Advent Calendar Ideas (without candy)

Advent Calendar Ideas on 100 Days of Real Food

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It’s time for a shakeup with some new Advent Calendar ideas because my kids are a little older now (10 and 12). Before I know it, they’ll be gone and out of the house, and I won’t have them to count down with. That’s why I want to make the best of this magical time that we have left (oh, cue the tissues! Sniff, sniff).

Where to Buy Advent Calendars

There are so many cute advent calendars on Amazon these days (I got mine from Target years ago), and here are some homemade ideas! But what I find we need the most help with is what items to put into those calendars (other than candy, of course!).

Our Advent Calendar Ideas List

We write these ideas down on paper and hide them behind each door. If you like them, click the “Free Printable” button below so you can use them and save time.

  1. Go to our town’s tree lighting ceremony.
  2. Make a Christmas Carol video and send it to a grandparent.
  3. See the Nutcracker with mommy!
  4. Write a letter to Santa.
  5. Have a candlelit family dinner.
  6. Look up holiday jokes online with Daddy. Hehehe…
  7. Cut out snowflakes to hang in your room.
  8. Go see “It’s a Wonderful Life” at Matthews Playhouse.
  9. Dance to your favorite Christmas song with your family.
  10. Help mommy make cookies for her cookie exchange party on Tuesday + see the gingerbread houses!
  11. Unwrap new Christmas jammies.
  12. Skype or Facetime an out of town relative.
  13. Make a homemade Christmas ornament for someone special.
  14. Take a candlelit bubble bath.
  15. Unwrap a holiday movie DVD to watch as a family.
  16. Laugh at funny holiday YouTube videos together.
  17. Drive around and look at holiday lights together.
  18. A family game night with hot cocoa.
  19. Write out your goals for the New Year.
  20. Make a holiday craft with mom (search Pinterest).
  21. Make a card for someone special and mail it.
  22. Unwrap and read a new Christmas book.
  23. At dinner have each family member say something they like about each other.
  24. Pick one present to open before Christmas!
  25. Unwrap a new special ornament for the tree.

How to Come Up with Advent Calendar Ideas

First of all, I always find it funny when I see other people’s countdown lists that say things like “go on a sleigh ride.” That sounds amazing, but it’s the last thing I need my kids to count on me to do on a busy weeknight.

But that’s not to say we can’t do some fun activities that require us to get out of the house though (we always do each holiday season, right)? Hopefully many of our ideas will work for you, but here’s how I came up with our ideas in case you want to think of more.


  1. I started by looking at my family calendar to see what activities we already have planned—the Nutcracker, visiting gingerbread house displays, a local Christmas play, and our town’s tree lighting. I placed those on the list on the correct dates (where they were already scheduled) and didn’t tell my kids about them otherwise.
  2. Then, I looked at weekend nights where we don’t have too much going on and inserted some of the more time-consuming activity ideas like watching a movie or playing a game.
  3. And then on all the other days, I stuck in easy stuff that they can mostly do all on their own or notes about little gifts they can unwrap (I purchase a handful of items in advance that I would probably have given them anyway, like Christmas jammies)!


  1. I think I’ll even mix in some of the socks, bracelet supplies, and coins I mentioned above with these little activity cards.
  2. I bet they’d love to build up part of a little Lego set each day, so I’ll divide up the pieces (in order of assembly, of course) and place them behind all the doors with the instructions included on the first day.

I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when they see what “surprises” are behind each little door this year. Oh, and can someone please stop my girls from growing up so fast?! :)

Crafty Ways to Countdown

Simple Items to Unwrap or Open Each Day

I’d love to hear your non-candy Advent Calendar ideas below in the comments!

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16 thoughts on “Advent Calendar Ideas (without candy)”

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  1. This is our first Christmas as a nomadic family and it’s a bit hard on the kids without any of our usual Christmas “things”, thankfully our rental house in Japan came with a fake tree and some decorations! We are desperately trying to come up with ways we can create something that is cheap and can be thrown away before we pack up again. Love the Santa Beard one, will be making that this afternoon!

