a peek inside the fishbowl

26 Nov, 2007

Easy DIY advent calendar: 25 small folded paper envelopes

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|File under crafty

[edited to add: thinking of making your own advent calendar? Consider playing along with me here]

We get a chocolate-filled advent calendar every year. I have a soft spot for chocolate advent calendars. Do you know that the chocolate advent calendar is the reason for the ring on my finger? I’m not sure if I ever wrote about that… hmm. Perhaps this is a post for another day. ;)

This year my mom gave us two chocolate advent calendars, so the girls are totally set up in that department.

But I also knew I wanted to make my own advent calendar, filled with family stuff rather than sweet stuff. There are a lot of good ideas out there but I wasn’t able to find The Perfect One for Me. And I was overwhelmed by the type I really wanted to make.

Check out this matchbox advent calendar. Amazing huh? Alas, at the time I was planning this all out I was stuck at home with no way of obtaining the requisite number of matchboxes. I then tried making my own origami matchbox/slide box, but they wouldn’t have been nearly as stable as the version that used authentic matchboxes. And then there was the issue of the time it would take to fold my own… it would have taken me weeks.

Other ideas I was kicking around:

Ones with with felt pockets like the one shown here.

And then there’s this one … slightly different and v.v.cute.

You can make an advent calendar out of paper cones, and inverted cones.

There’s the cookie sheet advent calendar (cute, I guess, but I can’t get past the cookie sheet thing…) Oh, and speaking of magnets, there’s this one, that can be affixed to a magnet board. Gorgeous huh?

Anyway, there are a lot of great ideas out there. (If you start googling you will be sucked into a vortex you might not be able to get out of, so consider yourself warned.) But I was considering an idea posted on the now-defunct Kiddley. What could be simpler than paper envelopes? This was something I could manage.

So here is my paper-envelope advent calendar in its full glory:


advent calendar envelopes


And here are the family activities I filled ours with:  

1. Make paper snowflakes and decorate the windows (done!)

2. Buy a gift for a family in need via World Vision (done!)

3. Paint everyone’s toenails (done!)

4. Buy a toy and bring it to Toy Mountain (done!)

5. Pick some puppets and mum will make up a bedtime story (Mark did it instead of me, hee hee)

6. Pick out a really nice Christmas tree (but don’t squish any elves that may be hiding in the branches!) (done!)

7. Decorate the tree and drink eggnog (done!)

8. Go tobogganing Go to Upper Canada Village to see Alight at Night (last minute swap)

9. It’s family game night! (a day of playing on the Wii. I think my eyeballs are dead.)

10. Make a paper chain for the tree (done!)

11. Dance and sing to Christmas music (done!)

12. Candlelit bubble bath (done!)

13. Make Christmas cards for family and friends (mostly done!)

14. Is the sky clear? Get out the telescope for some star gazing, if not, go for a nighttime walk with your lanterns. (done)

15. Let’s go ice skating today! (postponed due to frigid temperatures, we’re baking cookies instead)

16. Bake a batch of Christmas cookies. (done)

17. Bake another batch of Christmas cookies and share with neighbors. (done)

18. Fancy dress for dinnertime (Done… This one is a keeper. So fun!)

19. Make a list of ten things you are thankful for. Hang it where you can see it every day. (Done… will scan.)

20. Make and hang edible gifts for the birds and squirrels. (Postponed until the afternoon of the 21st … it was replaced by last-minute Christmas shopping!)

21. Watch a Christmas movie in the fold out bed!

22. Breakfast in bed!

23. Check out the Christmas lights downtown. Don’t forget the hot chocolate!

24. Unwrap one present after dinner (mum and dad get to pick which one)

25.  It’s Christmas Day. Remember you have a family who loves you. And that’s the most important gift of all.

As you can see, it’s one activity per day. Many of these are things that we’d be doing anyway, but at least this way they’re presented in a way that makes it more exciting. I sat down with a regular calendar and did some advance planning, mostly so the ice skating fell on a Saturday etc etc.

If you’d like to make your own, this is what you need:

papers. This is a bit of a personality test. Are you matchy or non-matchy? Some people will want their envelopes to colour coordinate with their decor. Me: I didn’t really care. I just raided my paper stash. I used a variety of Christmas wrapping paper, handmade papers, pages from old books (including a hymn book and Chinese textbook), magazines, and origami and scrapbooking papers.  envelope templateA slightly heavier weight (or stock) works better than the thinner stuff.

an envelope template (click image to enlarge).I found one online and shrunk it down in Photoshop because I wanted my envelopes to be small. My finished envelopes are 2 3/4″ wide and 2″ high. Do yourself a favour and print the template onto cardstock, and use this to trace the envelope shape onto your paper.

string/ribbon and small clothespegs (I bought mine at the dollar store)

The rest is easy. Trace the shape, cut it out, fold along the lines, and glue the edges. Add a number to the front of each envelope. I used a font called Chinese Takeaway for mine. If you want to use the same, I’ve made a PDF (numbers only) that you can download here.

