a peek inside the fishbowl

16 Nov, 2010

Getting ready for 25 days of Christmas

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Challenge me, challenge you|Easy ways to make kids happy

It’s that time of year agaaaaain. *jazz hands*

Are you ready for this?


For those of you who weren’t with me last year, or the year before, here is my attempt to explain “25 days”  the best I can. :)

The month of December is a busy time of year for just about everyone. And no matter how much I tried, I found myself struggling to find a way to balance the fun of the holidays with my growing list of things that needed to be done. I knew I needed to get organized, but more importantly, I needed Christmas to be joyful again, not just for myself, but for my family.

A few years ago I hit upon a solution that helped me stay on top of the chaos and enjoy the season; I replaced our traditional drugstore brand chocolate-filled advent calendar with 25 small paper envelopes of my own design. I fill each one with a fun task, seasonal event, or family activity. No chocolate, no shopping, and no cheap gifts — just family time.

This will be our fourth year (?!?) with our homemade countdown calendar. It takes some planning but the end result is worth it.

To summarize: my 25 Days of Christmas is about a few different things.

1) Getting organized.
2) Being mindful.
3) Not letting the month of December get away from me.
4) Making it fun for the family and creating some great memories.

I sit down with my agenda in late November and schedule the most time-consuming activities (such as trimming the tree) for early December. Once I’ve pencilled in the things we need to do, I fill the remaining days with things we love to do, most of which are inexpensive kid-friendly activities. The result? Twenty-five days of happy, organized holiday fun which emphasizes family instead of stuff.

It’s been fascinating to see which activities our girls get the most excited about. It is almost always the simplest things that they enjoy the most. As an added bonus our countdown calendar gives me the opportunity to get organized in time for the busiest month of the year. Buying and decorating our tree, giving to charity, and baking cookies were all things we were doing anyway. Planning it out in advance this way made it easier to handle and made it feel like Christmas again. Hallelujah!

How to make your own countdown calendar
Non-crafty types, don’t fear! These are very easy to make. Just be Zen with imperfection. Don’t stress if you can’t cut a straight line (like me!) or you’ve creased your envelopes. No one will notice.

You will need:

  • Paper. Scrapbooking paper is ideal because it’s a little heavier (and is often double-sided) and is more durable. You can also use old Christmas cards, wrapping paper, or magazines.
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Pencil
  • Envelope template
  • Miniature clothespins and ribbon (optional)

1. Print the template onto heavy card stock (adjusting size as desired) and cut it out. Use this to trace the envelope shape onto your paper of choice.

2. Cut along the outside lines, fold along the dotted lines.

3. Glue the bottom flap to the two side flaps let dry. See! A tiny envelope!

4. We count down to Christmas Day so I number our envelopes from 1 to 25. Use a word-processing program to print your numbers, cut them out and paste them on. You can also use rubber stamps or just write them out.

5. Print your list of activities and cut them into individual slips. Don’t seal the envelopes or number the slips. Add each activity the night before in case you need to switch it at the last minute. (For example, if there’s no snow you won’t be able to go tobogganing.) Use the clothespins to attach the envelopes to a pretty ribbon or display them in a big jar or bowl. Whatever works best for you.

You can count down to just about anything. How about a countdown to Kwanzaa? Or counting down to a visit with grandma and grandpa? Or Winter solstice? Incorporate own holiday traditions and your kids will remember it forever. And they won’t miss the chocolates. I promise.

If 25 is too much, just do 12! Trust me. I get it.

Here is a super pretty photo of a few envelopes I made for an article I wrote for Canadian Family Magazine in 2009 as well as a link to a list of suggested activities.

Keep these few tips in mind:

  • Keep your activities fun and family-oriented.
  • Consider leaving “shopping” off the list.
  • Do the bigger tasks early in the month (I learned this the hard way).
  • Mix it up with some cheap and kid-friendly fun activities: building a snowman, stargazing, sledding or skating, making paper snowflakes, hot chocolate, going carolling, giving to charity, etc. See above for link to a longer list of suggestions. Better yet, add your own in the comments of this post.

This may sound like a lot of work, but it is totally worth it! Not only do you get yourself organized for the month of December, but it puts the emphasis on family, rather than gifts.

Anyway, last year I blogged and twittered and Flickrd and was all over the WWW with this and it became a giant group effort, and although it was a lot of fun I think I’m going to be a little quieter about it this time around. If this blog post inspires you to do it and blog about it and link back here, or tweet (#25daysofChristmas) great, but I’m not organizing a big collective THING this year. I will post about it every once in awhile, but I don’t want to let it dominate. I want to save my energy for the important stuff. You know what I mean? :)

Now g’wan and get Christmassy! And let me know how it goes!

ETA: If you want to use the “25 days” image at the top of this post, or the smaller that’s in the lower right-hand sidebar — please do!

