Fill Your Own Advent Calendar Inspiration From Betsy Benn
57 Ideas for Advent Calendar Gifts - not sponsored by Heinz!
Advent calendars! There’s so much love in our house for the December countdown to Christmas and I have made SO many advent calendars for kids, friends and my very lucky other half that I’ve lost count.
A massive part of the attraction of an advent calendar that you create yourself, is that you can fill it with exactly what you want, things you know the person opening it will appreciate. Which is perfect if you don’t want your small one to be eating chocolate for breakfast every morning in December (same rules don’t apply to Mum or Dad though, right!)
If you want some inspiration on what to fill your advent calendar with, Here's a compilation of some of our favourite ideas and thought starters below. Some are free, some are budget friendly, and some are more expensive so feel free to mix it up and use whatever is helpful. But if you want to go BIG my friend, then you go for it!
I’m also trying to support as many other indie businesses as possible so where there are specific suggestions I’ve added links to their products.
For ease of reading I’m going to split the suggestions into “Teens to Adults” and “Primary Schoolers” but please keep in mind your own audience as you know them best. If you’ve got this far, you might as well read all the suggestions because lots of them work across the ages. Yay – let’s rock n roll.
Something free every day!
Actually, let’s start with free ideas that work across the generations. These could be a part of the advent calendar every day, or just popped into a few days – but they are very low cost, basically free ideas for a bit of fun.
- One of my absolute favourite advent calendars that I made for Ben a couple of years ago included a small photograph each day. Either just him, or him with a friend or relative. And on the back of the photograph I wrote what the memory was of that day and he absolutely loved it. I think he was just coming up to 13 and he really enjoyed seeing pictures of him as a three-year-old and reliving days out or funny moments. After Christmas, he kept all the photos in his bedroom so I know he really did love it! Of course, there was chocolate in each day too – what can I say, my battle against chocolate for brekkie didn’t last long. But he's asked for photos again this year so, WINNING!
- When we designed our balloon advent calendars we created a printout sheet of 24 Christmas jokes to be added inside each balloon. It’s easier than you think to put things inside a balloon before you blow it up. With the jokes for example, we printed long strips of paper which you then roll around the end of a pencil to create a small paper tube, which is very easy to then drop into a balloon or any make it yourself advent calendar. If your advent calendar has more space then you can upscale your jokes accordingly!
- Pressed flowers and leaves. Did you know you can speed up the pressing and drying process of flowers in the microwave?!?! Well, me neither until I looked it up and now you do too. Maybe think about giving a glass picture frame as a gift on Christmas Day so the flower recipient has a cool crafty project to complete at the end of advent.
- Recipes – if you have a budding chef, printing out interesting recipes from the internet could be a cool and cheap way to spice up your December mealtimes. If you’re running with the theme then maybe add spices or dried ingredients into the advent calendar.
- Pebbles – my husband collects pebbles that look like dragons’ teeth (you know what dragon’s teeth look like, of course.) He always keeps one or two in his pocket like some kind of fiddle toy. Anytime we’re on a beach I’m on the search for a pebble that will work in his advent calendar. So, it might sound like a cheeky advent gift, but I know he’ll appreciate the fact that I’ve thought about him in the summer and kept something safe until December – sometimes it really is the little things.
- Comic strips cut from the newspaper – if you still get newspapers. Or hunt them down from a friendly neighbours recycling box. My Gen Z teen is amused by the novelty of a tiny comic strip. For a small outlay you could set about any old comic from eBay or a charity shop with a pair of scissors for a small dose of the smiles each day.
- Recycled things from your own toy box – okay this one might only work with the younger kiddos but I have no shame in admitting that I used to pick a few Lego minifigures out of Ben’s existing collection and pop them in his advent calendar. Score one for Mumma!
- A Spotify playlist. Did you know you can create a Spotify playlist and create a special code that is scannable from your phone? It then opens the playlist straight away and it’s kind of the 2020s version of the mixtape. To pull up a Spotify Code, just tap the “three dots” button on the right side of the screen while playing a song, or looking at an artist or playlist. To scan one, go to the search bar, tap the camera icon then hover the camera over a code on a phone, computer screen or printout.