Put the envelopes under a heavy book to dry overnight, write up your own activities and tuck them inside, string everything up, and you’re done! Easy huh?

p.s. If you happen to make this project please let me know. I’d love to see how it turned out for you!

68 Responses to "Easy DIY advent calendar: 25 small folded paper envelopes"

1 | Ciaochow

November 26th, 2007 at 2:35 pm


What a beautiful idea… and I love to think they’ll be doing all these wonderful things while a single piece of chocolate melts on their tongues.

2 | porter

November 26th, 2007 at 4:08 pm


I wonder if I will have time to copy this wonderful idea before Dec 1st? I love the family stuff you have used as the surprises….so beautiful and way more enjoyable than a piece of chocolate…I think?

3 | andrea

November 26th, 2007 at 4:28 pm


Thanks guys, I’m pretty pleased with the results! Porter, the thing that took the longest was digging through my mountain of papers. If you had 3 or 4 scrapbooking sheets on hand (or bought some specifically for this purpose) it would only take a fraction of the time.

Some of the sheets I was working with were doubled-sided, which is great for this kind of thing.

5 | Cole

November 27th, 2007 at 3:36 pm


Really neat idea. My then-girlfriend (now wife of 6 years) did something similar to me but for Valentines Day. She called it an Adventine and it had 14 windows of why she loved me. It may be a little cheesy but it still worth the effort. I loved it.

You could also do one for kids with pictures – the things they love, why we love them, etc. Just an idea.

Keep it up!

6 | Carrie

November 27th, 2007 at 9:26 pm


Thanks so much for the inspiration. I am working on an advent calendar even as I type… and I’ve printed your list of fillers to give me some ideas. The dollar store has provided a few fillers, but there is only so much of that clutter that I can handle!

7 | Kerflop » Blog Archive » Sideblog: On my list of Christmas to-do projects

November 28th, 2007 at 3:46 pm


[…] How sweet is this paper envelope advent calendar? I love the little things to do hidden inside each one. I have to make time to make this. Have. To. […]

8 | Lindsay

November 29th, 2007 at 7:33 am


That is such a wonderful idea. I’ve been trying to find ways to explain to a 4-year-old that Christmas isn’t all about presents but rather it’s about being with the people you love and helping others – this is a perfect way to “show” her that, every day. I really love it. Can I ask where you got the tiny clothes pins?

9 | andrea

November 29th, 2007 at 7:41 am


Thanks Lindsay – I found the small clothespegs at the dollar store, but I’ve also seen them wherever there are scrapbooking supplies.

10 | a peek inside the fish bowl

November 29th, 2007 at 9:39 am


[…] My Christmas needs to be less about the gifts, and more about having fun as a family… which is why I’m liking my advent calendar the more I think about it. […]

11 | Natalie

November 29th, 2007 at 2:25 pm


LOVE this! what a clever idea!

12 | marta

November 29th, 2007 at 6:27 pm


adorably delicious for the holidays. i can’t wait to string my own set of envelopes. thanks for the ideas.

13 | Excruciating Minutiae » The craftiness continues

November 29th, 2007 at 8:48 pm


[…] Why the tiny envelopes? I was inspired by this post on A peek inside the fishbowl, via Kerflop: “Easy DIY advent calendar”. I love the concept of a homemade advent calendar, and I recently made similar countdown calendars for my kids when I went on a business trip. But those countdown calendars did not require me to trace, cut out, fold, and glue 24 itty bitty envelopes. Pure insanity to take on such a project. As you can see, though, I am insane, because 8 hours later, here it is: […]

14 | Amy

November 29th, 2007 at 8:51 pm


I made this today while home with a sick preschooler – what a great idea! I love the adorableness of the envelopes. You can see mine on my blog: http://excruciatingminutiae.com/?p=184

15 | Shan

December 1st, 2007 at 12:43 pm


Love this idea. Thanks for sharing.

