Real Food Tips: Advent Calendars (without candy!)

I touched on the subject of Advent calendars last year, but today I want to expand on the topic by including a detailed list. I like lists. :) As I mentioned our Advent house (which I bought at Target a few years ago by the way) was once filled with little pieces of highly processed candy, gum, chocolate, etc. I used to even let my girls open the doors and eat the junk before breakfast. This was just three years ago…wow, have times changed!

So anyway, I moved away from the candy for obvious reasons, and started going on these intense retail hunts looking for little toys that were tiny enough to fit behind those doors. This was no easy task, and to top it off that stuff really was just “junk” too since they were mainly little plastic items made in China that our children quickly forgot about or lost. So I no longer feel like racing around town and spending time/money on little knickknacks our kids honestly do not need. And I also don’t feel it’s necessary to fill this little house with organic less-junky candy (that is still candy by the way) during an already sugary time of year.

So inspired by This Lunch Rox, below is the official list for our newly renamed “Giving House.” And the criteria for these ideas were basically random acts of kindness that you could perform without having to go somewhere special (like a shelter or hospital). Of course going to such places on a regular basis would be fabulous in an ideal world, but I know how it is around the holidays so I personally did not want to over-commit during an already busy time! My girls seem to be okay with this change so far, and I am even including a free business card sized “printable” version of this list in case you want to follow suit and simply cut out these ideas for your own Advent calendar as well. I’d love to hear any other Advent ideas and suggestions in the comments below!

Our New Advent “Giving House” List

  1. Mail a card to a relative that you have not spoken to in a while.
  2. Do something especially nice and out of the ordinary for your sister or brother.
  3. Write a letter to your teacher telling them what you most like about his or her class.
  4. Give someone a nice compliment they wouldn’t normally expect.
  5. Pack your own school lunch so mommy can take the night off.
  6. Go out of your way to “help” another child or adult.
  7. Play with a friend at school that is alone at recess.
  8. Choose 2 or 3 non-perishable food items that you can set aside to donate to a local food bank.
  9. Write a thank you note to someone who has helped you recently.
  10. Cut some flowers out of your yard (or make flowers out of tissue paper) and give them to either a teacher at your school or a neighbor.
  11. Sit with someone different at lunch that you don’t know very well (and get to know them!).
  12. Decorate cards that you can mail to children who are sick and in some cases fighting cancer (cards can also be sent to their siblings).
  13. If you see a piece of trash on the ground (at home, school, or outside) pick it up and throw it away…be sure to wash your hands afterward!
  14. Choose at least one article of clothing to donate to Goodwill or a child in need.
  15. Email your congressman or the President asking them to consider an issue that you feel is important for your community.
  16. Make a small craft and mail it to one of your cousins.
  17. When you get to school ask your teacher if there is something you can do to help him or her in order to get the morning started.
  18. Tell each member of your immediate family what you love about them.
  19. Choose at least one toy or book to donate to Goodwill or a child in need.
  20. Offer to take one of your neighbor’s dogs (or your own dog) for a walk.
  21. Do a chore around the house that no one has asked you to do, but that needs to be done!
  22. Call one of your grandparents on the phone (or facetime/skype!).
  23. Write a letter to a soldier thanking him or her for serving our country.
  24. With your parents help research a charity you can either donate money to or support through a future event (like a “fun run” or soup kitchen). Put it on the calendar and commit to it.
  25. Give everyone in your family a big {squeeze} hug and kiss and tell them what you are thankful for.
Download a free printable version of this list that can be cut out for your Advent calendar!


Posts may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but 100 Days of Real Food will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated and helps us spread our message!

129 thoughts on “Real Food Tips: Advent Calendars (without candy!)”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

  1. We have a similar Advent Calendar from Bombay and we do a mix of things. Sometimes it is an event like “drive thru lights tonight!” or “get ready for breakfast with Santa!” or simple things like “get on your aprons. It is cookie time!” or “Spaghetti (without syrup) and Elf movie tonight!” We do little gifts a few times too and they are asked to locate that present hidden in the house. We do generous things similar to yours. “Gather up extras we don’t need for a family shelter” or “write a card to a vet overseas.” But we still sneak in a few days of a Hershey Kiss or piece of gum. The kids love not knowing what each day will bring!!

