Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ornament Tree Advent Calendar

Dear Ones,

Oh, I just could not pull off a pie, and I'm so grateful to Tea for Two for posting her recipe here! Thank you for having my back. Luckily, my mom is in the house, and so the pecan pies will now be made effortlessly, and with her customary grace and amazingness. (Thanks, Mum.)

Instead, I wanted to make sure you had enough time, in case you wanted to make a new advent calendar for your kids this year. I am going to add "Jews and their Advent Calendars" to my roster of coffee table books I want to make, which include "Jews Go Cross-Country Skiing," and also "Jews Making Bacon." So be it. First of all, if you don't have time, here's the idea I pitched years ago to Wondertime magazine (RIP), and which is just a visual cue:

Yes, it looks a little like a fraction--but only because I'm bad at rubber stamping.

I think Wondertime actually ran that idea--24 numbered bags on a clothesline--albeit a little tarted up. 

But 5 or 6 years ago I became obsessed with matchboxes and made this:

If I had put gorgeous berry-colored paper behind my tree, I would not have made myself saw around the poster board with a bread knife. Alas. That's the color of one wall of my dining/craft room. Nice, right?

It's been a favorite part of our Christmas ever since, and it's not hard to make--just a little fiddly and time consuming. 

Start with 25 matchboxes (you can buy packages of 12 at the supermarket, and luckily you had one extra lying around), and dump the matches into a large mason jar, where you will keep them hopefully and in the spirit of resourcefulness for one year, after which you will throw them away. 

Use a piece of white paper and a pencil and scissors to find the perfect size paper for wrapping around the box, then use this as your template and cut 23 pieces of decorative paper, then use rubber cement or another glue of your choosing (not white glue or you will cry) and wrap 23 of the boxes with paper. If the paper seems inclined to pop off or peel, use a clothespin to hold it while it dries. Now make a template for lining the drawer, cut out 23 drawer liners, and glue them inside. Mine are all mixed and matched. The 24th box is two boxes opened on the side and glued together, then wrapped. I don't remember how I accomplished this, and it's not strictly necessary--it's just that I wanted the star to be bigger than the other ornaments. Decorate the boxes with ribbon, if you like, and number them somehow: I glued on tiny tags that I had stamped numbers onto.

Now make your ornaments: A 1-inch circle punch would make this easy; I think I traced around a quarter. If you want to fancy it up, you can add a little rectangle of silver paper for the top, and a little loop of silver thread for the hanger--and you can stick them both on with the self-adhesive Velcro dot you're going to add to the back of each dot anyway.

Are you with me so far? Then make the tree and background. I did this by covering the bottom half of a standard piece of poster board with decorative paper (it's white with white dots, and, thus, not really that decorative) and then I glued on a large tree shape cut from construction paper. Only after I had glued it on did I wish I'd put something beautiful behind it, and, in fact, so regretful was I about this that I decided to cut around the outline of the tree, which was the only truly difficult part of this whole advent-ure. I don't recommend it. Get yourself a nice piece of paper, glue it down before you add the tree, and call it a day.

Now space the 24 velcro dots all over the tree, including one at the top for the star or whatever else you make for the top. The other half of each dot, as you'll recall, is already on the back of each ornament. Then glue the gift-boxes to the box (I think glue dots would be a good way to do this), pop an ornament in each one, saving the star or whatever for the final box, and voila! 

I know this is not a tutorial in the strict sense, but if you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments. Questions such as "How does this look with a menorah burning nearby" (nice) or "What does the word advent even mean?" (I don't know).

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I am now, and always, grateful for your company.



  1. I love the idea of this craft!!

    However, the thought of wrapping all those little matchboxes has me wanting to cry a little bit. The final product is so nifty, however, that it might be worth a shot.

  2. Anonymous3:49 PM

    For me, it sounds very funny, that you guys actually do 25 little things in your advent calenders. I'm from germany and we have advent calenders filled with chocolate for kids (although I will definitely do one with truffles or something this year) and they have 24 doors,because we celebrate christmas on "holy eve" and not the morning after.
    Oh yes, and "advent" is the time before christmas. One month before christmas. Like: next sunday we celebrate the first advent and the sunday after the second and so on. There is a wreath with four candles and each sunday we light one more.
    And if you guys all knew that already, then I'm sorry :-)

  3. Yeah, I'm thinking the paper bag idea is more my speed. ;-) And advent means coming, as in the coming of the Christ child.

  4. Erin K.4:24 PM

    I love your advent calendar! - We have a matchbox one too but different I used this photo to make it:

    It is filled with tiny treasures and tiny glass ornaments that fit on a little glass tree that sits on the tray next to the drawers. I have the boys write a tiny letter to next year and put in the calendar drawers each time. Its always good for a laugh

    I've loved doing the advent calendar since I was little and we had a very simple one that was just a piece of felt with 24 strings to tie mini candy canes on.

  5. What I love about this is that I'm often sorry to use up the last of a roll of wrapping paper: I often buy on clearance and end up with a roll each of a bunch of different kinds, which I then hoard.

    Anyway, I think I'd wrap them initially with whatever I had the year I made the project, and then I could gradually re-wrap duplicates with new papers, and CHERISH THEM FOREVER!

  6. That is really cute. I will never ever make one though. If I tried it would just be a mass of ripped, overly-taped paper accessorized by my tears.

  7. I'm with Jaime. I think this is so incredibly lovely, but the thought of actually doing it makes me feel like crying "a little bit." So, my question is about the white bags, which seem much more doable for this non-crafting mother of three small children. What did you put in them? I really hope there is a day in my future when wrapping tiny matchboxes with pretty paper doesn't seem so daunting.