  2. This is a great idea! Another idea is a reverse advent calendar, where every day you take a food item and put it in a box (two divided wine boxes are great) for food pantries!

  3. Lego makes an advent calendar. Each day is a new little thing to build. I have been getting it for YEARS, and still get it even though my kids are all grown. This year I have one son living at home and one in college. They will take turns opening the doors when the second comes home from college for break. Until then….I get to help!

  4. I make our advent calenders with cool handwritten quotes and various little treats or gifts. A small puzzle, an activity book, something to craft, even bubble bath. Each day also includes a piece of chocolate. Being born and raised in Germany, that’s just tradition. I can understand people not wanting to use any sweets but a piece of good quality chocolate a day never hurt anyone.

  5. This is a great list! I’ve got really little ones so my list is a little different. A couple others I included are: go to zoo lights, bake dad’s favorite cookies, shop for our “giving tree” gifts, watch Elf, go sledding, cut down the Christmas tree, etc.

  6. This year, our family is making a Jesse tree, which traces the lineage of Jesus from creation-his birth. Each day focuses on an event/person/story from the Old Testament, which we will read and make an ornament (color in our case since we have small children) of a symbol commemorating the theme for the day. I think we’ll also sing a children’s song that goes along with the day’s theme and possibly do an activity that goes along with it on some of the days. Many ideas out there for Jesse trees, but I got mine from

  7. We do something very similar and I just posted about it today too. We do a “12 Days of Christmas” and scatter the activities around our other obligations. This also gives us a few free days if something else comes up (and it always does!)

  8. Every year I order a photo puzzle (From that includes pictures from the last year. I put a few pieces of the puzzle in each stocking so that each day of advent we can work as a family to assemble the puzzle. It’s a really fun way to review the memories of that last year and then we have a collection of puzzle’s (From previous years) to work on each year at Christmastime! They have both Adult (110-560 pieces) and Kid (24-58 pieces) puzzles so can select what works best for your family/kiddos ages.

  9. Puzzle pieces. :) Every day there are a few more, but you have to figure out where the puzzle pieces go.

    (That means the advent calendar assembler has to put the puzzle together first and then take it apart in an order that each group of puzzle pieces will somehow connect to the pieces already assembled, but it’s fun.)

    I saw a approx. 50 piece kid puzzle of an airport. I’m thinking I might use that one year and write on it where we’re going after xmas.

  10. One thing that we have done a couple of years is to put puzzle pieces into the Advent calendar. When they were younger, I would make sure it would all connect. This year they will get random pieces (really beacause I don’t have time to put the puzzle together first!) That gets mixed up with other little things they might need or want. Lip balm, a holiday eraser. One year we did a crafty Advent. Everyday there was a new little craft to do. Lots of prep, but fun.

  11. I try to incorporate as many random acts of kindness I can. We have a young girl in our town who was shot and killed and her birthday is around a Christmas. They started a group on FB hat shares RAK in her honor. So we take cookies to the police, fire and cross guards (or hot chocolate for the guards); one time we candy cane bombs owners of area businesses; we collect food for the shelter or animal supplies for the animal shelter. We do bell ringing. This year I would love to volunteer with my oldest in a warming shelter or food shelter.

  12. We have a box full of holiday books to reread…picture books for each night of the month.
    We used to wrap them so they could unwrap one each night, but now we just reach in and randomly grab one. :-)
    Teens and they still want to read Yes Virginia… and more.
    A friend is doing a sock calendar…apparently Target has 12 packs of branded socks like Harry Potter. 2 sets = 1 advent calendar.

  13. We do something very similar, I plan out what we can do in our calendar and then put those items in the advent calendar on those days. I love your ideas, like the make a Christmas carol video and send to a grandparent. My kiddos would love doing that!!

  14. We do a countdown with stockings. Each kid has a small stocking on their door and everyday they find a little something (a lot of the ideas above or a small treat)., the nice part for me is I have a little more flexibility in size (for example one day was a Christmas pencil) and the fun for them is they have to keep checking because they never know when it will show up during the day!