19 alternative advent calendar ideas for a crafty countdown to Christmas

Create an extra special lead-up to the festivities and get into the seasonal spirit by making your own unique handcrafted advent calendar

Alternative advent calendar ideas
(Image credit: Future Plc/Dan Duchars)

If you're dreaming of a unique Christmas alternative advent calendar ideas are a great way to start the countdown. 

Not only are these crafty projects a great way to celebrate the Christmas countdown, they'll also help you inject some festive magic into your home before December even begins.

Even better? Choosing not to buy off the shelf means that you'll wind up with the sort of DIY Christmas decor that'll turn everyone's heads when they pop in for a cup of something mulled and spicy over the holidays. And, when they ask where they can get one of their own, you can smugly reply that you made it yourself.

If that isn't true holiday magic, we don't know what is!

Alternative advent calendar ideas

Oh yes, we're well aware of the fact that there are some seriously amazing advent calendars to buy out there (we may or may not have our eye on one... or two!). Still, there's plenty of fun to be had if you sit down and craft your own.

From wall hooks filled with seasonal treats to 'Noel notes' offering a feel good message to start each day, a homemade alternative advent calendar idea can make the countdown all the more exciting.

Better still? Crafting a reusable advent calendar means that you can make it a part of your family traditions every single year.

1. Create a Christmas village

Wooden advent houses

(Image credit: Hobbycraft)

Everyone is crafting festive villages on their windowsills and mantels this year, thanks to the Christmas light-up house trend. So why not use this to inspire your alternative advent calendar ideas, too?

We're big fans of these plain wooden houses from Hobbycraft, which you can paint in any colour you like to match your own festive colour scheme. There are 24 of them, too, and they're hollow – which means you can stash some trinkets and treasures inside each one for advent.

2. Light the way with an advent candle

DIY Christmas decor with advent candles

(Image credit: Hobbycraft)

One of the most beautiful alternative advent calendar ideas, in our opinion, is a gorgeous candle you can burn each day of the Christmas countdown.

You can either buy one ready-made, like this advent candle from Etsy, or create your own version either with one candle. Simply print it out onto tissue paper, wrap it face-down around the candle where you'd like it to sit, wrap a sheet of baking paper around that, and use a hairdryer to melt the wax slightly under the design until it darkens. Peel back the baking paper once your design is fully stuck down, and voila! Your very own advent candle.

Alternatively for a statement Christmas mantle piece idea why not use a selection of taper candles that you light for the festive countdown.

3. Bunch up foliage as a showstopping advent topper

Alternative advent calendar ideas

(Image credit: Future Plc/Dan Duchars)

Ring in the season with a natural touch by hanging a swathe of foliage above pretty wax sealed envelopes hung on string, for an ideal Christmas living room decor idea.

Place a little card in each envelope with an Advent daily activity written on each. Then cut a length of ribbon long enough to wrap around the centre of the envelope and secure in place with double-sided tape.

Melt wax to cover the join in the ribbon, while hot push a wax seal stamp into the wax and wait for it to cool. Turn the envelope over and attach string for hanging, repeating these steps for all 24 envelopes.

Use wire to tie bunches of foliage along the length of a piece of rope, then tie a length of string around 15cm in from one side and 30cm in from the other end to hang.

Stick adhesive numbers from 1-24 to the front of the envelopes and finish by tying the decorated envelopes onto the foliage swag at varying heights. 

4. Attach an envelope advent tree

Alternative advent calendar ideas

(Image credit: Future Plc/Dan Duchars)

Minimal effort and maximum impact, arrange numbered envelopes in varying sizes to a create a Christmas tree shape for the perfect Christmas wall decor idea.

Select 23 envelopes of varying colours and sizes. Use adhesive numbers to randomly number the envelopes 1-23.

Next place cards with in the envelopes that can either give clues to hunt out Advent gifts, positive affirmations, special activities or treats.

Lay the envelopes out to work out your design, then when happy with your layout, use Blu Tack to stick the envelopes in place on the wall.

Finish with a star at the top numbered 24.

5. Fill glass jars with wrapped sweets

Alternative advent calendar ideas

(Image credit: Future Plc/Dan Duchars)

A little treat every morning for adults and children alike, plus a great budget Christmas decorating idea.