61 Responses to "Getting ready for 25 days of Christmas"

1 | Melissa

November 16th, 2010 at 9:57 am


I’m in. :) This year I’m keeping a masterlist of what I’ve picked for each day, though, in case I need to do a last minute substitution due to weather or circumstances! ;)

2 | andrea

November 16th, 2010 at 10:02 am


Ha! Yes – a master list is a great idea. I print the activities out and hide them on a shelf. The night before I add my chosen activity it to the envie. Works like a charm.

3 | Alicia

November 16th, 2010 at 10:17 am


Can’t wait to try this out! Thanks!

4 | Kerry

November 16th, 2010 at 10:24 am


I’m definitely in again this year. The kids (and I) love having a focus on something other than presents & shopping.

5 | Ginger

November 16th, 2010 at 10:27 am


I so love this. I tried last year but this boys were just too young and between me working and the boys’ 6:00pm bedtime it just didn’t work. I don’t think I am going to try again this year. Their bedtime is now 7pm but they still don’t really “get” Christmas yet. We are going to try to do a few things with them this year and they are already scheduled in. But I think next Christmas when they are 3 we might be ready for the 12 days of Christmas! :) But I always enjoy reading about your activities!

6 | canuck_grad

November 16th, 2010 at 10:27 am


I’m so excited to do this this year and start a new tradition for my little family! I’m not crafty, though, and making the envelopes would have put this more into the “work” than “fun” category for me. So I found this cute mini-stocking advent calendar that I ordered from Avon and can slip the papers in… there’s a picture in the top left corner here:
I seem to recall that you can also buy the cardboard ones shaped like a tree with little drawers at Starbucks. I don’t live near a Starbucks now, but they used to sell them when I did…. just some alternatives for other non-crafty types lol.

7 | Sasha

November 16th, 2010 at 10:28 am


I love it! What an amazing idea! What I would dearly like to do, as my kids get old enough to actually understand what’s going on, is teach them about different seasonal traditions (in a fun way of course). Aside from the amount of homework I’m going to need to do to pull this together, making it fit into the month of December without getting all stressed was, well, stressing me out. So was how to include the advent calendar I loved as a kid, without it being about chocolate or ‘stuff’.
This is perfect. So excited. Thanks!!

8 | andrea

November 16th, 2010 at 10:35 am


I forgot to mention, last year I had a young fellow contact me for ideas… he wanted to do 25 days for his girlfriend. Isn’t that sweet? Christmas is not just for the kids! :)

9 | andrea

November 16th, 2010 at 10:37 am


And, yes, if you wanted to make this even easier on yourself (1) find another advent calendar to use. We have a wooden one with tiny drawers that would be perfect for this. :) of (2) use 25-regular size envelopes and get the kids to decorate them with stickers and stamps and use those instead.

10 | Kaitlin

November 16th, 2010 at 11:55 am


Oooh. I might try and do 12 for the husband and I. Yes. Yes, I will.

11 | Mrsgryphon

November 16th, 2010 at 12:18 pm


I’ve got purr envelopes all ready (sweet little felt ones I found on Etsy… Reusable!) but we’re just going to do 12 days to start with this year.

Looking forward to picking our activities!!

12 | Rachel

November 16th, 2010 at 12:22 pm


I LOVE THIS! Yay — my kiddos are going to spend the week with the Grandparents so I can get everything made this week.

Great idea!

13 | meanie

November 16th, 2010 at 12:48 pm


I did this last year and the girls were over the moon about it. It was a very special December. A new tradition has been born!
For days when I’m burnt out, I PVR all the Xmas shows and watching one of them is our special activity. Can’t be super mom everyday ;)

14 | Maranda

November 16th, 2010 at 12:49 pm


This is a super activity. I am doing something similar with a “December Daily” memory book by ordinarynormal.wordpress.com – Recording the 25 days of Christmas with photos, memorabilia and journalling. I can’t wait to start!

15 | andrea

November 16th, 2010 at 12:58 pm


meanie: it can’t be all about trimming trees and baking cookies. It is definitely OK to take a laid-back approach. OMG! I don’t want to suggest otherwise!

Easy things we’ve done:

– watched a holiday special on TV as a family
– dressed up for dinner (define “dressing up” in whatever way you want to
– eat dessert before dinner
– read a special holiday story together (in a fort! On the sofa bed! Under the covers with a flashlight!)
– taken a candlelight bubble bath

There are so many more cheap and easy ideas out there, that’s just off the top of my head.

16 | Mandy from Nova Scotia

November 16th, 2010 at 2:05 pm


I did this with my now 10 & 6 year old boys last year and they LOVED it. We will definitely be doing it again this year one of my ideas for a weekend was outdoor fire with marshmallows and it was their favorite one, oh and Christmas shaped egg nog pancakes for breakfast in bed on a Sunday morning. I am so glad you shared this idea because this truly is now a Christmas tradition in our home and it’s my favorite!