16 | Homemade Advent Calendars « Javaline

December 1st, 2007 at 2:20 pm


[…] Imagine my pleasant surprise to find out that there are others who have similar ideas! […]

17 | Christie

December 1st, 2007 at 2:39 pm


Thanks for the great idea. I found this yesterday and got right to work! We already did our first activity today and it’s so much fun. Here it is if you’d like to see:

18 | sunny

December 1st, 2007 at 3:21 pm


hello! I’m stuck inside in a snowstorm and just found your blog via marta’s blog (m.writes) and I adore your envelope idea…. hope you don’t mind if I do the same thing in my house today!

19 | katy

December 3rd, 2007 at 11:24 am


Wow! I was caught between ‘this is such a cool idea’ and ‘crud, it’s already December’…but I quit whining and made my own yesterday. No pics yet, but each envelope is paper-clipped to the top of my living room curtains!

20 | Overwhelmed With Joy

December 3rd, 2007 at 12:39 pm


Thanks for all the links! I needed some Advent calendar ideas.

21 | Kerflop » Blog Archive » Counting down the days

December 3rd, 2007 at 10:52 pm


[…] I linked to the adorable paper envelope handmade Christmas advent calendar a few days ago in my sideblog. In case you missed it, it’s the cutest idea on the planet. […]

22 | Heather

December 4th, 2007 at 1:55 pm


Thanks for the idea! You can see the one we made here!

23 | andrea

December 4th, 2007 at 2:03 pm


Wow! Wow! Wow!
Great work everyone! I am positively tickled to see that so many of you have made your own little calendars. And Heather, your choice of papers is absolutely lovely.

24 | where to buy...advent calendar like these.. - Page 2 - AmityMama.com

December 4th, 2007 at 6:33 pm


[…] Read this today on a blog I read, really cute idea also. a peek inside the fish bowl Kerflop » Blog Archive » Counting down the days Your socks look great __________________ Kate mom to 3My feedback http://tinyurl.com/ft7lnISO: any books on dyslexia . […]

25 | Ty’s Toy Box Blog » Blog Archive » Is it Christmas yet?

December 5th, 2007 at 10:35 pm


[…] This post contains instructions on how to make a beautiful string of tiny envelopes for an advent season of special activities, and not only does she illustrate her project, she points to many others. Like a traditional felt calendar, and cute little felt pockets, and a version with little magnetic tins. […]

26 | Lorraine

December 6th, 2007 at 8:00 am


I found you via Chris at “in the trenches of motherhood”. Great Idea! I’m going to try to jump in and do this for the rest of the season, then make all 25 to put out next year. *S* Thanks for the great Idea! *S*

27 | Holiday Traditions « Ragtop Day

December 8th, 2007 at 4:52 pm


[…] I also came across this idea, which I love, love, love. As a single parent, I often feel our days are so full of just getting through the necessary tasks to live that we lose sight of the fun and magic in life, and in this season. While I obviously didn’t do this in time to start on December 1st, I think I’ll work on it to start on the 14th, making it the 12 Days of Christmas. And if it goes over well, we’ll do it for the full 24 next year. […]

28 | DaisyCake

December 12th, 2007 at 11:33 am


your envelopes are so sweet and colorful! I did something similar, but used pre-made tiny envelopes instead. I also like your list of activities. I wish I’d seen it earlier!

29 | a peek inside the fish bowl

December 15th, 2007 at 9:40 am


[…] I think it was one of the best activities on our advent calendar so far. […]

30 | The Countdown Begins « First Rough Draft

June 17th, 2008 at 4:39 pm


[…] this year I decided to make a calendar of my own. I followed the wonderful instructions found here and made a calendar of tiny envelopes. I used a variety of beautiful scrapbook paper, which is […]

31 | Some Ideas Bumping About My Brain… « Over the Moon and Sun

November 23rd, 2008 at 11:45 am


[…] crochet some mini stockings. I’m thinking about filling whichever calendar I make with these family activities. I’ll have to substitute a few with things that our family can/will do but that will be part […]

32 | Aimee Larsen

December 1st, 2008 at 7:41 am


Okay, so I posted today about your advent calendar…I LOVE it! I sat up for about 2 hours making envelopes last night. I used old Christmas cards because i’ve saved them for 7 years and have plenty, they are SO awesome. I’m going to show everyone as soon as I’m done. First, I have to go find some tiny clothespins and I’ll be ready. I’m doing that today and I’ve already made my list but I’m adding “put out reindeer food” for the Christmas Eve night. I found were we had made some last year. It’s just oats and sugar sprinkles. Well! THANK YOU! I can’t wait to see what else you have!