Select jars large enough for 24 sweets. Remove the lids and spray-paint them in your chosen colour, then use hot glue to attach a festive decoration. 

Once dry, spray the lid again so the decoration blends seamlessly. Alternatively, swap out animal toppers for a painted wooden initial, covered in glitter. 

Add Christmas tattoo transfers for an extra festive finish to the glass of the jars.

Put numbered stickers on your treats and fill the jars. 

6. Make a copper tube mobile

Alternative advent calendar ideas

(Image credit: Future Plc/Dan Duchars)

Simple and understated, these hanging scrolls can add a stylish touch to a window as a lovely Christmas window decorating idea (not to mention as part of your alternative advent calendar ideas).

Cut a piece of copper pipe into 24 2.5cm pieces (or use copper pipe couplers). Next use a white marker pen to write the numbers 1-24 on the pipe pieces. Tie a length of string to each pipe, then take a wooden dowel and and tie the pipe pieces below at different heights in a random numerical order.

Cut 24 pieces of decorative paper, around 7.5 cm. On the reverse of each, write a daily activity. Roll up and thread each one through the piece of pipe. Tie a length of string or ribbon at each end of the wooden dowel, add a few decorations and hang in place.

7. Fill tiny ticking bags and hang from the wall

Alternative advent calendar ideas

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

Make a unique and alternative advent calendar by filling small fabric ticking bags with sweets, then hang them from long lengths of ribbon along the wall. You could even spilt up the weeks and hang them from different rooms around the house.

Annie Sloan, founder of Annie Sloan advises, 'Rather than purchasing new advent calendars every year (one of the worst ways to bring more plastic, junk food and disposable culture into your home), replace throwaway tat at Christmas with a new tradition!' 

'Make your own advent calendar bunting using pockets of fabric and fill with thoughtful gifts from independent stores, homemade treats and ok, maybe a bit of chocolate, too! Getting the advent calendar out of the loft and hanging it up every year will become a wonderful new family tradition that you can be proud of.'

8. Peg paper bags onto a simple memo board

Alternative advent calendar ideas

(Image credit: Future Plc/Dan Duchars)

If you've left your alternative advent calendar ideas a little last minute, then this one is super-quick to make.

Fill 24 little bags with treats, then fold over the tops of the bags, secure with a sticker and number each bag 1-24.

If you wish to add decorations to the bags, you can attach stickers, wooden craft pieces or washi tape. Use mini bulldog clips to attach them all to a memo board.

Or peg the bags to ribbon instead, to hang from the fireplace for a great Christmas mantel decor idea, or dado rail.

9. Upcycle toilet roll tubes

Alternative advent calendar ideas

(Image credit: Future Plc/Dan Duchars)

Bring a little festive cheer with a Scandi-inspired alternative advent calendar idea that's easy to make at home.

You will need 24 cardboard tubes, all the same size. First use number stickers to secure one end of each of your tubes. If your stickers are smaller than the end of the tube, cut tissue paper circles that are 1.5cm larger in diameter than your tube and use glue to cover one end of each tube, then stick on your numbers.

Randomly place the tubes inside wooden triangular frames, then fill the tubes from the reverse with little gifts and treats, stuffing the ends with tissue paper once filled.

10. Create a Christmas ladder advent

Alternative ladder advent calendar

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dan Duchars)

For a dramatic display that makes the most of free wall space, hang pretty ribbon-tied boxes from a vintage ladder and watch expectations climb every day.

To create your own Christmas ladder advent fill mini boxes with treats, tie with ribbon and add a number to each. Once ready simply hang each box from a rustic ladder. If you don't have a ladder you could use your bannisters.

Or you could hang baubles and a set of the best Christmas lights from the ladder as an alternative Christmas tree.

11. Craft an alternative affirmations advent

Affirmations advent calendar

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dan Duchars)

This idea is very of the moment, when mindfulness and affirmations are a welcomed lifestyle choice. Make it seasonal by crafting an alternative advent calendar idea bursting with envelopes, £2.80 for 50, Hobbycraft filled with daily affirmations. An affirmations advent is sure to spread positivity in the lead up to Christmas.

