Reverse Advent Calendars just might be my new favorite holiday tradition this year!
I love traditional advent calendars – my family has a felt Christmas tree with little plush ornaments for each day that we’ve had hanging on the wall every year for as long as I can remember, and my husband’s family does a new daily treat calendar each year.
Those are all good and fun, but this year, as my son is getting older and more aware of the world around him, I wanted to start teaching him and his sister what’s really important at the holidays – and I don’t mean the overload of gifts.
Since no four-year-old can resist a countdown and repetitive daily activities, a reverse advent calendar seemed like the perfect way to solidify a heart for others in him.
So, what is a Reverse Advent Calendar?
Okay, so an advent calendar is a daily Christmas countdown, which typically involves opening a door for each day of the month leading up to Christmas, revealing a surprise behind it. Most of these calendars include little chocolates or candy, a small toy, or some other treat for kids.
A reverse advent calendar is basically the same thing, except instead of getting a treat, each day will reveal a good deed or task you can do for someone else.
So, each day in December, you’ll open up one of the cups, and find a slip of paper inside with a task written on it. It might be something small – “tell a friend why you’re grateful for them” – or it might require a little more effort – “decorate handmade Christmas cards for Cards for Hospitalized Kids.” But ultimately, the goal of each task is to bring a smile to someone else’s face.
This sounds like a lot of work…
Will it be more work than opening a cardboard door and watching your toddler smear mediocre melted chocolate all over his face? Yes, probably.
But will everyone get a lot more out of it? Absolutely.
As I was making the list of tasks for each day, I tried to be mindful of balancing the cost of some (like donating a new toy to Toys for Tots), with the time of others (like bringing surprise treats to a neighbor or friend), with the coordination of others still (like compiling items for a local food pantry).
But when I was making the list and brainstorming things to do, I found that the ones I’m looking forward to the most are the more intensive ones, like picking an angel from our church’s Angel Tree and buying gifts for them (one of my all-time favorite family Christmas traditions!).
What are some other good deeds included in the Christmas countdown?
I tried my best to include a variety of good deeds in the list. Some for important people in your lives – family, friends, neighbors, teachers – some for people you may see regularly but not have a real relationship with – the mailman, the garbage collectors – and some for complete strangers.
I also tried to vary the level of commitment involved in each task. Many require no money or effort, whatsoever – like giving a hug or compliment. Some do require money and/or effort – like donating extra to the offering at church, or cleaning out closets to donate items to a local shelter.
The best thing about DIY-ing this reverse advent calendar is that you can make the tasks whatever you want them to be! If you want to keep it simple, you can download and print my PDF list of tasks, cut ’em out and drop ’em right into your calendar.
(I even put them in a thoughtful order, taking into consideration the deadlines for certain charities and making the tasks a little be easier and more personal as it gets closer to Christmas, knowing that it tends to get busier too.)
But if you have your own organizations and traditions you want to incorporate, then you can completely customize this Christmas countdown however it works best for your family, your schedule, and your commitments.
What charities or nonprofits should I include in my Christmas countdown calendar?
The easy answer is: whatever charities are meaningful to your own family!
I wanted to ~spread the love~ across several charities for my calendar, since there are so many worthy organizations in need during the holidays. I also took into consideration the things I knew my kids would understand and get something out of.
For example, I would love to volunteer for Meals on Wheels during the holidays, but my kids are so young (4 and 1.5) that I don’t think they would really understand what we were doing, and the complicated logistics of bringing them along would probably overpower any kind of warm fuzzies from the experience.
So instead, we’re compiling items for the food pantry throughout the month, and we’ll deliver the box together. I know that they’ll be able to understand that we have food that others don’t have, so we’re sharing our food with them.
But maybe, in a few years, we’ll add something like Meals on Wheels to list, or maybe we’ll actually volunteer at one of the food pantries or shelters to help sort or hand out food. They’re just not ready for that yet.
That’s just another benefit of this DIY advent calendar – we can change it every single year if we want to!
If you’re looking for charity organization ideas for your own list, here are some great nonprofits to start with:
- Toys for Tots
- Salvation Army Angel Tree
- Local Food Banks
- Local Homeless Shelters
- The Little Free Library
- Cards for Hospitalized Kids
- Operation Christmas Cards for Deployed Troops
- Meals on Wheels
- Local retirement communities
- Local churches
- Local hospitals
Some things to keep in mind when making your list is that many of these organizations will have early cutoffs for holiday donations and sign-ups. So make sure to check their websites before you finalize your daily items, to make sure the tasks will be done before the cutoffs.
(If you’re using my list, I made sure to put all the items that involve a nonprofit or third-party organization in the first half of the month, to make sure it was all done in time for Christmas.)
How can I make my own reverse advent calendar?
It really couldn’t be easier! There are a million different ways to make an advent calendar – all you need is 24 containers or compartments of any shape or size. You could use anything from old Amazon boxes, to plastic craft storage boxes, to paper snack cups, like I used.
Once you have your 24 compartments, just print or write out your daily tasks on individual strips of paper, place them in the compartments, and write the day of the month on each one. Then hang it up, or display it however you’d like!
Each morning, have your kids find the right number for the day, open it up, and read the task together. Talk about how you’re going to do the task for the day – whether it’s something you can all do together, or something you’ll each do individually throughout your day.
Here’s how I made my DIY reverse advent calendar for under $10:
- 24 paper snack cups
- Printed giving list
- Rubber bands
- 3 sheets of tissue paper
- Twine or String
- Flip snack cups upside down, and write numbers 1 - 24 on each of them.
- Poke holes through each side of the cups, and string twine through them, hanging the cups in numerical order. Create one long strand, or two-to-three shorter strands, depending on your preference.
- Print the list of daily items, and cut out into individual strips.
- Review the items, and place each one in a cup (aligning with any daily plans or days of the week, as needed).
- Cut tissue paper into 24 square pieces, large enough to cover the opening of the cups.
- Cover each cup with a piece of tissue paper, and secure with rubber band.
- Each day in December, open the corresponding cup and do whatever task is inside, together as a family!
*For a little extra countdown fun, you can jumble up the numbers, so your kids have to hunt for the right cup each day.
*Feel free to customize the daily giving tasks to your area's local nonprofits, your family's lifestyle, and your desired time commitment.
If you’re making a reverse advent calendar this holiday season – let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear some of the tasks your family is doing.