Late in the Game: Advent Calendar

Two years ago, I woke up at 5 o’clock on a Sunday morning with a bright-as-a-lightbulb idea. By the time Mitch and Lydia woke up, I’d been up for two hours, working, and by the next night, my project was done.

The idea?

An Advent calendar made from stuff that I already had in my closet.

The picture frame with the broken glass, whose backing I kept around “just in case”? That box of origami boxes leftover from the year I used them to wrap chocolate truffles before giving them away as Christmas gifts? The library-style date stamp that I used our family wedding albums?

They all found a new home here:

It’s not the most durable thing (as you can see, DEC 3 had to be re-glued this year), but this calendar just finished its third season, and it’s still going strong. The boxes are just the right size for the origami ornaments leftover from that other Christmas, when I gave them away as gifts, and the whole thing looks bright and joyful.

I know it’s unlikely that you’ll have the same things lying around your closet that I do, but I thought I’d post a rough pattern just in case you wanted to take a stab at a found-object calendar of your own.

In addition to things that I assume you already have, like pencils and tape and so on, you will need:

  • some kind of base (see below)
  • 1 sheet of 18×24″ (more or less) paper, any kind, as long as it folds nicely (wrapping paper would work well)
  • 48 sheets of 6×6″ origami paper (you can make your own, if you’d rather)
  • additional scrap paper in a variety of colors and patterns
  • 24 small, self-adhesive mailing labels
  • 96 large and 48 small glue squares, like these
  • numbered stamps or a fancy pen

for the base:

As I said, I used the back of an old picture frame, but you could just as easily use a board of similar dimensions with a picture hanger fixed to the back.

Now, take out your sheet of paper. I painted a white sheet of drawing paper yellow, which made for a lively texture; if you want to paint your paper, I’d recommend that you do so before you fix it to the base. If there are any fringes from pulling it off of a sketch pad, go ahead and trim those off now.

When your paper is trimmed and dry, place it face down on the floor. Place board face down in the center of the paper. Cut the corners of the paper away so that the paper looks like a big plus sign with the board in the center, then fold the arms of the plus in over the board and glue or tape firmly in place.

When you flip the board over, it should be tightly covered with paper. At this point, feel free to decorate the paper further, if you like.

for the boxes:

This is the most time consuming part of the project, but don’t worry: it’s weirdly calming once you get going, and I find that a few seasons of Arrested Development really moves things along.

Fold 24 boxes, following this pattern. Next, pull out your 24 small mailing labels and start numbering them. I stamped mine with the date, but you could use simple numbered stamps or use a calligraphy pen to write in the dates, which, come to think of it, would look beautiful.

Now, stick your mailing labels to varying pieces of scrap paper and trim until you have a slender border around each one. Using the small glue squares, attach one date to the top of each box.

And now, assemble!

If you’re the sort to pull out a yardstick and level for this, please, do it. If not, do like I did:

Arrange the boxes on your base, fiddling with them until they look evenly spaced. If you want to make a very light pencil mark here and there, please do. I used a yard stick to keep my rows more or less even, but I didn’t fuss to much about everything being just right.

Once you’ve got your boxes where you want them, pick up the first one, remove the lid and set aside. Now, turn the bottom half of the box over and gently press a large glue square into each corner of the bottom (we’re talking about the outside of the box now, just so we’re clear).

Put the box down and make sure it’s where you want it before gently pressing it into place. Repeat with remaining 23 boxes.

Now, you can either call it a day, or you can keep on decorating. I stamped a border down either side with a stamp leftover from our wedding invitations, and I hand-lettered a verse from Isaiah on a scrap of white paper. And then I called it a day.

Over the years, I’ve filled these boxes with small chocolates, activities, little toys and the aforementioned ornaments, but next year I think I’ll keep it simple and fill each box with the day’s corresponding ornaments for our Jesse Tree. Doing an Advent calendar and a Jesse Tree was a bit much this year, so I’m hoping that that will be a neat way to tie them together.



One thought on “Late in the Game: Advent Calendar

  1. Rima

    I love this! I always look at the overpriced Advent box calendars in the stores around Christmas, but can never bring myself to actually buy one. This is so pretty and creative.


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