  2. I love this! I, too, have been agonizing over what to put in the advent calendar this year instead of candy. I especially love that all of the odd ones are school-related, so when my 2 older girls (6 and 3; my 1-year-old isn’t ready yet) switch off, my 1st grade will always have something she can do at school! Thank you!

  3. I wanted to like this, but it leaves me feeling flat. It takes a fun-excitement thing and turns it into an obligation or a chore for the kids.
    Yay kids – today you get to pick up rubbish – make sure you wash your hands! Really?

    If you had something like a mini-lego kit that they got a piece of each day, or little seed packets to grow through the year, or or a puzzle that got built over the 25 days, or a “paint by numbers” sheet with different colours each day….that would be cool and something that’s not wasteful or junky.

    Extra chores for Christmas seems….well… like not much fun.

  4. I clicked on this because it looked like my advent house that my sil gave us a few years ago. I used to fill it with chocolates or pepermints but my boys would go ahead and take out all the candy. I didn’t even get to #2 before I sent the list to the printer. My boys (14, 11, 9) are definitely old enough to do these things. I <3 this so much.

  5. What a wonderful idea for some many reasons. I hope others will adopt this calendar. It’s just what we needed. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for sharing your Giving House. I think this is a great idea to use throughout the year. I won’t be using it as a substitute for an Advent calender, but I will be using as a way to teach my kids about random acts of kindness. =]

  7. I agree! I love sugar free advent calendars. Last year was our first year so we did erasers and this year I bought the Lego one. Since I have 3 older kids (and 1 a baby) I have 3 (4 counting one that’s just a calendar) so they can each do something so I also did a service one similar to yours we call “Presents for Jesus” and this year I found a fun activity one (link below) that was very similar to what I had made a list of to do anyway (except changed ice skating to puzzle so everything would be free). So everyday they do a service and a fun activity and whoever finds the elf gets to see what the activity is. It’s things like Christmas movie, craft, and other fun activities then the treat ones we make a healthier version of sugar free ones and hot chocolate from I’ll have to add some of your great ideas to my service box! Thanks.

  8. I don’t have children, but shared this with my 25 fifth grade students. We are going to do this in school, and paste a red heart on our Grinch poster to show our acts of kindness this season! Thanks for giving me this idea!

  9. There are so many good ideas in the comments, it’s worth going back to read them all. I think for older kids it could be fun to put little craft items in each box that they put together at the end to make something (I bead, so I was thinking beads for a bracelet, etc). I have a small baby so our advent calendar is just a decoration for now, but looking forward to doing a giving tree ourselves in coming years.

  10. Just wanted to mention because I manage three meals a week for the marginslized that people tend to give much at xmas. Maybe plan times to do do real food meals for soup kitchens in your area. We cook as much unprocessed food as we can. The poor c as n get as much free processed food ss they want. When giving canned food drives buy tuna, pasta, real chicken broths, gift cards to grocery stores. Thank you so much for caring. Laura

      1. Thank you Shelly for sharing your Advent calendar suggestion. My kids have out-grown the “little” kid one we have. I ordered this immediately after reading your post – it’s perfect for my “big” kids. ;)

    1. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been looking for a new Advent calendar that focuses on the Jesus. This is especially nice for younger children. :)

    2. $15? I’m so jealous! I have wanted this calendar, but hate the $60 price tag. I currently, have a nativity themed advent calendar with fillable boxes. I put a small chocolate in each box and my 3 girls take turns opening a box, so it only comes out to 8 1/3 chocolates per kid per advent season, still, I hate the idea of routinely giving them chocolate. Sadly, I started the tradition when my oldest was little (before I transitioned to real food) and my girls really look forward to it. I think next year, I will have to save up and buy the $60 calendar.

  11. These sound great!

    We have an Advent calendar similar to yours, and I went through the same things – the kids were either getting teeny tiny toys or stickers, and nobody was really happy with that arrangement. So we’ve tried different things over the years. The thing my kids love the absolute best are scavenger hunts! In the Advent calendar I will put the first clue. And they have to follow that clue to find the next clue, etc. After 5 or 6 clues, they find the “prize” (usually something like a new toothbrush, a book, a handmade card from me, etc.). For them, the exciting part is the scavenger hunt – it doesn’t really matter what the prize is. As the kids have grown up, the clues have changed. When they were just learning to read, they were easy and we focused on shapes, colors, etc. as they get older, the clues become more challenging to read, and now that they are avid readers, the clues really make them think (almost like figuring out a riddle). They love it. AND, since we do it in the evening after dinner, running around the house and up and down the stairs gets rid of their last bits of energy! It’s one of their favorite things about Christmas.

