing messages about special activities we’d do on a given day. If I knew we’d be getting our Christmas tree on the fourth of the month or attending a gingerbread house-making party on the 13th, that day’s box would have a message saying so. 

RELATED: A Lesson in Waiting

A clear vase with a red bow, filled with matchboxes.
The author’s Advent calendar.

Finally, I dumped the 25 matchboxes into a clear glass vase (where, I must say, they looked delightfully festive), tied a red ribbon around it, and waited for December to start. Not surprisingly, as with every other previous Advent calendar, my kids were all too eager to be chosen to pick out each box for a fresh daily surprise. Even I was delighted and surprised on some days to remember what lay inside each colorful little cube. (Hey, after 25 harried days of December, my memory isn’t always the sharpest.)

By now, we’ve kept our unusual Advent calendar for so many years that some of the boxes are missing or have lost their stickers—but to this day, my preteen kids still clamor to reach inside the vase during Advent. Since each new year holds new experiences, new movie quotes, and even new inside jokes, it’s as interesting as ever. Plus, some of the boxes still hold chocolate, and chocolate never gets old.

If you’ve gotten bored with the same old Advent calendars year after year, allow me to suggest taking a craft day of your own. Not only is this DIY tradition customizable and reusable, it could even make a thoughtful gift for a friend or loved one. 

Try surprising a spouse with 25 days of Scripture and sweet words of encouragement or treat your BFF to a blend of candies and favorite shared Christmas memories. Just about anyone will get a thrill from counting down to Christmas in such a fun, personalized way—especially if it includes chocolate.

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