So, you get the idea on add ins to your advent calendar that are free or really low cost. You can make those bits super specific for your person. Now, let’s spend a little!
Suggestions for the teens to adults (but read through because some will work for any age)
- Rocks or crystals. I already mentioned that my other half likes dragon tooth pebbles, but in fairness his pocket likes any stone that is interesting. I found a crystal shop last year that had heart-shaped stones and crystals and all sorts of other coloured and shaped rocks. Most were reasonably priced and made for a great addition to his advent calendar.
- A morning cuppa! I’m a big fan of breaking open the packs of individually enveloped teas – I especially love the Pukka ones and T2 – to create a nice morning treat in an advent calendar. If you want to add more then I’m also a big fan of individually wrapped biscuits like snack packs of Jammie Dodgers, Lotus biscuits, or Jaffa Cakes. This also works with different flavour coffee pods or hot chocolate sachets or the melty spoon individual portions. Mmm with hot chocolates you could even add a marshmallow!
- Mini toiletries. There are so many around now, from the kind you get in the supermarket to go on holiday, to something more “treaty” such as the small bottles of shower gels from Molton Brown. FYI these tend to come in a box set which is perfect for splitting across your days.
- Face masks – no, not those face masks - the pamper ones! The beauty of a face mask is that they tend to be single use and so they already come individually wrapped and normally in a box of three or more! I love the Spacemask ones that heat up and they are normally about £15 for 5. And the branding is all starry and I’m a sucker for great branding. Then I found these by Health&Her which are really similar and a bit cheaper.
- Sock it to them! Where do socks go to die? I seem to forever have a range of unmatched socks that live by the washing machine, waiting in vain for their lost partner until months later I end up throwing them away or making pet toys from them! Replenishing the sock drawer via the advent calendar is either going to be acceptable or not and I think the choice of socks makes a difference. Last year I found socks that featured famous works of art and they raised smiles-a-plenty, but were not that comfortable to wear if I’m honest. I’m raising the sock game with fun ones with slogans on about gaming and super lux ones of cashmere and bamboo varieties!
- Miniature bottles of their favourite tipple. With our paper advent calendar, I pretty quickly realised that a miniature bottle of port would fit in the Father Christmas pocket – which seemed very appropriate as we always leave a glass of port out for Santa on Christmas Eve. Substitute alcohol for weird, wonderful or rarely allowed soft drinks for the teens or alcohol free folks. My small loves the San Pellegrino can drinks but we rarely have them in the house. They would be a welcome addition to his advent calendar. Or this Pokemon novelty drink which had better be the non-alcoholic version of champagne for the price of nearly £3 per can!
- Novelty foodie bits. Similar to the concept of herbs and spices with the recipe prints outs, but a bit more whacky. There’s always Christmas themed gift food around in November and December but they can be pricey for not a lot, wrapped in excess packaging and ribbon. So, I tend to buy unusual bits that I know are around all the time. I mean, check out the Gin-Chup and Gin-Mayo. Or for something sweet how about these gourmet marshmallow bundles from The Naked Marshmallow Company.
- A personalised Christmas tree ornament. Yes, I’m going to plug our own products here, but a beautiful Christmas decoration is a really wonderful addition to an advent calendar. And if you add a date as well it becomes a special reminder of that year. Our Starry Wolf Tree Ornaments are new for 2021 and come in a variety of colours.
- Winter wear. So practical and so beautiful. I always think it’s a bit of a waste to wait until Christmas Day to give or receive a new woolly hat, knitted gloves or mittens. I mean it’s cold from October onwards. That’s two or three months of hat wearing opportunity right there! This is a bit bigger than your average advent gift, but so worth it. My fave bobble hat ever is from Eka Wear.
- A paperback book or a magazine. Remember when things we read were made of paper? Yes, me too. Le sigh. Little plug now for bookshop.org. It’s the best of online shopping for books because you can nominate a local bookshop that you wish to support, they get all of the profit from the sale, and you still have the convenience of online.
