Hear that? That, friends, is the sound of sleigh bells in the not too distant future. Too soon for Santa chat? Not if you’re a lover of all things Christmas it’s not. In fact, if that applies to you, you’re probably already counting down the days. Speaking of such, isn’t it about time we gave thought to this year’s advent calendars? After all, what’s December without waking up to a teeny gift each morning?
It’s thought that advent calendars used to come in the form of simple chalk markings on doors or the burning of candles. The first printed advent calendar was created in the early 1900s (though no sweets lurked behind cardboard doors, sadly), and since then we’ve revelled in the novelty of checking off each day until the big one finally arrives, all the while previewing the main event with mini presents.
Chocolate has long been recognised as the calendar filling of choice, though recently we’ve witnessed an influx in designs stuffed with beauty products, tea bags and even pork scratchings, suggesting we’re after a bit more flexibility when it comes to our calendars.
With that in mind, we put some of the best DIY and fill-your-own advent calendars to the test, paying particular attention to how easy (or difficult) they are to assemble, how durable they are and – most importantly – how many treats they can support. Here are our favourites.
Posh Totty Designs Interiors 3D Christmas Advent Village: £15, Not On The High Street
Entertaining for children and adults alike, this 3D advent village is a firm favourite of ours. Featuring 24 numbered, flat-packed cardboard figures that – once assembled – come together to create a festive scene, there’s fun to be had not only from revealing a treat each morning, but also in the building of the village itself. There’s all manner of cute mini models, including houses, a church, a rainbow and even a car, and all come in different sizes, from a Christmas tree plant pot that’ll fit little more than a single sweet, to a mountain that could easily squeeze in a nail polish or two. Each shape is simple to construct, and just requires folding into place (though double-sided tape might help to secure some parts), and other small decorative items – such as glittery star stickers – are also provided. The brand suggests assembling a single item each day, but we rather like the idea of hunkering down and building the entire scene with Christmas tunes blaring in the background. The components, while sturdy, are still quite delicate, so likely won’t last for years to come, but if you’d like to try and preserve them for future use, be sure to break down each piece (gently) and store them flat.
The Makery Make Your Own Advent Calendar Kit: £11, The Makery
Amidst the chaos of pre-ordering turkey crowns and learning lyrics to Christmas carols (if that’s your thing), an afternoon spent crafting might be just what you need to calm your stress levels. The Makery’s sew-your-own calendar kit comprises of two sheets of fabric; a back panel featuring 25 coloured squares and one with the pocket strips, with each individual pocket-front boasting a festive image with a retro feel. A step-by-step guide is printed in a panel on the fabric itself, but it’s relatively brief and requires a certain level of stitching know-how – not to mention a sewing machine (you’d need the patience of a Christmas angel to tackle this by hand) – to make complete sense of it. Put simply, if you don’t know box pleats from boxer shorts this probably isn’t a project for you to pursue without guidance, however, workshops are taking place throughout November in London and Bath where experts are on hand to help attendees to create a similar design. Batting (a thick, soft fabric used to add body) and backing fabric are available at an additional cost too, which, assuming you’d like your calendar to live to witness many Christmases, we highly recommend investing in. Pockets are generous in size and allow for plenty more than a single chocolate (think a mini bag of Harribo, a lipstick or two, or perhaps even a diddy bottle of booze), though be careful not to overload it. And best of all? The calendar takes up so little space, it can easily be folded and stashed away after use until next year’s festivities.
Twenty-Seven Fill-Your-Own Bauble Calendar: £44.95, Not On The High Street
Ideal for use as a family advent calendar, these clear acrylic baubles can play host to a generous number of treats (we managed to squeeze an impressive 13 hard, packaged sweets into a singular sphere before it popped back open again). Sturdy in design, the two halves simply slot together and remain joined by a loop of ribbon. A length of red satin is included with the kit, perfect if you fancy creating a wall feature using your calendar, however we quite like the idea of having them scattered on a tree – perhaps an additional one that has the sole purpose of adorning advent baubles. Too much? We think not. For those too tempted by treats, consider wrapping gifts in tissue paper or concealing them in tinsel before filling the calendar to avoid premature unwrapping, and if you consider the 25th as the climax of your advent calendar, then you’ll need to source an additional prize, as only 24 numbered spheres are supplied. The baubles arrive bubble-wrapped, so can easily be dismantled and packed away for future Christmases to come.