  12. This is perfect! I just bought a little house from Target yesterday. And with three kids, fitting three pieces of candy in there would be iffy, anyway, lol. :)

  13. I have two girls (7 and 8). My oldest LOVES it–the conscientious, stoic one, the rule follower who likes to do the right thing. My youngest reads each one and if there’s “work” involved, I get a little “What….!?!?! I have to write something…?!?!” But by the end of the day, she’s fully on board.

    One small suggest though. Either offer it as a Word doc or don’t put the numbers on them. I’ve had to rejigger ours as some things that should happen at school are happening on a weekend, and then others just don’t make sense for our family (e.g. on the 23rd, we will be with all our grandparents, so no need to skype w them.)

    I’ve also printed our on heavy duty card stock–2 in each pouch, so that each of my girls can write down on the back on if what they did. I’m thinking (hoping) that next year we can pull it out and read about all the things we did last year to put us back into the giving spirit.

  14. This is perfect-thank you!! I did a combination of mini dark chocolate and a kindness calendar last year. The challenge is to come up with new and exciting ideas each year so this is a great help. Love the ready to print format as well.

  15. Wow! This is so fantastic! I celebrate Hanukkah and have struggled this year with the gluttony of at least one gift a day (some from other relatives) for 8 days in a row. I will for sure adapt this for next year- probably start with the 8 days before Hanukkah (8 days of giving/8 days of receiving or something like that.) a beautiful idea. Thank you for sharing!

  16. Our advent calendar is the nativity seen and we add new pieces each day, but I have been thinking about doing something like this as well. Thank you!

  17. We are doing the same thing! We delivered a homemade dinner to a friend without notice and for no special reason today. I am calling it “Be the Blessing” month. We have been given so much and out goal is to find a way to be a blessing to someone each day this month. In a way we wouldn’t have normally done and without someone asking for help. Awesome Lisa!

  18. We have done an activity based advent calendar for two years now and our 5 year old loves it! I think it makes each day a little more special than if he was just getting a piece of candy. Please check ours out at

  19. When my kids were younger we always did an “Advent Chain” (which was just a construction paper chain — in the pink and purple advent colors — that had an item written on the inside) that was similar. The kids would take turn pulling one link off the chain every day and reading the family activity for that day.
    I used an actual calendar when planning, and laid out actual events that took place on specific days (school concerts, Christmas parties, set out shoes for St. Nicholas Day, etc.)first, then I added in other things that needed to get done (bake Christmas cookies, set up crib/crèche, buy/decorate tree, wrap presents, etc.) and finally filled it out with “fun stuff” (in-house Christmas movie night, ice skating, movie-theater movie night, etc.)
    Started doing this when my kids were in grade school and did it all the way up until they got too busy in high school. :-(
    They still talk about it.

    1. I forgot to mention that the cards in this project go to all ages, not just kids, and some cards will be sent internationally. :)

  20. Thank you!! I have been trying to come up with something just like this to encourage GIVING and help my little ones realize what joy that can bring!! I am printing and cutting now for tomorrow!!

  21. What a sweet idea! We also have an advent calendar with little drawers. In each drawer is a mini-ornament for a mini-tree. The ornaments are stars, bells, and the nativity set. Each night we read a part of the Christmas story and place the ornament in the corresponding box on the tree. I tried to match the ornaments with the part of the story we were reading, but that was when we read only a sentence or two a night (when my boys were younger). They are older now, but still get excited about putting the ornaments on the tree during December.

  22. Hi,
    I love the printable but not all of them suit my needs, or are age-appropriate for my two kids (3 and 5). Having two versions, one with and one without the numbering, would be very helpful. Thank you for your consideration!

  23. Anyone looking for a similar item…the craft stores ( ACMoore, Micheals) often have a wooden tree with drawers that you paint however you’d like.

  24. I was a child of the 1950’s and attended Catholic school so this has an obviously religious slant. The nuns had an empty cradle which would hold Baby Jesus on December 25th at Christmas Mass.
    There was a large basket of straw and we were told that for each kind deed we did, we were allowed to put one piece of straw in the crib, but we couldn’t let anyone see us do it. The nuns also explained that we could “build a bed” for Jesus in our hearts and with childish immagination it could be as elaborate as one could make it. Each kind act or good deed translated into stiches for a soft warm blanket or fluffy bedding. I remember the wonderful feelings all these years later. An Advent Calendar of the heart and mind.