- A keyring. Yes, your person probably already has key rings, but we have so many goddam keys these days! Bikes, sheds, lockers, so so many keys! I found one last year that matched the tattoo design my person has so it worked a treat. Or take it up a notch with these tweed ones, paired with a wooden tag that has your own handwriting on it. Or tug at the heart strings with your small ones handprint engraved on the keyring. It’s ALLLL good.
- Tea light candles. Scented ones work a treat and normally come in packs so you can spread out across a few days. I love these ones by Homecrafted Candle Co.
- Stationery items - who doesn’t love a nice pen or some funky post-it notes? Or pencils that say funny things - like these ones from Newton and the Apple.
- On the same stationery theme - how about a gorgeous notebook, like these personalised notebooks from, oh look, us! (Wink)
- Packets of seeds. It’s really lovely to grow a plant from seed. You could go seasonal and try to grow your own Christmas tree, or opt for something a little more culinary with a fast-growing herb like basil. This grow your own herb garden gift set has a few different herbs,
- Okay, you have to admit that it’s pretty impressive that I got all the way to 16 suggestions before I landed on chocolate. You know the kind of chocolate your person will love and what kind of chocolate you want to indulge in before breakfast, so suggestions from me are kind of redundant. A personal fave in this house though are the mini penguins or reindeer that Hotel Chocolat make. I just wrap each one in a bit of greaseproof paper before popping in the advent calendar. Or for a touch of nostalgic luxury, these gold foiled chocolate coins from Fortnum and Mason which can be spread out across the days.
- Gingerbread, or other biscuity goodness. Did you see our stop motion on Instagram where we filled our advent calendar with gingerbread shapes? Everything about that was fun - from making the gingerbread, playing with the animation, and eating the gingerbread! Okay, mostly eating it was the fun part. If you love to bake then Christmas gingerbread is really cool. You can get the kids involved as the dough is pretty forgiving and one batch tends to make dozens of biscuits. They will not stay fresh for 24 days so it probably can’t be the only thing in your advent calendar. Extend the life of each biscuit by wrapping in foil or grease proof paper and load the biscuits in the first few days. They can be frozen - so you could always refresh the advent calendar a few days at a time, but my December is too busy for that level of organisation! If you’re not into baking then there are lots of places to get amazing iced biscuits or you could search out individually wrapped artisan bakes. Waitrose make these individually wrapped Gingerbread men. Or you could buy an amazing set of iced cookies from The Biscuiteers. These dog ones are amazing and if you sign up to their newsletter you’ll get a handy 10% off code on your first order.
- Popcorn - amazing artisan popcorn makers at Popcorn shed - have this taster set of small bags of amazing flavours. Utterly delicious.
- Tickets to something. Something happens to time during the Christmas season. Ordinary time is out the window and there are days that seem to last 32 hours! But we do normally get a window of opportunity to slow down and appreciate time with our loved ones. And just sometimes, a little bit of structure is a good thing, like taking time to go to the pantomime together, or the cinema, or a show at an art gallery, or one of the many illuminated forest trails that pop up in arboretums. And if it’s something you’d be doing regardless, then add it to the advent calendar! Even if it’s not a “paid for” event, why not create your own tickets for it anyway? Your time together is beyond value!
- Enamel pin badge. Every human I know has an enamel pin badge. Maybe it’s just my echo chamber, but these small little accessories have exploded over the past few years and it seems there’s one for everybody, every topic, every occasion, and every colour scheme. And man you can go niche - one of my faves is this Copper Boom pin which takes it’s inspiration from one conversation on the show The Gilmore Girls. And for something seasonal and full of Christmas, how about this “ I believe” pin from Clary and Macy.
- Tiny Christmas lights. Last year I found a simple string of lights that you can plug into a USB - a really easy way to add some Christmas cheer to your workspace, or working from home space!