17 | Top Ten Tuesday: Making it a Family Christmas « Another day, another thought…or two.

November 16th, 2010 at 2:23 pm


[…] Tompkins might have just the solution to keep me focused. She’s starting up another year of 25 Days of Christmas. The idea is to create an advent type calendar for the 25 days leading up to and including […]

18 | Jessica @JessaMae Photography

November 16th, 2010 at 3:33 pm


I LOVE this idea!!!

Is it silly to do this with my husband even if we don’t have kids ?? :P

19 | meanie

November 16th, 2010 at 4:01 pm


“- take a candlelight bubble bath”

sweeeeet. i’m going to make my very own advent for that day.

20 | Rae

November 17th, 2010 at 6:38 pm


Yay! I’m glad to be doing it again! 21 days of Yuletide Joy for us (Pagans…) and the kids LOVE it! :D

21 | Elene

November 17th, 2010 at 11:56 pm


Can’t wait to try this out! Thanks!

22 | Fran

November 18th, 2010 at 1:50 am


This is tremendous! Just finished making all my little envelopes and planning out the month. My kids are 4 and 2 and I picked some easy but very exciting adventures for us! Looking forward to it very much! I’m 100% sure this will be a yearly tradition for our family (even if DH is a bit humbuggy sometimes!!).

23 | Annie

November 18th, 2010 at 8:43 am


Thank you for the idea! I headed off to get my paper after work yesterday and stayed up until midnight making the envelopes (got half done and will finish the other half on my day off today). I will use the list that Andrea posted for ideas for our small family (me, husband, 3 year old daughter, and 7 month-old in the womb baby-to-be). If other folks have great ideas for daily activities, it would be lovely if folks shared!!

Very much looking forward to this!
Thanks for the ideas and excitement.

24 | andrea

November 18th, 2010 at 9:06 am


Here’s a list of activities from 2009 that might give you a few more ideas!

25 | Christine LaRocque

November 18th, 2010 at 12:06 pm


We loved this last year. Already working on my activities for this year! Will blog, tweet and Facebook all about it.

P.S. If you Google Advent calendar activities (I was looking for new ideas for this year) you come up number 2! Way to go Andrea.

26 | canuck_grad

November 18th, 2010 at 2:31 pm


I technically have a blog that I started in 2009, although I only posted a few times. I just put together a quick post about my Advent calendar ideas, though, after Annie mentioned she’d like to hear ideas from others. You can find it here:

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[…] been feeling Christmassy these past couple weeks. Perhaps I’m infected by 25 Days of Christmas? It’s funny how it makes the holiday season seem longer than it is (in a good way!). […]

28 | Annie

November 22nd, 2010 at 9:01 pm


Thanks for adding some suggestions, folks! I mentioned it to my students (grade 2) the other day and they were so excited to give me ideas! I shut them down at that moment (cause we had to stay on some sort of schedule!) but have a brainstorming session schedule in this week’s plans!! I shall try to remember to post any new and fab ideas they might come up with!

29 | FireMom

November 22nd, 2010 at 9:49 pm


I actually found your blog just today researching advent envelope calendars of the homemade variety. Landed on your 2007 post. Pleased to see this one. We did a last ditch effort of this last year with a red-and-green traced-handprint wreath. Same idea; lots of family activities, just not in envelopes.

Love this and getting to work on mine pronto.

30 | FireMom

November 22nd, 2010 at 9:53 pm


PS, When I blog about it, I will use your image and link back. Thumbs up on the way cute image. (Okay, enough gushing from me. Promise.)

31 | Hege

November 23rd, 2010 at 12:49 pm


The kids and I are joining this year too :)

32 | Cath in Ottawa

November 24th, 2010 at 10:52 am


We’re joining as well – 4yr old daughter helped cut out the envelopes and is very excited. (Although my husband did ask why we couldn’t outsource the creation of Advent calendars … )

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37 | FireMom

November 30th, 2010 at 2:36 pm


Our post went live just now. Thanks again! (Post: Our Advent Calendar, 2010)

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39 | Alice@Supratentorial

November 30th, 2010 at 10:14 pm


Great idea! I’m planning something similar myself this year but without the super cute crafty envelopes. I found a cheap calendar in the $ bin at Target and filled it with little slips of paper. My boys are itching to know what it’s for and I’m looking forward to telling them!

40 | Merry120

December 1st, 2010 at 1:51 am


I’m in! I’m going to couple this with our Elf on the Shelf. He will bring us a 25 Days of Christmas activity each day.

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50 | AccidentalPharm

December 19th, 2010 at 4:07 pm


This is an awesome idea! Really excellent. I’m not crafty in the slightest but I’m A-type enough to compensate. My poor husband, however, will not be so happy when he’s recruited to make the envelopes next year. ;)

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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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