33 | Alicia Emanuel

December 4th, 2008 at 4:32 pm


This is such a neat idea! Several of my friends are also doing this Advent activity calendar this year. I went to Archivers (scrapbooking store) and found the perfect envelope die cut to make little envelopes out of festive papers. Thanks for the wonderful, fun idea!

34 | vanessa

December 8th, 2008 at 9:48 am


eco friendly cybergeeks vent your opinions here
made one on disc 4 yrs ago to save the trees with quotes & stories
the envelopes are still nice

35 | Making Memories »

August 4th, 2009 at 12:08 am


[…] Garland made from envelopes & another example here* […]

36 | Long time no see « sneezingduck.ca

August 20th, 2009 at 11:18 pm


[…] Kodak Gallery and it’s taking forever) and today I actually did something CRAFTY!! I made an advent calendar with an activity for each day from December 1 to Christmas Eve. It’s going to be fun! Maybe […]

37 | Sarah P.

October 5th, 2009 at 8:51 pm


I truly LOVE Advent Calendars, and this is officially my pick for this year! This Christmas my son is two, so I think I’m going to print little pictures of the activities instead of words, so he can understand a little better. :) Thank you for the idea and template!!!

38 | Last Name PoMo, First Name NaBlo « TurtleHead

November 1st, 2009 at 8:02 am


[…] prepare the activities for our Christmas Advent Calendar […]

39 | Advent Calendar 2009 « TurtleHead

November 12th, 2009 at 6:07 am


[…] suggested by Andrea over at a peek inside the fishbowl. She provided the templates and ideas for a family advent calendar and it was such a fantastic experience. We did a special family activity every day leading up to […]

40 | 25 days of Christmas challenge - the 2009 edition >> a peek inside the fishbowl

November 14th, 2009 at 10:13 am


[…] paint everyone’s toenails, go swimming, make paper snowflakes, make hot chocolate etc. (The post lists everything we […]

41 | 14 Ways to Advent Calendar | How Does She...

November 19th, 2009 at 9:53 am


[…] A peek inside the fish bowl! That is such a cute name for a blog… […]

42 | The 25 Days of Christmas « The Small Moments

November 30th, 2009 at 10:20 pm


[…] Christmas and an Advent Calendar.  Since she first posted about her family advent calendar in 2007 I have held a secret plan in my head to do one of my own when I had a family.  So when she invited […]

43 | and other times | Advent

December 2nd, 2009 at 12:59 pm


[…] sort of way. I got the idea to make an Advent calendar out of mini (homemade!) envelopes from a 2007 post by Andrea over at a peek inside the fishbowl. The idea is to stuff the envelopes with a piece of […]

44 | Wendy

December 3rd, 2009 at 2:47 am


Thanks so much for this idea. I needed an easy idea for Advent and happened to have the time to whip this up. I must confess I’ve made the envelopes a bit bigger and put chocolates inside. I plan to keep the envelopes for next year and put messages and tasks inside when I have more time!

45 | Kate

December 22nd, 2009 at 2:31 pm


hi – stumbled on your site today. I also do an activity calendar and live in Ottawa. I am sure you know about it, but we tag Taffy Lane onto the lights downtown as well. Kids (age 10 and 9) love going in their jammies and drinking hot chocolate in the car!
What do you do on the school days when the kids have an after school activity?
sometimes I have resorted to TV before school which is a novelty. It’s lame and would love another back up idea when doing something after school isn’t going to work. (10 mins)

46 | andrea

December 22nd, 2009 at 4:13 pm


Taffy Lane was a first for us this year. I think it’s a new tradition.

We don’t have a lot of stuff going on after school besides homework, but it can be a juggle.

Quick and easy activities that we’ve done include:

– anything dinner related: dessert before dinner, or dress up for dinner.
– spa/bubble bath/fingernail painting
– something fun at bedtime (special story or a puppet show)

47 | Kat

June 21st, 2010 at 6:37 pm


Wow what a wonderful idea! I don’t have kids (still pretty young) but I love this idea! My boyfriend is planning on going to the oil rigs and there’s a chance he wont be home for Christmas! I thought this was a great idea to keep myself occupied while he’s away! Thanks so much!!!

…early to be thinking about Christmas, I know lol

48 | Nita

November 6th, 2010 at 8:46 pm


Love this idea. I love crafts so I am going to make 6 in all. I have two kids and my two cousins have two each. With the cricut and scrapebook supplies this will be fun for me and the kids. thanks for sharing. Oh by the way it’s easy.

49 | Bianca

November 9th, 2010 at 10:23 pm


Just wanted to say thanks, this is exactly what i was looking for! Love the easy template too. Looking forward to making one for my son. He is two and a half and im hoping it will make the countdown easier for him. Thanks again!