- Micro magnetic beads – a very cool desk toy but definitely not to be left around young children or inquisitive pets. These tiny magnetic balls can be shaped and piled and constructed and are really pleasing to play and fiddle with.
- Paper Sculptures. For the crafty ones this is a great project. There are so many different types out there and once you start looking you’ll see you can purchase completed ones, DIY kits that include the paper, or just downloadable instructions like this one on Etsy.
- Nailed it - A new nail varnish, or a curvy emery board, or funky nail care product of your choosing. We literally all have nails - we should all be looking after them in one way or another. And no, biting them off does not count. Also nailed it - 24 suggestions for an advent calendar for the grownups (or nearly grown up teens)
Suggestions for Primary School age children, adapt as necessary.
- Lego mini figures - new ones this time ;-) These little plastic people were a cast iron guaranteed hit with my small one from age 3 to, well, now quite honestly (15)
- I’ve heard the same said about Sylvain Families and Playmobile people - and no that’s not cheating listing them as separate things. They are completely, totally and utterly different!
- Tiny, themed rubbers. To be honest they are almost completely useless as pencil mark erasers. But they come in cute animal shapes like blue whales and elephants and are kind of adorable. And really anything that encourages the smalls to be creative and pick up a pencil is good, right?!
- Stickers! Oh man, when I was small, we used to collect stickers and put them in a photo album like the most amazing treasures. Highly prized were the smelly ones, padded ones (weird) and glittery ones. We’d agree swaps in the playground and everything. Whilst they may not have quite the currency they once did, small ones are still obsessed with them. You can go with character stickers if you like but why not just get a massive batch of metallic star stickers, wrap a few gifts in plain Kraft paper and set the small one loose with the sheet of stars?
- Bath crayons. What’s not to love about getting creative with painty crayons and immediately becoming clean because you’re already in the bath? Nothing. Except possibly the purple tide mark left ON the bath - Pah, that’s what spring cleaning is for. Another fun thing to do in the bath is blow bubbles so a small bottle of bubbles will be an inspired add to the advent calendar.
- Finger torches. Oh, these were such a huge hit! Seriously good fun and because the pack is normally a pack of four, you can split them out across a few days.
- Staying with torches, you can’t fail to impress a small person with a torch beanie hat. You might go blind with them constantly running up to you and standing in your face, but their smile is more than worth minor ocular damage.
- Colouring In stuff. I’ve grouped this together because honestly it depends what age your small is at. These gorgeous, shaped crayons from Crayon Box are beautiful, and again in a handy pack so can be split across some days. But if you trust your kiddo with something like Sharpies, highlighter pens, art pencils, watercolours, paint pens - the list is practically empty. If you can go with Sharpies then also buy them some plain white converse style shoes as part of their Christmas gift and get them customising their own footwear. This is great at any age from 6-16 to be fair!
- Back in my day balloons were either lightbulb shaped, or sausage shaped and impossible to blow up. There were none of these heart shaped ones, or ones that make letters, or anything that had an integral light - but they all exist now. And kids love them just as much as plain ones - especially if you add uncooked rice and make a noisy balloon - which you will regret about 32 seconds after you do it, but it’s an option!
- Glow Sticks. You know the ones that you snap and they glow! Just two and a connector will make a bracelet, and they normally come in packs of 10 or 20 so you’re good for a few days. Also, from previous experience, the stuff on the inside is nontoxic and it’s really not a problem if your small one chews the end off and starts glowing around the mouth. But, still, check the label, yeah?
- Origami squares and some simple instructions. You can either buy a premade origami kit or you can cut your own square paper and get some instructions from the great and almighty internet. Keep the models age appropriate or you’ll end up doing all the work. Small origami stars are a great option for slightly older kids and they use strips of paper that you can purchase in packs.
- Balloon animals. Yes, this also deserves its own category because they are different from straight up balloons. For a start you need a pump - unless you have Olympic style breathing skills. For younger kids you could provide the balloon and the picture and an adult in the house becomes responsible for making the animal magically appear, or older kids might enjoy the challenge of creating their own. Like riding a bike, once you know how to make a balloon dog, you’ll never forget and it’s an awesome party trick.