  8. Allyson8:19 PM

    Our family advent tradition (which also includes menorah-lighting, natch) involves wrapping up 24 Christmas, Hanukkah, and winter-related books and numbering them from 1 to 24 and putting them in a big basket. The 8 books to be unwrapped during Hanukkah are always Hanukkah books, and number 24 is always "A Visit From Saint Nicholas". Every night, one kid gets to find that night's book and the other gets to unwrap it. Then I read it to them. This year, they're 8 and 11 and have decided they want me to read a little bit of "A Christmas Carol" each night in December. I'm a little sad to see the Advent Basket go, but I won't miss wrapping 24 more things. I love your tree idea, but I don't think I have the manual dexterity to do it without going slowly (or quickly) insane. Could I just have yours, Catherine? :-)

  9. I have a fantasy about Advent Calendars (and Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas, marked by the lighting of a wreath containing five candles). Two years ago, my friend Maya posted a photo of the Advent calendar she made for her boys

    Like I said, it's a fantasy. I've thought about making it for two years. But, we don't have a mantel (no fireplace here), so I don't really know where I'd put it.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  10. This is such a wonderful idea! I love it. But I love more the picture of lovely Ben and Birdy by the calender. Your kids are so precious! Happy Thanksgiving, Catherine and family!!!

  11. Happy Thanksgiving Catherine and family! Oh man I don't think I could do this, but it is lovely. We have a fabric advent calendar with move the snowflake along each day...or you can put a treat inside. Counting down just seems right and is a tradition I am happy to pass along to the girls.

  12. What a sweet little craft! Not that I have the patience to sit around wrapping 25 matchboxes, but it's SO cute! We already have 3 advent calendars that we do each year. I wonder how many I could add before it's advent calendar overload. Hmmmm....

  13. Oh dear God. I am now hanging my head in futility and shame over the fact that I would (could) never make this in A MILLION YEARS. The idea of sitting down with a trillion hours of free time to construct something this makes me want to cry.

    But it sure is lovely! You are very talented (and patient), Catherine!

  14. We took that bag idea out of Wondertime and now it is a huge family tradition, so thank you! Or maybe, curse you! because filling them has become quite a project, especially as the kids get older and less entranced by random trinkets, but they love it so much they won't even consider scaling it down. The bags sit on high up (10 ft.) on our window and door trim (so there's no peeking) and the kids open one a day. We fill them with little toys, holiday socks, an ornament, art supplies, lip balm, funky band aids, bath bombs, fake tattoos, tickets to something, a coupon for a taco at their favorite taco stand, holiday crafts, seeds for the garden, basically anything that would make a good stocking stuffer.

  15. I just want to add onto the advent conversation, and bust out my high school Latin (at an all-girls' Catholic school, so I feel it's very authentic)--I kind of love the idea that the Latin root makes "advent" mean "coming toward" or "coming to"--it really captures that sense of anticipation. Now, as a completely lapsed and former Catholic, the advent anticipation is probably the only thing I miss. We did all sorts of advent crafts and activities in my childhood of Catholic school, and of course they were all meant to be very solemn and important, but for kids, they just embodied all that Christmas longing and fun. I have an advent calendar that my mom sent to my daughter when she was a toddler (my daughter, not my mom, of course) with little stuffed people and animals to put in a creche (I have no idea how to spell that). I think a few of them are lost, but I'll trot it out again this year, since its existence pretty much constitutes my kids' religious instruction.

  16. I do like this so much better than my Trader Joe's Chocolate Advent Calendar! And, I did have an idea about those matches... What if you cut a circle of fine sandpaper and glued it to the lid of the mason jar? Then, you could actually use the lid to light them!

  17. Kimberly3:47 PM

    We have a similar one made by my Aunt using bottle caps for the ornaments and recycled holiday cards for the pictures inside the bottle caps that you turn over each day, it is cherished by us! and I made the sparkling cranberry centerpiece this week, it was the HUGE hit of Thanksgiving, and then we added bourbon to the cranberry soaking liquid, and had some awesome cocktails!! THANKS!!

  18. Just thought I would let you know that I took your idea and ran with it. We have a wooden advent calendar that we reuse every year. Usually I stuff it with candy, but this seems more fun to me. I got a teeny tree at the craft store and I already had some small ornaments in my craft box. I am going to print out the advent numbers found here: and tie them to the little ornaments with embroidery floss. Supremely cute and cost me less than $10, since I had most of it already. Thanks for the wonderful idea!

  19. Laurie6:18 PM

    These are neat! On a side note:I never found a better parenting magazine than Wondertime! It wasn't a clone of all the other parenting magazines and yet it wasn't preachy about being different than the others either. I'm not sure I'm explaining it right but the bottom line is I miss it :)

  20. Anonymous11:57 AM

    You just gave me a great gift idea for my boyfriend. He'll buy an entire pack of lighters and lose every single one of them without trying. I'm going to give him a big jar of matches and take Kelly's idea and make a sandpaper lid. It's a lot harder to misplace a jar than it is a lighter. Thanks!

  21. I love that a Jewish gal has an advent calendar! As others have said, Advent means "coming." More than that though, we are excitedly anticipating the birth of baby (obviously, the Christ child). I think anyone can appreciate that sentiment! Love the calendar. (even though I have no idea how you had the patience to wrap all those teeny, tiny boxes!) Advent calendars are definitely a way to increase the excitement and anticipation of the holidays. I think they are as fun for the grown-ups as they are for the kiddos. :o)