- Jodi Blake
Kids Countdown to the Holidays
As soon as Halloween wraps up, my brain shifts into holiday prep for Thanksgiving and especially for Christmas – when we will likely set up the Christmas tree, how to decorate outside, when I’m going to write this year’s letter for Christmas cards (yeah, I still do that), and starting a list of gifts I want to make or buy for special folks. These activities get my organizational skills buzzing.
Another holiday tradition that I always enjoyed was creating an activity-based countdown to Christmas (or advent calendar) for my kids. When they were much younger, I learned about this idea from a coworker friend Cindy, who planned this countdown for her two boys. I knew it would be a hit with our family as well.
Each day from Dec. 1-25, the kids took turns opening a little numbered door in a cute wooden house advent calendar (found at Target), revealing the special activity plus a small piece of candy for each of them. During the school week, our mornings were too hectic, so they usually opened that day’s door after dinner while on the weekends, they could open a door earlier in the day.
My daughter Rachael says one of her favorite activities was decorating a small table-top Christmas tree for her room, and son Ryan always looked forward to cutting out and decorating cookies – and eating them, of course! My favorite memories were helping them make a long paper chain to hang from the stair railing and watching them select toys to donate.
As I planned out these simple, inexpensive activities, I wrote them on small strips of paper that I cut or punched and then decorated with small Christmas rubber stamps or stickers. Next, I created a master countdown schedule to assign the activities to different days.
Tips for planning the countdown schedule
Think about other events on your December calendar and work the countdown activities around them – or make them one of the activities, like attending a holiday concert or making treat bags for a Scout or church youth group meeting.
Keep the schedule flexible. If an evening is too busy with homework or something unexpected pops up, switch the activity to something easier or quicker to do. I didn’t usually place the activity paper strips into the advent calendar until the night before, so I could do a quick switch, if necessary. Just be sure to update your master countdown schedule.
Consider duplicating some activities if you have more than one child – such as selecting a Christmas movie to watch or book to read – so each one has a chance to choose.
Incorporate some of the holiday traditions and to-do’s your family already has – decorating the tree, baking cookies, or writing letters to Santa.
Think reusable/sustainable. When some activities require you to buy things – craft supplies, decorations, books, or games – look for ways to make them reusable for future countdowns.
Make a decision about the Dec. 25 activity – you may plan a specific activity or let the day’s festivities serve as the activity. You could include a special message and maybe a bigger treat.
Download my free Countdown to Christmas printable with activity paper strips you can cut out and write on plus a master countdown schedule to get organized.
There are also lots of ways you can “package” your countdown activities, especially if you don’t have an advent calendar in which to place the activity paper strips.
Tie or clip envelopes or small paper bags to a length of ribbon or string. Or tape them to a door or wall.
Create a text message from Santa that you or someone else can send each day to your phone or to older kids’ phones.
Use or set up an online advent calendar; check out some options at 10 free online advent calendars for adults and children.
Designate a special box, bowl, or gift bag that has that day’s special activity (and treats) in it. Kids could also cross off the day on a calendar to keep track of the countdown.
Don’t miss my ideas for adapting this countdown to older kids and other holidays and celebrations at the end of the post.
Countdown activity ideas
Check out the ideas below when planning your master countdown schedule. Some of them are favorites from our family, and I’m sure you’ll find many that will be favorites for your family!
Make hot chocolate (from instant mix packets or from a homemade recipe)
Make fudge or other candy treats
Have a holiday-themed ice cream sundae bar
Get into the spirit
Write letters to Santa and mail them (The US Post Office offers an option for your child to receive a letter back from Santa)
Decorate the tree or other areas of the home
Set up and decorate a small tree for their bedroom
Decorate and hang a small wreath or other decoration on their bedroom door
Put up lights or other outdoor decorations
Decorate the windows and/or bathroom mirror with vinyl clings
Make photo ornaments (ideas from The Pioneer Woman site)
Visit Santa or have breakfast with Santa
Play Christmas bingo with red and green M&Ms to mark numbers
Use standard bingo cards
Print free Christmas-themed bingo cards
Select and read a favorite Christmas book (works best for shorter children’s books)
Select and watch a favorite Christmas movie (check out options on cable TV or streaming services)
Learn about a holiday tradition from another country
Work on a Christmas jigsaw puzzle
Attend a Christmas-themed play or concert
Drive around to see the Christmas lights at night
Learn a new Christmas song
Play charades with Christmas-themed prompts
Print song, movie, and food charade prompts and other games (Skip to My Lou blog)
Print a variety of charade prompts (The Shabby Creek Cottage blog)
Practice saying Merry Christmas in different languages
How to Say Merry Christmas in Different Languages video (20 languages with audio and written greetings)
Sign Merry Christmas video (how to use sign language for Christmas, Merry Christmas, and Santa Claus)
Shop for clothing and/or gifts to donate to the Marines Toys for Tots or other local charity
Make Christmas cards to donate to a nursing home or senior center (could hand deliver to residents on another day)
Buy food or other products to donate to a community food pantry
Volunteer to sing at a nursing home or senior center
Work on a craft activity
Sign up for one or more free online craft sessions from Dec. 1-12 (replays and self-guided instruction booklets also available) offered by Michaels craft store
Make a paper chain and hang it in your home
Make an ornament for the tree or to give as a gift
Add a creative touch to coloring pages
Cut out paper snowflakes and tape them to the windows
Make indoor or outdoor luminaries with small candles or tea lights
Winter paper luminary (best for older kids)
Mix up some homemade dog or cat treats for your family pet or to donate to an animal shelter
Christmas dog treat recipes
Salmon cat treat and sardine cat treat recipes (Pawsome Recipes blog site)
Make wildlife-friendly reindeer feed or cookies and sprinkle, set, and/or hang outside close to Christmas
Make a funny Christmas video with singing, dancing, etc. and share with family and friends
Ways to customize the countdown
This countdown idea can be applied to different age groups and celebrations.
Adapt the countdown for college-age “kids” by sending a care package with treats and/or activities. Include roommate(s), too. Could be reframed as a countdown to finals or the end of the semester, too.
Change the duration of the countdown. Maybe just plan a 10-day countdown to Christmas.
Plan a countdown for someone’s special birthday. The activities or small gifts could be funny and/or serious.
Create a monthly countdown for the arrival of a baby.
Post the countdown of memories on social media for a couple’s milestone anniversary – such as a post per day that highlights a photo or memory from each year of marriage. This idea would also work great for a special birthday or for a high school graduation.
I hope I’ve given you some creative ideas to make the waiting game a little easier and way more fun!
What activities would you add for a countdown? How would you/have you organized a countdown for a special event? Share your ideas in the comments.