50 | Meg

November 11th, 2010 at 1:43 pm


great ideas! We do something similar and a favorite is Two Toonie Dinner. Basically everyone gets two toonies and then is let loose in the grocery store. Everone can buy whatever they want for dinner but no one can see what anyone else got till the cash register. Back at home you have to make a dinner out of what everyone bought! Kids love it!

51 | This Year’s Advent Activites | The Wooden Spoon

November 15th, 2010 at 9:48 am


[…] to the following blogs for ideas:  A Peek Inside the Fishbowl, We Are THAT Family, and The Beckley Blog. This entry was posted in fun. Bookmark the permalink. […]

52 | Advent 2010 Plans | Here's the Diehl

November 29th, 2010 at 11:51 pm


[…] of all, I made us a new Advent calendar and I love it! I found the idea here, but I thought that folding up all that paper to make envelopes would be too time-consuming, and I […]

53 | DIY Mommy | gajillionbunchesalot

November 30th, 2010 at 4:18 pm


[…] short moments before Allie wakes up and will need to be fed. But I’m going to tackle making this advent calendar tonight. I LOVE doing DIY anything. My Mommy brain totally forgot that tomorrow is December 1! My […]

55 | Lynnette

December 1st, 2010 at 12:05 pm


Thank you so much for this! Of course I waited until the last flippin’ minute, and now I have to whip up a countdown calendar quick. I love your activities, and love the cute little envelopes :)

56 | Jolene

December 1st, 2010 at 1:39 pm


I found this last year and decided to try it. I have to say this is the BEST advent idea I’ve ever seen or tried! Thank you so much for sharing this. It made our entire month of December such a joy and we really learned alot by doing things together and helping others.

Of course, I plan on hanging it up again tonight. ;)

57 | 25 Days Of Christmas « Island Mom

December 1st, 2010 at 5:40 pm


[…] do it because Keira was still a little too young. So when Emily at notthatyouasked mentioned this advent activity calendar again this year I knew I just had to try this year. Keira may still be too young but I decided to […]

58 | bit of green

December 6th, 2010 at 8:36 am


Oh, so cute! :)
We made one with match boxes this year, that means the treats are tiny little candies and jellies that fit in a match box!
You can see it here: http://www.bit-of-green.com/nats/crafts-chocolate-advent-calendar

59 | Hannah

December 8th, 2010 at 5:04 pm


I am so glad I found this website, what a great advent calendar idea. I made four of these for my close friends and put my own spin on what I out inside. I used some of your ideas and some of my own. They loved it and I had so much fun making it. Thanks so much for posting this!

60 | How to Make DIY

July 4th, 2011 at 1:51 am


Learn How to Make Calendar – How to Make DIY

61 | Jen

November 10th, 2011 at 2:19 pm


Wow, what fabulous ideas! I love your pocket advent – just what I was looking for. Thank you!

62 | The One That Started The Season « Island Mom

December 1st, 2011 at 10:25 am


[…] that time of year again and time to kick off our newly annual 25 Days of Christmas Advent calendar. I dug around my Christmas tote and pulled out all the envelopes and activities from last year, […]

63 | Jules

December 2nd, 2011 at 2:48 am


Thanks for a great idea. My sons and I have just finished hanging our “calendar” … and opening 1 & 2. We haven’t used an advent calendar before but this is a fun, less commercial way of approaching it.

64 | KD

September 13th, 2012 at 4:49 pm


I love this idea! Only I’m not going to use it for Advent, but more for everyday. I am a step mom of a 7 year old boy and we have him various days of the month. So this way maybe we can do an activity each day he’s home with us.
Initial thoughts are to write 2 indoor/2 outdoor activities per day, so that we don’t have to negotiate the weather. And then he gets to pick 1 or both activities to do that evening/day we have him.
Love this!!! Thank you!!

65 | Elwood

April 19th, 2013 at 3:08 pm


Today, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a 30 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.
My iPad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share
it with someone!

66 | Lindsey

December 1st, 2013 at 6:16 pm


I know this is an old article but this is still a great idea! I’m looking forward to creating my own advent calendar – Thank you!

67 | Inge

December 19th, 2021 at 2:59 pm


Our family still uses our Advent Envelopes inspired by you! I think we are going on twelve years now. Thank you for the inspiration! Merry Christmas!

68 | andrea tomkins

December 21st, 2021 at 1:17 pm


I’m happy to hear! Thank you for letting me know Inge. :) Merry Christmas to you!

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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