Christmas Traditions – Advent Calendars

It’s the 2nd of December and we haven’t got the tree up yet.  I’ve been watching people on Twitter and Facebook proudly showing off their trees, decorations and the like.  It’s all rather lovely but for Heaven’s sake it’s only just December!

Granted, this post might not be a lot of use right now, given we’re already in Advent, but bookmark it for next year!

Our biggest and longest-running tradition is the Advent Calendar.  Not the shop-bought-full-of-chocolate/Lego/Playmobil type but an A2 (or bigger if we can get the card) home-made affair.  Trouble is they’re getting harder and harder to make because the humble traditional Christmas cards are getting rather thin on the ground.

Shameless re-use of Silent Sunday photo
Shameless re-use of Silent Sunday photo

We start planning these on New Year’s Eve when we take down the decorations and box them all up for next year.  Separating out the cards with usable images – Nativity scenes, Kings, trees, snowmen, wreaths, etc. from the pile of comedy reindeer, cute cats, dogs and rabbits and so on – we usually try and put collections of 5s together so we can make one for each kid.  It’s getting very hard to get 5 decent stars, 5 crib scenes, 5 lots of assorted Kings (number flexible, 3 optimal but we’ll settle for 1 or 2).  We’ve taken to asking friends and family if they don’t mind us having their cards just to get the numbers up!

The actual process of manufacture is time-consuming and easy to get wrong – a drop of glue in the wrong place, a door cut slightly off-centre (or completely out!) and you can botch the entire thing.

You will need:

  • 25 cards.  1 Nativity scene, some kings, at least 1 star and the rest made up of whatever you can find.
  • 2 big sheets of sturdy card/sugar paper.  As long as they’re the same size you can get away with 1 sturdy sheet and 1 sheet of lighter-weight stuff.  A4 printer paper just doesn’t cut it here, I’m afraid.
  • Glue stick(s)
  • Blu-tack (other branded sticky stuff is available, as is generic supermarket own-brand, I’m sure)
  • Scissors & craft knife
  • Pencil/pen
  • Silver/gold pen, whatever will stand out best
  • Cutting board, the larger the better
  • Glitter, sparkly stars, other decorative stuff

Firstly, cut out the pictures from the card, saving any little decorative bits from the back for later decorations, and lay them face down on the big sheet that will act as the front of the calendar, holding them in place with little blobs of Blu-tack.  When cutting them out, squares and rectangles make the easiest doors, round ones aren’t that hard either.

Now draw around each picture so you know where to cut the doors.  Count again to make sure you’ve still got 25.  We’ve done this a few times and come up with 23, 24 and 26.  Easiest to correct now.

Glue the backs of each picture and press the backing sheet down firmly.

Peel off the front sheet so you can see the outlines of the doors you’re going to cut.

Cut the doors so you’ll be able to open them – If you accidentally cut one of them out completely, don’t panic, you can always Blu-tack it in place until it needs to be removed.  Give it a low number.

Now for the tricky bit.  Glue around each of the pictures on the back and around the edges of the card then place the front sheet on top and press down firmly.  You’ve now got an assembled calendar.  Check a few of the doors, make sure they open and are in (roughly) the right place.

Finally, numbering and decoration.  Start with the Nativity scene and give it 25.  Count backwards from there.  Move around a bit so you’re not progressing from top left to bottom right.  Be careful not to have 2 number 20s (again, been there, done that) and to go all the way from 25 to 1.  At this point you can let the kids loose with the glitter, stars and whatever other decorations you want!

This year, with the move, we didn’t have time to make one, let alone 5, so my wife’s sister made it as a house-warming present.

We have other Christmas traditions – kippers and Bucks Fizz for breakfast, hot smoked salmon on Christmas Eve, centre-table presents instead of crackers, amazing the kids with the burning brandy on the Christmas pudding – but this is the one I hope our kids carry on with their kids.

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