    1. We had a similar cradle idea in the 1980’s from Catholic religion class. We were given a little wooden crib, a small plastic baby Jesus and cut up yellow yarn to take home. During advent we could add a piece of yarn in the crib for each day we were good. I like the GOOD DEED idea much better then good behavior.

  25. We have a similar box. I have four daughters and what they want most is more of me. The girls take turns opening the doors. I put notes in there that are spending individual time with me. For example, “Stay up 30 minutes past bed time to read with mommy”, “Mommy will sing to you and rock you”, Go on a walk with just mommy, etc. With four girls (5, 8, 8, and 10) getting time with just mommy is a real treat. This year I will add some just Daddy things too.

  26. This is such a good Idea last year I was able to find a play dough one that each day they got a little tub of play dough or a mould to make Christmas stuff , a lot more expensive but I wouldn’t feed my children that chocolate even if they liked it this year indeed to try and find one of those houses

  27. I do an Advent Ribbon with my 2. I use recycled toilet paper tubes and cover them with cheap, often recycled gift wrap and ribbon from the year before. Each little package is tied to a big main ribbon. In the packages are small things the girls can use thru out the year, school supplies, personal care items, and craft items to make. Felt ornaments, string and bead bracelets, things to decorate a picture frame with, pencils, crayons, erasers, stickers to put on cards and letters, stamps to mail the cards with. Some of these items the kids have put together and given to friends. Some times it’s a recipe for some thing we can make together to have as a family or give away like cookies to neighbors. It becomes easy to find things to put in when you get over the “visions of sugar plumbs”.

  28. I love all of it except the part about donating to Goodwill. See list of organizations below.

    SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE YOU MAKE CONTRIBUTIONS: As you open your pockets to do a good thing and make yourself feel good, please keep the following facts in mind:
    The American Red Cross
    President and CEO Marsha J. Evans’
    salary for the year was $651,957 plus expenses

    It is called the March of Dimes because
    only a dime for every 1 dollar is given to the needy.

    The United Way
    President Brian Gallagher
    receives a $375,000 base salary along with numerous expense benefits.

    CEO Caryl M. Stern receives
    $1,200,000 per year (100k per month) plus all expenses including a ROLLS ROYCE.
    Less than 5 cents of your donated dollar goes to the cause.

    CEO and owner Mark Curran profits $2.3 million a year.
    Goodwill is a very catchy name for his business.
    You donate to his business and then he sells the items for PROFIT.
    He pays nothing for his products and pays his workers minimum wage! Nice Guy.
    $0.00 goes to help anyone!
    Stop giving to this man.
    Instead, give it to ANY OF THE FOLLOWING


    The Salvation Army
    Commissioner, Todd Bassett receives a small salary of only
    $13,000 per year(plus housing) for managing this $2 billion dollar organization.
    96 percent of donated dollars go to the cause.

    The American Legion
    National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
    Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!

    The Veterans of Foreign Wars
    National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
    Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!

    The Disabled American Veterans
    National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
    Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!

    The Military Order of PurpleHearts
    National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
    Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!
    The Vietnam Veterans Association
    National Commander receives a $0.00 zero salary.
    Your donations go to help Veterans and their families and youth!

    Make a Wish: For children’s last wishes.
    100% goes to funding trips or special wishes for a dying child.

    St. Jude Research Hospital
    100% goes towards funding and helping Children with Cancer who have no insurance and cannot afford to pay.

    Ronald McDonald Houses
    All monies go to running the houses for parents who have critically ill Children in the hospital.
    100% goes to housing, and feeding the families.

    1. Thanks for the great info, I knew to avoid donating to the Red Cross, but hadn’t heard about the others. We make it a point to only donate to organizations with low overheard and NEVER donate over the phone as most callers are paid professional fundraisers.

      Our personal favorite charity is Food For The Poor. My kids go on-line with my husband and choose what our donation will be used for, such as a cow, chickens, pigs, seeds, tools, a water pump, etc. Many hand-up not hand-out choices.