- Bath bombs - especially from Lush. They come in great shapes and colours (Santa’s and snowmen at Christmas time!) and make bath times a bit more fun.
- Plasticine! Move over playdoh, this modelling clay from my childhood is better than you in so many ways. For a start, Morph! And it doesn’t matter if you leave it out overnight, because it doesn’t dry out so much. And the finesse you can achieve in your model making…! You don’t have to be Nick Parks to make some really great characters.
- Plantable paper stars! What a way to get the smalls interested in gardening. These from Ruby and Bo are a much better idea than cress seeds in a hollowed out eggshell which was my childhood version! You can of course go straight to a seed packet if you’d prefer. Make it a herb or a salad thing and they can taste it. Not cress, cress is gross and put all eighties kids off salad for at least 15 years - even if it does grow quickly.
- A comic. We all need something colourful and easy to absorb and it doesn’t feel like a reading exercise from school when there are so many fun pictures. Added bonus if there is a free gift on the front.
- Paper chains. The easiest of decorations and so satisfying. Your small might do three links and then leave you to it, or three hundred and cover the whole house. The fun is in finding out! Love these bright ones from Baker Ross.
- Sock puppet. You remember that graveyard of socks by the tumble-dryer? Time to reincarnate one of them. It’s up to you if you want to include a sock and all the bits to have your small one MAKE a sock puppet, or whether you get creative with the glue gun and give them a finished article. Felt ears and a button nose are essential.
- Kinder Egg. Or any kinder chocolate really. I don’t know why but their branding has really worked on me as a parent and I happily bought Kinder chocs for my small one. The eggs are great because of the treat, but if you want to minimise the sea of plastic washing into your house then I loved the little bars of kinder chocolate that also had a bit of cereal in them - like it was somehow a bit healthier? Yeah, I know!
- A chapstick or lip salve. All kids love these, all of ‘em. And it is winter, it won’t do them any harm to be adding a bit of moisture to their lips. Opt for a flavoured or coloured one if you like.
- Pokemon cards, or footie cards or whatever card they are in to. You could even get a pack of Top Trumps and fill each day with some crucial stats about dinosaurs, racing cars, whatever fills their little hearts with joy. Our local police force made their own version of top trumps all about their police dogs and my small was OBSESSED.
- Folded paper dolls. Is this a lost art? It’s been literally decades since I’ve seen any. But some simple paper decorations, with little bits to decorate them, make for a fun morning.
- Smart Putty. Not for unsupervised fun with the very young and even (ahem) some teens who absent mindedly leave the putty on the sofa for it to melt into the fabric of a cushion and give a certain mother an interesting day of soaking said cushion in vodka to remove the goo! All that aside, smart putty is a really great thing for anyone who loves to fiddle all the time.
- Magnetic letters /words/fridge poetry. Here’s a great one that you can tailor to the age of the child. Letters for the very young, key stage packs of words for KS1 and KS2 and actual Fridge Poetry for older ones (even adults like this one.)
- If you need one more and haven’t ventured into the world of exploding kittens then all I can say is “you’re welcome”. Quite simply the best card game that you can play with your smalls and I bet you’ll be challenging your partner to a few rounds after getting hooked. Also now available as a download for your phone. https://www.explodingkittens.com/
- And last but not least, let's not forget the Crocheted Crowns which can be personalised with your special persons name or the date, or whatever you like really!
And just a word about shopping small and supporting your local economy. As this is a blog post we really had to link to online places where you can purchase these suggestions! Not a single one of these links though, takes you to an Amazon page. Yes, a lot of small businesses also sell on Amazon, but that will not be the ONLY place they sell and you can support them by finding their own webshop, or sourcing any of these items in physical shops local to you. You might even be able to find some of these suggestions in local charity shops. Be creative and your advent calendar becomes a much bigger gift!
If every adult in the UK spent £1 a day with a small business, it would add £12billion to local economies. And what a gift that would be to all of us!