Christmas Prep 1 – Advent Calendars

In the first of my Christmas prep guides, I thought I’d tackle Advent calendars. The Advent calendar industry has seen a recent boom in the luxury market with Advent calendars dedicated to cheese, gin, make up, stationery, Lego, prosecco and jewellery, to name just a few. Of course, along with the contents of any Advent calendar comes a certain degree of waste. Cardboard outers can be recycled, but plastic and foil composite trays are a recycler’s nightmare.

When I was little, my grandma would send my sister and me a cardboard picture Advent calendar to share, usually with a religious theme. And my mum now sends one for my children. Having never had chocolate advent calendars as a child though, as soon as my children were old enough to have chocolate, I relished in buying them a chocolate Advent calendar. 

Our picture Advent calendar from my mum in pride of place between Father Christmas and Orville!

When we started our zero waste journey, I recognised that our shop-bought Advent calendars weren’t very environmentally friendly and set about looking for alternatives. I was determined to change our tradition of having shop-bought chocolate Advent calendars and decided to make one. The children were reluctant to give up their shop-bought ones, so we made a deal. If they liked the alternative we would switch permanently. If they didn’t, we’d go back to the shop-bought option. I was going to have to pull something spectacular out of the bag. So I did, literally.

I used some brown paper bags, which I decorated using Christmas cookie cutters dipped in paint and added the numbers 1-24. I wrote a piece of paper for each day of Advent, containing a Christmas-related fact, a festive joke, a sentence from the Christmas story and an idea for a Christmas-related activity. I also bought some chocolate stars from our local old fashioned sweet shop and put a chocolate for each child in each bag. Then I pegged them up in random order on a string of fairy lights along our hall.

The children really liked it and it successfully broke our shop-bought habit. However, I knew I couldn’t come up with new interesting facts and funny jokes year on year. The next Christmas I invested in a felt hanging tree-shaped Advent calendar with pockets. I lined each pocket with a slip of greaseproof paper and filled it with a chocolate for each child. Again, I bought the chocolates at my local old fashioned sweet shop. The children love this one and it should last a long time.

Here are a few other waste free or low waste Advent calendar options:

  • A book for each day of Advent. These don’t need to be new books, but could be second hand books collected in charity shops or local library sales.
  • A decoration to hang on the tree for each day of Advent. This is probably best for when you’re just setting up home or, if it’s for a child, for your eldest child when they’re quite young, otherwise your tree could end up overloaded with decorations!
  • A good deeds Advent calendar jar filled with a good deed to perform for each day of Advent, such as calling on an elderly neighbour or playing with a younger sibling.
  • A food bank collection that you add to for each day of Advent and then donate just before Christmas.
  • A Christmas activities jar filled with Christmassy activities for each day of Advent, such as reading a Christmas story, making paper chains, learning a Christmas poem, making Christmas cards or doing some Christmas baking.

What do you do in your house for Advent? Share your ideas in the comments below.


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