Whatever you select to hold your Advent treats, whatever kind of countdown calendar you decide to employ, it will work as long as you create a suitably exciting festive feel. Your only limitation is your imagination. Just how far will it stretch?

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Advent Crackers

This alternative to a conventional Advent calendar is a cracking idea for youngsters. Buy a couple of boxes of inexpensive crackers, 24 small foil-wrapped chocolate treats and the same number of tiny trinkets.

Open up one end of the cracker and upgrade the contents with one of your foil-wrapped chocolate pieces and one of the trinket gifts, like key rings, small decorations and mini sweet tins. If you wish, put in your own poem or trivia question on a small piece of paper. Close up that end once again and tie ribbon around it, making a big enough loop to hang it over a door handle. Repeat the process with all 24 crackers. Number 24 pieces of card or paper: 1 to 24. Stick a number on each of the crackers. Hang cracker number one from a door handle of a child’s room as they sleep on November 30, ready for them to greet the first day of December with a bang when they awake. Make sure any pets are out of earshot when the crackers are pulled.

Advent Tree

You can tailor-make these for family and friends – even pets. Start with a strong tree branch, with plenty of twigs sprouting from it at various tangents. Alternatively, you can obtain a shop-bought wire tree. Some come dressed with Christmas lights. If you go for the natural option, put the base of the branch in a plant pot and surround it with pebbles. Don’t put the pebbles in first and then try to push the branch in. This won’t work. You can now buy packs of Advent boxes, small cardboard boxes with numbers on them and ribbons attached. Fill each box with a festive trinket or chocolate and hang them from the branch. If you feel extra creative, you might want to include a line of poetry, a Christmas anecdote or trivia question on a slip of paper in each box.

The 24 Books of Christmas

This idea can be adopted for adults and children alike. Wrap 24 books in Christmas paper. They might be books you already own, an entirely new collection or a combination of both. Number two-dozen gift tags from 1 to 24 and attach to the wrapped books. Put them in order in a rectangular basket or container, with number one at the front and number 24 at the back. 

On December 1, open the first book and make that your reading material for the day. Continue the process through to December 24, when our suggested read is the classic “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. This is straightforward enough for youngsters, with so many children’s books to choose from that can be read in one, short bedtime burst. Think of books like “The Gruffalo”, “The Gruffalo’s Child”, “Room on the Broom”, “Father Christmas Needs a Wee”, “The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas” and “The Dinosaur Who Pooped Christmas”.

You can also include books from Our Original Stories page. Make certain you have enough books for the collection of 24 well before December. Even if the books are not new, children will enjoy the unwrapping process – more an unveiling process really – and have fun guessing what that night’s bedtime story might be. 

For adults, bite-size books are the key, the kind of work you can easily digest in one sitting at night’s end. Carol Ann Duffy’s collection is perfect. The Poet Laureate has delivered a lovely series of Christmas poetry pamphlets “The Twelve Poems of Christmas” and also “Bethlehem”; “The Christmas Truce”; “Another Night Before Christmas”; “Wenceslas: A Christmas Poem”“Mrs. Scrooge: A Christmas Tale” and “The Wren Boys”. Other books for your consideration might be: “At Christmas Time” by Anton Chekhov, “The Christmas Box” by Richard Paul Evans and “The Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Andersen. Once the books are wrapped, shuffle them before you add the tags. That way you (or the person for whom you’re creating this experience) won’t know what book you’ll be reading each evening until the wrapping has been torn off, so it’s a surprise whether or not the books are new. You could make fabric book pouches, attach numbers to each and re-use them year after year. Perhaps combine each read with the lighting of an Advent candle to make it more special.

The Bucket Line

Tiny numbered buckets on a line can be purchased, ready to carry small gifts for each day of Advent. The same concept works equally well with little bags, envelopes, mittens, socks and boots that can then be pegged on to decorative ribbon. Although decorative bags look pretty, it is also possible to enhance plain envelopes or bags with Japanese washi tape. We have seen Advent calendars made from hanging shoe organisers and even jam jars.

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Candle Countdown

Taper candles marked with 24 notches are readily available in the festive season: Advent calendars in a simple candle. Burn down one notch for each day of December until the big day arrives. These can also be obtained in pillar candle form, which increases the burn time for each day. You might also try Advent tea-lights marked with glitter numbers with several hours’ burn time for each tea-light.

Life Size & Awesome

Around the UK, numbers of towns and villages are offering their ‘living’ Advent calendars. The Saltaire Living Advent Calendar in West Yorkshire started in 2006. Every year, 24 Saltaire windows are illuminated with a festive scene. One scene is ‘opened’ each day from December 1-24. The windows remain lit until Twelfth Night, so why not wrap up warm and view an alternative Advent calendar? See saltaireinspired.org.uk for further information.