To craft your own version simply start by decorating mini envelopes and adding numbers. Print out or handwrite positive messages and acts of kindness on small cards to go inside each envelope. Present in an attractive box or basket.

12. Add a magic touch with conjuror’s cups

DIY Advent calendar white and gold cup on old dresser in front of vintage mirror

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dan Duchars)

Create a festive magic trick by placing small gifts and toys beneath gold foil paper cups, £3.29 for 8, Party Delights. Decorate each paper cup with numbers, paper shapes, pine cones and bottle brush trees to set the scene for the Christmas countdown.

Choose paper cups in varying sizes to give your display depth. Using a hot glue gun, decorate the top of each cup with pine cones, bottle brush trees, or numbers for added festive charm. Ensure each cup has a number between 1- 24 to serve as each day of the countdown.
Arrange the cups along a sideboard or mantle, or, as a table centrepiece. Vary height by propping some up on logs and finish with evergreen foliage and pinecones.

13. Set out Noël notes for each day

Alternative advent calendar with noel note scrolls

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dan Duchars)

Make each day more thoughtful with an alternative advent calendar of paper scrolls filled with daily acts of kindness, to give a little back at Christmas. 

Write acts of kindness on small pieces of paper (we cut A4 pieces of paper into quarters). Cut 24 strips of patterned paper approx 6cm x 4cm and secure the ends using double sided tape to create a little paper tube to hold each scroll.

Then using self adhesive stickers number each tube 1 - 24. Roll up each note, securing with the paper tubes. Place the scrolls into a tray (we gave ours a festive feel by lining with Christmas wrap) and add in baubles for extra festive sparkle.

14. Style secret Santa bags

Alternative advent calendar with treat bags

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dan Duchars)

Create an Advent focal point with a rustic panel and simple printed calico bags, spruced up with some festive foliage and baubles.

Use rubber stamps and inks to print numbers on to each bag, to make each day of advent. Lay the bags out on the board in 5 rows, equally spaced apart. Once you’ve spaced them evenly, use a ruler and spirit level to draw 5 horizontal lines for each row, then using
a tape measure mark each place for a screw eye (ours are 15cm apart).

Secure the screw eyes, to Hang a numbered bag of each day leading up to Christmas. Fill the bags with treats – these can be as imaginative as you like. Perhaps seeds for the garden, ingredients for crafting decorations, or a recipe for some family festive baking.

Style tip: Replace the bags with hanging vases filled with festive foliage to make a seasonal display.

15. Make an activity forest

Homemade advent calendar with trees on cocktail sticks

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dan Duchars)

Simple trees placed into a log plinth make a Nordic-inspired alternative advent calendar idea that's perfect for tiny spaces. On the back of the trees, write simple ideas for activities the family can do together in the lead up to the big day.

Cut out three triangle tree shape templates from a piece of card (ours were 4cm wide x 6cm tall; 6cm wide x 7cm tall and 6.5cm wide x 9cm tall). Taking some patterned papers use the templates to cut out 24 pairs of trees (48 in total).

Stick 24 wooden cocktail sticks (or trimmed wooden skewers into an old box or some playdough. Spray them with gold paint, following the instructions on the can. Once the sticks are dry, secure to the reverse of 24 of the trees using tape. Then using double sided tape,
cover the reverse with the matching tree from the pair. The cocktail stick should be neatly sandwiched between the two patterned papers.

Stick number stickers, £8.99 for 10 sheets, Amazon to the front of each tree and use a metallic pen to write your daily festive activities on the reverse. Take a drill piece that's slightly smaller than the diameter of the cocktail stick and drill 24 evenly spaced holes into the slice of tree trunk. Place your trees in the holes.

16. Fashion an advent of socks

Alternative advent calendar of mini socks

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Think of this alternative advent calendar idea as opening a mini stocking each day! Take 24 socks (we've used baby ones for the cuteness, but you can use any style), and hang them along a line to form a stocking garland of sorts. 

Simply peg them onto the length of ribbon and attach numbers so each sock represents a day fro the countdown. Attach to the wall on existing picture hooks or suspend over the mantelpiece.