  29. Love this idea and will totally use some of the cards. Several years ago when we cut out the “garbage food” I began putting tiny ornaments in most days and interspersing them with candy canes and other candies that I get online which are made from 100% decent ingredients. That way I feel like they still get a treat but it’s less than it used to be and they get to add to the tree as the season progresses. Thanks for the great tips!

  30. I loved your list of ideas for the “Giving House” and decided to do it with my 3 kids. We had an absolute blast with it. I cut out the cards, folded them & deposited them in a mason jar with a gold ribbon… and the “Giving Jar” was born. My kids took turns drawing one out each day. I have to say it was one of my favorite things about the Christmas season, and it was a joy to see how they were transformed by these little acts of kindness. Thank you so much for sharing your idea & for doing such a phenomenal job with this blog.

  31. This year I have taken to leaving notes that direct them where to go to find a special ornament or craft project. Not nearly as noble as yours, but I too, just don’t want the whole candy thing going on. Sometimes, in order to find the card with the instructions, they have to say a prayer or their memory verse first. This is the first year for this and they love it, but I am afraid I may run out of rhymes and creativity. Your list gives me more ideas…Thanks!

  32. Thank you so much for posting this! We have been doing this the last four days and my 9 year old (who hates to write anything) has been excited to do the tasks. He even found his own card and had the first one done within minutes of opening it. He happily wrote a letter to his teacher after school yesterday and is excited to not only compliment one person today, he has decided to make it a challenge to see how many people he can compliment. I can’t thank you enough for posting this easy to put together list!

  33. This is such an awesome idea! There are always so many sweets around the holiday season. My mom always gives me bags of candy at Christmas, and I asked her not to this year. I don’t want all that refined sugar (and knowing me, I’d have it all eaten in like two days).

    I love that so many of these involve doing nice things for others. That’s what people should focus on this season anyway, not getting short-lived gratification through gifts.

  34. I make a big santa face with his beard being a calander, then hang it up. Each night before bed we fill in a number by gluing in cotton balls, and by christmas santa has a full cotton ball beard! My mom did this for me when I was a kid, and now I do it with my kids. I never even heard of an advent calander until I married my husband and my german mother-in-law gave us one.

  35. Why do you refer to “junk toys from China”. Junk toys are junk toys. Just as junk food is junk food, whether it’s from China or Indiana junk is junk.

    1. I am not exactly sure what the definition of “junk toy” is. But maybe Lisa referred to all those little poorly made “junky” things you collect over the course of time, preferably with goodie bags (hint to Lisa: please write a post about goodie bags at birthday parties; my experience is, that those bags contain the worst-of-the-worst of all toys and candies you can find on our earth).

      However, there are “non-junkie” little plastic thingies out, for instance Playmobil (German company) has wonderful little figurines or Schleich (German company also) animals and so on.

    2. Probably because the toys from china have been known to contain lead and they truly are junk. Most of those little toys and trinkets are made in China. That’s just a fact.

  36. I have also heard of putting in just a nice activity to do together, like read a story together, sing a Christmas carol together, make tonight’s bath a bubble bath instead of a regular bath, color with chalk outside together, etc.

  37. I love that you shared your creative idea for advent calendar. In case someone doesn’t feel they have the time to even do these things, I’ll share what we did when our kids were little.
    We had wooden cut-out of a Christmas tree shape with teeny little nails all over it. Someone made this for a craft fair so there were dough mini ornaments with a loop of wire glued to the back. You could easily find little items that would work as ornaments. The tree was about 8″ and glued to a backer board that had more teeny nails numbered for the day. So each day the children got a turn to place an ornament on that little tree.
    Have fun!

  38. Love your idea of giving to others. We’ve done something similar giving to others, but kept it in the family. I write up things that I appreciate in each of my children (2, so 12 different things for each of them) on a small piece of paper and stuff one in each little compartment and would add a Hershey’s Kiss or Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cup to remind them to stay sweet. They really look forward to the words of praise and walk a little taller each day.

    Wishing everyone a holiday season full of blessings! Keep up the great website!

  39. What a wonderful idea! Not only are you avoiding candy and junky toys but you are teaching your kids some great lessons about giving and kindness.

  40. When we were little, we had a felt calendar that had a tree on top. Each day, we got to transfer a velcro ornament from the calendar to the tree.

    Another idea would be to play a Christmas song each day. If the kids are old enough, they could sing the song or make up a dance to it.

  41. Thanks! I have that house (except a different paint job) from Target, and I was wondering what I could do instead of candy this year. I wanted to do something similar, and you’ve helped me out!