Crafter’s Companion Create Your Own Advent Calendar Kit: £14.99, John Lewis
Uncomplicated and enjoyable to make, creating this calendar is a fun way to kick off the festivities. Each kit comprises of 24 unassembled cardboard boxes, decorative papers, foil stickers and double-sided tape to decorate them with, plus metal binder clips and a length of twine for display purposes. Once built, the boxes are petite but can easily support a Quality Street, though it’s worth noting that the base is only tucked in place, so be careful not to add too much weight. Instructions are supplied with the kit, and clearly illustrate how to compile the calendar. It’s a simple fold-and-stick job that should take no more than an hour or two to complete. When displaying the calendar, ensure the twine is pulled relatively tightly and secured at either end to prevent the boxes from gathering in the centre, and if you intend on keeping it for future use, take measures to see they aren't squashed under snowmen ornaments (or any other kind of heavy Christmas dec).
A by Amara Mini Bucket Advent Calendar: £40, Amara
Requiring zero assembly, this cute advent calendar is ideal for those who aren't well-acquainted with craft. Rustic in style, it features 24 tiny red and white zinc buckets suspended from four wooden branches, all connected by a length of rope, which cleverly supports the entire frame. Each bucket has a base no larger than a 50 pence piece and just a thin loop of string to support it, so if gifting generously is your forte then this likely isn’t the calendar for you, but what it lacks in present capacity it certainly makes up for in festive flair. Its homemade feel and Christmas-meets-woodland colour scheme are reminiscent of a Scandinavian winter, and it makes for a fab addition to yuletide decor that you’ll want to display year after year. Hang somewhere sturdy and away from high-traffic zones so it’s not at risk of being knocked, and ensure it’s packed away with care so it doesn’t get damaged.
Doodlelove Awesome Christmas Advent Calendar Poster: £21.50 (including envelopes), Doodlelove
A far cry from the traditional Christmas calendar, this one is contemporary, colourful and next level cool. In essence, it’s an A2 poster graced with 24 vibrant, numbered rectangles – ideal for those who prefer a slightly more modern Christmas trim or perhaps simply don’t have the space for a large advent calendar. Pretty as it is, you can also purchase 24 small, translucent envelopes at an additional cost to make it more interactive. Each square envelope measures only 6cmx6cm, so think along the lines of chocolate coins and other petite, lightweight and slender items to fill them with. We rather like the idea of stuffing them with little positive notes or date ideas instead of candy, though that’s definitely geared to a more grown-up audience. You’ll need washi tape (or similar) to attach the envelopes, or if you’d like to reuse the poster next year, consider displaying it on a magnetic board, using small magnets to secure the envelopes. Avoid attaching heavy items to the poster (as you risk damaging it), and ensure you roll it up and pop it back in the tube it arrived in when the new year rolls around, so it’s kept intact for future festivities.
Very 3D Nordic Advent House: £29.99, Very
Hand-decorated in appearance, this is a calendar that will have even your nearest and dearest questioning your clever craft skills, but alas, all this calendar requires are little gifts to fill each drawer. There are 24 in total (is it just us, or are we being conned out of our Christmas day calendar gift?), 12 on each side of the miniature wooden house, all with the capacity to stash a couple of small items, such as sweets, stationery or Lego pieces. The base of the house is slender – only 10cm in width – so can be displayed on windowsills and mantlepieces where space is a premium, though make sure it’s within easy reach for morning treats (or perhaps not if you’ll struggle to keep your mitts off). Its classic colour combo of white and red and charming painted drawer fronts – boasting teeny trees and snowflakes – are bound to enhance festive vibes, and will give your Christmas scheme a notable Scandi edge. While fairly robust, be sure to pack this calendar away with care. The drawers are loose, so take measures to secure them in place so none are lost before next year’s festivities commence.
