I loved the Advent Calendar we had in my home when I was a kid. It was a simple poster with 25 numbered cardboard shutters. Each day I loved to open those little windows and see the glitter-splashed picture underneath; a star or angel or donkey or something else Christmas-story-related would be added to the scene until on the 25th the baby Jesus would appear in his manger.
When I wanted to find an Advent Calendar for The Kid, one that would increase anticipation in the countdown to Christmas, I started looking around. My, how things had changed. The options now seemed to be commercially made advent calendars, which not only could be used for one year only, but each day the child would get a present – a plastic toy, a lolly or chocolate.
Getting a toy every day in the lead up to Christmas, plus more presents on Christmas Day, seemed over-the-top to me. I felt it would encourage the focus of Christmas being mainly about the presents, which we don’t believe it is. And there are enough sugary sweets going around at this time of year without me contributing to it.
I looked online for other options, for a calendar we could buy once and reuse each year, like the one I had as a kid. The only reusable ones I found were fabric ones with little pockets for each day. They looked lovely, and some were fair trade, but I just didn’t want the pressure of coming up with 25 things that would fit in the pockets, nor the potential waste, as surely I would end up getting something nobody really needed just to fill the pocket for that day… (I have since heard of folk filling these with daily tasks eg random acts of kindness etc, but didn’t come across that til I’d already found my solution).
More googling ensued. Finally I combined several ideas to create our Book Advent Calendar.
One Family cherishes books and we love reading together. I knew with a bit of searching I could find 24 Christmassy, or special to us, books to make the Advent Calendar with.
(Skip to the end for the full list of books.)
Here are the steps I took to create the Book Advent Calendar.
What books did we already have?
I went through the age-appropriate books we owned and pulled out any with a theme (or even a mention!) of Christmas/family/summer holidays/being kind/showing gratitude. Then I added some family favourites. I wrote all their titles in my Advent Calendar notes.
Check out the library
I searched our local library’s online catalogue within Junior Kindy and Junior Fiction for the keyword ‘Christmas’, got a heap of hits, then went through and reserved the ones that looked like a good fit. I can borrow 12 items at a time from my library for three weeks so this was a major source of books.
Buy one book
The Kid has been learning ballet for a few years. I wanted her to know The Nutcracker story so when she is old enough we can go to see a production. The library didn’t have a copy available so I decided that purchasing one book for this advent calendar would be worth it. I searched online and found a second-hand copy through an online charity shop https://www.worldofbooks.com.au/ and ordered it.
Find low-waste wrapping
I keep a stash of fabric bags that things like sheets and shoes have come in over the years. I pulled them all out and worked out that with the addition of a few pillowcases and reusable shopping bags I would have enough.
For labels I cut up the cardboard from an old cereal box and hand-wrote the numbers on. I used kitchen string – that was saved to be reused later – to tie the labels on.
Assembling the advent calendar
I did this all in one hit so it took quite a while. I had already planned which books would be on which day. Mostly it didn’t matter, but some of the library ones would be due back before the end of the calendar, so I put them earlier in the month. I made sure to write down which book was in which numbered bag in case I wanted to swap or change anything, eg if a reserve I was waiting on a the library came in earlier than expected.
With The Kid at school, I cleared off our mantelpiece, started with number 24 (“The Night Before Christmas” in The Kid’s Santa Sack made by her Grandma), and just worked backwards from there, balancing the books in their bags along the shelf mostly in order. It was squashy at first but I could spread them out as the month went on and there were less books.
That night, after The Kid had brushed her teeth and was in pjs, the first bag was opened. I think The Kid was disappointed that it was one of her own books, as maybe I hadn’t explained properly that it was a mix of old favourites and library books, and the first night didn’t go as well as I was hoping. But on the second and subsequent nights we all looked forward to our special Christmas family time together on the couch, reading stories together.
Our Christmases are usually spent either at our home in Western Australia, with One Family and any waifs and strays who want to join us, or across the other side of the country in New South Wales with extended family. This year we will be in NSW from mid-December, so I don’t think it is worth doing this year. But I think I will miss it.
Here is the final book list we enjoyed in 2016:
- The Night Before Christmas Pop-up book by Robert Sabuda (ours)
- Santa’s Busy Reindeer by Ed Allen (library)
- The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies – Christmas Tree Fairy page – by Cicely Mary Barker (ours)
- Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes (library)
- The Things I Love about Family by Trace Moroney (ours)
- Tractor Mac saves Christmas by Billy Steers (library)
- Magic Beach by Alison Lester (ours)
- For All Creatures by Glenda Millard (ours)
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss (library)
- Down the Back of the Chair by Margaret Mahy (ours)
- Cassie Family photo book about our previous dog, on the anniversary of her death (ours)
- Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen (library)
- No Matter What by Debi Gliori (ours)
- Wombat Divine by Mem Fox (ours)
- NYC Photo book of a Christmas family holiday in New York (ours)
- Christmastime in NYC by Roxie Munroe (library)
- Once there were Giants by Martin Waddell (ours)
- Hairy Maclary’s Caterwaul Caper by Lynley Dodd (ours)
- Silent Night, Holy Night by Werner Thuswaldner and Robert Ingpen (library)
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (child’s version) (library)
- The Christmas Story pop-up book by Robert Sabuda (library)
- The Twelve Days of Christmas (library)
- The Nutcracker by Emma Helborough (ours, purchased second-hand for Advent Calendar)
- The Night before Christmas Look & Find (ours).