  42. I love this! We have done a paper chain, and each day you tore one off to count down for Christmas. One year, I was going to write one detil of the Christmas story on each link of the chain, but decided I wasn’t that organized. This year, my MIL bought a candy advent calendar. I was not thrilled, but of course she presented it to my daughter first, who is do excited, I think we are stuck for this year. But I love this idea, maybe I can track down a “giving house” and inform my MIL of it in advance next year!

  43. I love this and am printing it out now. We have a unique advent stocking thing my friend made for us and I haven’t wanted to stick candy in it but wasn’t sure what else I could do…thanks for the printable! We are using starting TODAY!!!

  44. I love this! I don’t have kids yet, but heck I might just do this myself (without the cute house). I think we all could use reminding of how small actions can make a big difference in someone else’s life.

  45. My 8 year old doesn’t know that the Advent Box is for gum, candy, treats at all. She never did. We bought a tiny tree (12″) and a lot of the mini ornaments at a craft store after Christmas a few years back, and as the days go by an ornament is added. Baby Jesus goes on the tree on Christmas Day. Shh… don’t tell us what goodies your kids get – she might hear!

    PS Love the idea of something nice to do each day as you count down the days. May have to start that on this year’s advent tree :)

  46. Man, I wish I had seen this before I stuffed our advent house last night…definitely will be looking for this post before next year. I have had the same dilemma. Have moved away from junk food and now it is junk toys from china that I really don’t want the kids to have.

  47. I love your advent calendar and also many of the great ideas in the comments.

    We’re have the boys open a christmas book to read as a family every night (THey aren’t new gifts… a bunch I got from the library plus the ones we already had – i just wrapped them up like presents – great idea from pinterest)

    I also have a set of tiny ornaments that we bought years ago. I think I’ll drop one in each pocket and let them add it to the tree.

  48. Thanks everybody for all the ideas.

    The activity thing does not really work for me, as there are too many activities anyway. Advent has not even started yet, and my daughter has already baked Christmas cookies four times. Christmas markets are going to open this weekend, plus St. Nikolaus celebration on the 5th and 6th, plus skiing season starting…

    The good deeds sound good, but she is a little bit too young for it and most of them would not work with our culture – I don’t want her to come across as entire weirdo by running around and telling people what she loves about them ;-)

    I think I’ll do the Christmas tree ornaments and one special thing per week.

  49. We’re doing truth in the tinsel. It’s a Christian advent put together by a Mum of small children. Each day there’s an ornament to make, a Bible reading from the nativity story and something to think about.

  50. A big thank you for all the work that went into creating a non-candy advent calendar. This year, my kids are still too young to understand doing good deeds without cause…so we will be keeping it simple with an assortment of goodies, good causes and just plain good times. My kids love the simple things still and I rejoice in that during these very economically challenging times. Stuff is just that…stuff. And, they don’t really care either way about having stuff. I know that day is not far away, though.

  51. I love this. I’ve been preparing our children’s advent calendar this year with a new twist too – focusing on little notes that tell them what we love about them and giving them ‘coupons’ for family adventures – but I needed a few more ideas to fill the whole calendar. I’ll be using some of your suggestions for sure!

    A few from our family’s advent calendar (this is the first year I’m doing this): coupon to redeem for one visit to Santa, coupon to redeem for one ‘downtown Christmas adventure'(to see lights, gingerbread displays, etc.), coupon to redeem for a date with Mom and a date with Dad, coupon to redeem for a Christmas Tree hunt, etc.

    I love using the advent calendar as a way to encourage giving and thankfulness and family bonding rather than to have them looking forward to a new piece of junk every day for a month!

  52. We’re doing something similar, but with our Elf on the Shelf.
    Each morning Elf comes back from his visit with Santa with a new good deed.
    Both kids have to complete the good deed that day in order to earn the gifts under the tree.
    I only had about 10 days worth of ideas, so I’m stealing some of yours!

  53. That is a GREAT idea! this will be our first year with an advent calendar, and this is an even better way to use it! Thank you for sharing!

  54. I absolutely love your list. I’m getting our advent calendar ready now and was just sitting down to write out ideas when your email popped up. Thank you for putting the link to the printable copy too. Perfect timing. Now I have some free time:-)

  55. This is a very cool idea. Even though I don’t have kids, I am going to try to do one thing each day this month. Last year, some of my friends and I did random acts of kindness on my birthday in December and that was very rewarding.