Bubblegum Balloons Reindeer Balloon Christmas Advent Calendar: £24, Bubblegum Balloons
Perhaps the most whimsical and pleasurable advent calendar of the bunch, even scrooge himself couldn’t sneer at this cute balloon number. Comprising of 24 adorable cardboard reindeer faces, 27 pre-stuffed red balloons (three extra, just in case), a stretch of brown cord, a star-topped popper and an easy-to-follow instruction manual, this calendar couldn't be easier to assemble. The cord is threaded through each reindeer face and the balloons, once inflated, simply slot into a pre-cut cross on the reindeers nose, so each has a strong likeness to a certain famous red-nosed reindeer. A pump is recommended to inflate the balloons (which you can purchase from Bubblegum Balloons), as these diddy ones are notoriously troublesome to blow up manually (trust us, we tried). But the assembling is just the beginning. The real fun comes with popping a balloon nose each morning (using the star-topped popper, of course) and revealing a foil-covered solid chocolate ball. It’s one way to start your day with a bang, that’s for sure. Obviously, the calendar in its entirety can’t be reused, but there’s no reason you can’t hang onto the cardboard faces to recreate it with new balloons and fillings next year…
Luck & Luck Hanging Envelope Advent Calendar Kit: £7.50, Luck & Luck
Comprising of 24 numbered, cardboard envelopes, pegs and three lengths of gold string, this kit has everything you need to create a simple but customised calendar. Great for those short on surface space, the string should be secured to the wall – perhaps via a pin board – but take measures to make sure it’s secure, as it errs on the thin side. The envelopes – adorned with swirly numbers and illustrations of holly sprigs – are flat, leaving limited space for sweets. Instead, they’re better suited to date/day trip ideas or notes (the written or money kind, depending on how generous you are). The pegs, while not heavy, do add significant weight to the string, so bear that in mind when filling the envelopes to avoid overloading it. Easy to pack away, this calendar will take up little room in your Christmas box – just be careful not to crease the envelopes and there’s no reason it can’t make a reappearance next year.
Hobbycraft Wooden Train Advent Calendar: £15, Hobbycraft
One for the nippers (or big kids) of the family, this fun number will provide hours of entertainment. Completely plain upon purchase, its design is open to interpretation, so whether you choose to paint it in classic Christmas shades or adorn it with pompoms and sequins, it’s certain to look spectacular. Each of the three carriages contains eight drawers – four on each side – for filling with treats. They’re small but substantial, and can easily provide passage for a couple of chocolates. The carriages and front of the train are all linked via a metal chain, and the wheels ensure this piece doubles as a toy too. Know that it’s not likely to be a quick make (or decorate), but you can be sure that it’ll soak up fond family memories along with any paint and glitter glue, and that it’ll become a Christmas staple for years to come. It’ll need to be boxed up before it’s packed away so it’s not damaged and drawers aren't lost, but it’s well worth the space in your attic.
The Verdict: DIY advent calendars
Choosing a calendar is essentially determined by who you’re catering for, although a few stand out to us for being entertaining and down-right enjoyable for all ages. The first is the Posh Totty Design’s 3D Advent Village, which gives you all the festive feels as you assemble. Its combo of classic decor with contemporary design will make it right at home in any abode, and the fact that the figures have capacity for slightly larger gifts only scores it bonus points. The Balloon Christmas Calendar from Bubblegum Balloons emphasises excitement in the lead-up to the big day (even for adults), plus there’s no need to consider its filling, and we adore the idea of gifting a complement or festive-themed task via the Awesome Advent Poster, though unless said task involves ice skating or visits to Santa’s grotto, we’re not entirely sure children will be satisfied, but you have been warned…
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