17. Frame gift boxes filled with treats

DIY advent calendar with gift boxes

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes)

Create a picture perfect alternative advent calendar idea with this homemade design. 

Take a picture frame with depth or even an empty wooden drawer, any object that will create the solid wooden frame around your advent idea. Attach strips of ribbon across, to evenly fill the frame – measuring the size of the box frame to determine how many lengths you need.

Use mini wooden pegs to attached lightweight gift boxes to each row of ribbon and attached chalkboard labels to the front of each, in order to number each box.

18. Hang a cluster of Christmas advent gift bags

Advent calendar with gift bags

(Image credit: Future PLC/Dominic Blackmore)

Set the scene for a fun Christmas countdown with a selection of festive gift bags filled with treats of your choice. Ideal for hanging above a festive fireplace, this alternative advent calendar idea features bags decorated with stars on a circle above a Christmas mantel idea.

19. Make some memories

A photo advent calendar for Christmas

(Image credit: Etsy)

To really imbue some special meaning into your alternative advent calendar ideas, why not try creating a reverse advent calendar? By which we mean, you take a photo with a Polaroid camera each day of the Christmas countdown, and display it proudly on the mantel.

Alternatively, you can buy this pre-made photo advent calendar from Etsy, which allows you to upload your pictures in advance. They'll print them off, tuck them inside envelopes, and send them over to you with a personalised wooden display block, too!


What can I use instead of a traditional advent calendar?

There are lots of things you can use instead of a traditional advent calendar. Anything that involves opening drawers, parcels, cards or doors can be used and you can be as imaginative as you life! 

Beauty advent calendars continue to be popular year after year and if you're lucky enough to receive one, keep it for next year and re-fill each compartment with mini gifts and treats for someone you love.

What can I put in my advent calendar instead of chocolate?

Almost anything can go inside your advent calendar instead of chocolate and doesn't even have to be edible! That said, who doesn't love a little sweet treat or festive tipple each day, so go by what your recipient loves!

Poems, love messages, affirmations all make lovely (free!) gifts to go inside and even books would be well received.

Gabrielle Jarman, Head of Buying & Creative at The Works says, 'When size isn’t an issue we love book advent calendars – giving a child a book to read together that evening is a great way to feel Christmassy, and maybe starts a new tradition!' 

'In smaller advent calendars, we love giving little craft embellishments so that crafty kids can create something amazing at the end.'

'And for the customers who aren’t crafty, pre-filled non-chocolate options include a fidget calendar, a cosmetics one, a block tech calendar, a stationery one and lots of book options.'

How can I make my own advent calendar?

By looking through all our amazing ideas above! Whether you have lots of time and skill, or are looking for something simple yet effective, we have so many ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Gabrielle advises, 'Buy an advent calendar you can bring out year after year! Wooden and homemade calendars are great if you want less restrictions on the size of the gifts. You can decorate and fill with wrapped presents of any size for a really good alternative. These are perfect for making Christmas memories year after year, are more personal and eco-friendly too.'

What are the benefits of a reusable advent calendar?

There are so many benefits to crafting a reusable advent calendar, if you're tempted to give it a go! First things first, it's kinder to the planet, as you won't be chucking it away as you would a traditional disposable advent calendar.

Secondly, you will be able to choose every item inside it, so you're not going to end up with anything you don't want or need. Thirdly, you can craft it to match your own festive decor perfectly – and, finally, it will become a part of your treasured Christmas traditions year after year.

What could be better, eh?

We hope our list of alternative advent calendar ideas has inspired you to try something new for your Christmas countdown this year. 

If you need us, we'll be browsing the aisles for crafting supplies...

Holly Walsh
Content Editor

Holly Walsh has been Content Editor at Ideal Home since 2021, but joined the brand back in 2015. With a background of studies in Interior Design, her career in interior journalism was a no-brainer and her passion for decorating homes is still as strong as it ever was. While Holly has written for most of the home titles at Future, including Livingetc, Country Homes & Interiors, Homes and Gardens and Style at Home, Ideal Home has always been her ideal home, and she can be found sharing her expertise and advice across both the printed magazine and the website too.

With contributions from