  56. Since my son is only 2 1/2 I decided that this year we’d fill each box in our advent calendar with stickers and put them on a Christmas Tree that we made on a big piece of construction paper just below it. We filled each box with stars and animals, etc. I can’t wait to try it with him. I love the giving idea and will be doing something like that once he gets old enough.

  57. Thank you for the ideas!! Beyond the obvious benefits to health and less waste, I love this approach for what it does for my children’s character. We switched to this Advent approach last year, and I can’t express the difference I saw in my kids’ attitudes. We call each little mission a “giving challenge.” (If I call it a “challenge,” my kids take it as such and really rise to the occasion!)

    This is a wonderful way to reverse the spirit of entitlement and selfshness that settles on our children during this season, and refocus on giving and loving others! Thank you for promoting a true spirit of giving!!

  58. My children are only two and three, but last year we started our own advent tradition. I made small fabric bags and each day has an activity to do together. There are a few sweet treats – decorate cookies, hot chocolate – but most are more about getting into the spirit of Christmas. Last year there were a lot more baking/sweets, but I’m trying to keep those to a minimum now. Here is a link to this year’s activities –

  59. This is our first go at an Advent calendar. Our focus this year is service & family time. I’ll be adding some your ideas to ours! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  60. AWESOME! Totally copying this idea this year – guess I’m up all night tonight getting things ready. We have little Christmas ornaments that my mom got the kids from Germany and the kids get each day to decorate their own little trees – one ornament per day. I love adding a good deed per day to top it off!

  61. Great idea! We do something similar but ours is “Christmas activities”. So each day I write a little more about what we will do that day related to celebrating the season. Some of ours include “see a Christmas play”, “sing Christmas Carols at the nursing home”, make cards or Christmas cookies for the mailman or garbage collector”, drive around and look at Christmas lights”, “watch a Christmas movie”, “decorate the tree”,etc. The kids love to find put what we’re going to do that day. I love the generosity behind your idea and want to incorporate more of those types of activities.

  62. Thank you for doing all of this work for me! It’s on my to-do list to make a new advent calendar that just includes scripture verses, but I will add your plan to it. I can’t stand all of that junky chocolate or tons of useless gifts. You are totally awesome. This is a great gift to me:)

  63. Our “house” is filled with miniature ornaments that my girls use to decorate their own little tree. I love your idea as well!

  64. Great Idea! I think I will combine some of the things from this list with some things we can do together; ie.. crafts, baking, Christmas Activities.

  65. We are doing something similar here. I made little matchboxes out of scrapbook paper and each box will have a RAK inside. Unfortunately my kids are older (10, 12) and have homework, sports and school activities that prevents our calendar from being truly random. Easy, quick things will be done during the week, and ones that might take a little more time and energy on the weekends. When the kids were little, I used to hide little gifts (coloring books, crayons, etc…) around the house and each day I would write a rhyme with clues so they could find the gift. They loved it!

  66. This is a fantastic list! I’d been planning to do the same thing this year (we have a magnetic nativity advent calendar, but I like to add a little something to the doors) and you just saved me the time to come up with my own list :-) Thanks!

  67. This is such a wonderful idea! :) We have a similar thing in the shape of a Christmas tree. Someone gave it to us years ago, filled with 24 different types of coffee from Starbucks. I repurposed it to make a kiddie advent calendar, and we fill ours with lots of things. There are some junky things, but we also put in temp tattoos (which are extremely popular with our kids) and little games (which they like to use in the car on the way to places). I’ve also turned part of it into a treasure hunt… we have a few items that are larger, and those drawers contain a small hint for each kid (we have twins) which they have to follow, to get to the next, and the next, until they find the “prize”. :) Mostly the prizes are books, but once in a while it’s something else. We often get them Christmas theme socks for the last week of school, or a new themed shirt. :) It makes the days fun (and encourages reading!).

