The advent calendar, which eases anxiety by counting down those pesky 24 days until Christmas Eve, is as much a holiday tradition for my family as the tree.
Sure, you can buy one and save the crafting time, but making an advent calendar adds to its allure.
Check out images posted on various do-it-yourself websites and you'll see that DIYers are getting beyond — way beyond — the tree-on-a-felt-background calendar popular when I was a child in the 1970s. Those felt-made calendars are still with us — and updated creatively — but now there's also a mind-boggling array of advent calendar options, all ready for a DIY twist.
Kelly Wilkinson, editorial director at Creativebug, an online crafts class site, reminisces about sewing matching calendars with her sister a few years ago.
"Pulling that advent calendar out and hanging it on the wall is a reminder of the time we spent making it together," says Wilkinson. "That is a big part of my attachment to it."
My own advent calendar memories include fighting with my sister over who'd place the last piece — in our case, a 1-inch, naked, plastic baby Jesus — on the day marking Christmas Eve. This is the stuff of advent calendar lore — the memories and childhood traditions we carry into adulthood and hope to share with the next generation.
"I still completely dork out and put that one ornament on a day," says Wilkinson. "It's a simple gesture that reminds me of being a kid and how excited I was."
An advent calendar can be a simple thing and easy to make. Shelly Ridenour, Country Living magazine's executive editor, recommends visiting the website Pinterest for inspiration: Ingenious ideas there include small paper bags or colorful baby socks clipped with decorative clothespins to a line; stacked matchboxes, painted cans or Chinese takeout boxes; and diminutive metal buckets hanging from a board or old ladder. Even a large tree branch stuck in a sturdy vase can have artsy envelopes or wrapped gifts numbered 1 to 24 hanging from it.
Jessie Tanner of Charlotte, N.C., made an advent calendar out of differently sized metal tins attached magnetically to the refrigerator for her two children's daily thrill. Tanner, 31, didn't grow up with a Christmas advent calendar, "but as a parent I'm always trying to find new traditions for my kids and new ways to make all kinds of experiences special," she says.
Each of the 25 tins in the Tanners' advent calendar includes something the family can do together. One day it's "go sledding." Another invites the family to do a service project together. Occasionally, a tin will include candy.
"It's sort of a checklist for me of things I want my family to experience at that time," says Tanner, who has two daughters, ages 4 and 7. She blogs about her life at Call Me Badger.
Jessica Anderson of Rancho Cordova, Calif., carefully cut out and sewed a Nativity scene using the same felt wall-hanging concept employed by my childhood calendar. Anderson, 28, and the mother of three, believes advent calendars promote family bonding.
"It's something they will remember when they grow up," says Anderson, who blogs at Cutesy Crafts. "And maybe I'll make one for them when they have their own families."
For now, the two older Anderson kids, ages 3 and 5, behave not unlike my sister and I did 40 years ago.
"They fight about it every day," says Anderson.