  68. Thanks for writing about this. I actually like this Giving House idea for the month of January, to reinforce the idea of giving back after receiving so much during the holiday season. I am sure it is good for December as well, but we already have an Advent calendar tradition. We have a fabric Advent calendar with 24 pockets that hold ornaments with velcro that are put up on the flanel tree each day. In the pockets (I was inspired by a mom of a childhood friend), I put a little slip of paper with their gift for the day written on it. I have two boys, so they alternate days (when my two nephews lived with us, each child got something every four days). Sometimes the gift has monetary value — a trip to the ice cream shop, a lottery ticket, a red box movie. But, a lot of them are activities, experiences, or gifts from the heart — a foot massage, a hike to a special place, a campfire, game night, choosing a favorite dinner, decorating a gingerbread house, making snowflakes, doing a random act of kindness… I like to encourage family time. My boys are 12 and 13 now and they love this as much as they did when they were young.

    1. I am making the same type of advent calendar! I found it on Pinterest

      I like the idea of the non-candy plus the fact that i’m making it. I wont’ get around to making all my own ornaments this year (we’re going to steal the tiny ones I’ve used for the tree in past years) but over the years I plan to make new ones and have the kids help make them too!

      I may incorporate the list right in with our ornaments too!!! :)

  69. Several years ago when my daughter was born we purchased a magnetic nativity calendar from one of the ridiculously expensive toy catalogs that came to the door. Each door has a piece to the nativity scene, ending with the baby jesus. Some days are just stars, cows or sheep but always something. on christmas eve you have a complete manger scene. I love your idea because now I can incorporate acts of service with this reminder of the real reason for the holiday season, because your lists will easily fit in the doors with the nativity pieces.

    here’s the link to the calendar we have. it’s by kurt adler and available on amazon.

    1. Here is the link to the same add a piece nativity calendar for a cheaper price from CP Toys. They have a few cheaper fabric versions as well.

      I was contemplating switching from a treat based calendar to one of these nativity calendars, however my husband thinks our children will revolt. At any rate we have 3 kids, so at least they are each only getting a small piece of good quality chocolate every 3rd day. Maybe I’ll make the switch next year.

      Also, a reader in Family Fun Magazine suggested putting a slip with an activity to do together each day in the advent calendar, (make Christmas cookies, go ice skating, etc.) instead of candy.

  70. I, too was looking for a way to eliminate the candy and plastic junk this year. After many internet searches, I came up with enough FREE ideas for all the days leading up to Advent. Some of them are: daily holiday-themed jokes, hot chocolate & a walk/drive around the city to look at lights, picnic under the christmas tree, sleeping under the christmas tree one night, holiday shows with popcorn (I have been using the DVR for this!), and holiday programs in the community, churches, and/or schools. Lisa, thanks for all you do! Happy Holidays to you and your family & the whole 100 days crew!!!!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Jill)

      Hi Julie. Thank you for sharing some additional great ideas and for your holiday wishes. Our team wishes you and your family a wonderful holiday season as well. Jill

  71. Thanks for these ideas. I was just thinking I needed more ideas for this year. Last year we filled it with activities, art projects, family game and movie nighrs. The kids couldn’t wait to see what was the activity of the day.

  72. I love the Giving List idea!!! We put little tiny ornaments in ours and each day get to add one to a small tree we have set up. By the time we reach Christmas it’s fully decorated!

  73. THANK YOU, I’ve been in the same conundrum – I hate the waste of the typical advent. And then the multiple treat issue, focus on candy etc etc. I think everyone in my house will be on board –and we will all be more blessed for having done it. Thanks for bringing new meaning and significance to a fun tradition that was getting tired!

  74. We are doing books this year for advent, we will wrap up a book for each day, and then each day we open one of the books. We are using x-mas books we already have and will add some new ones. Then next year we will use the same books, this way these books only come out at x-mas (most are x-mas books anyway) and they are “special”. We’ll see how it goes.

  75. Great ideas! Nice of you to steer clear of plastic junk and things made in China. Are you aware your cute “Giving House” was most likely made in China? Let’s not limit our avoidance of things made in China to just the the plastic junk…. Merry Christmas!

    1. That may be true, but this is something we will get lots of use out of over the years and could even be passed down to one of our children. The plastic stuff that seems to almost immediately end up in the landfill has got to go for sure though!

  76. These are great – we have a similar Advent calendar and I’ve been searching for non-candy ideas. Thanks for the great ones – I will use several of these!

  77. I totally love this. I have to say, I hesitate to get out our beautiful advent calendar because I don’t want to fill it with junk. This is a wonderful way to fill it! Thanks so much for sharing!

  78. LOVE THIS! We have a similar advent calendar house and I am over filling it with Crunch Bells and mini Kit Kat! Thanks for the alternate idea.