Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

November 5, 2010

Weekend Creative | Advent Action Cards

I’m a big fan of Advent calendars.

Many of you have seen the Advent boxes I made back in 2007 (inspired by Martha). I’m currently looking for new place to hang them in our house. Last year we also had a LEGO® City Advent Calendarbecause they are just super fun for each morning. This year we’re going to have both again + a little something else.

The little something else for 2010 are hand-drawn Advent cards with specific actions to be taken each day.

Here’s a video that shows you what I did and talks a bit more about the project.

Ali Edwards | Advent Action Cards from Ali Edwards on Vimeo.

Here’s the how-to for this project:


For each of the daily sentiments I wanted to head in the direction of answering this question: what things that can help our kids look beyond themselves and celebrate the season. That was my initial focus.

I want words that require action. I want activities that are developmentally appropriate. I want things that are fun. I want activities that invoke the spirit of the season. I also want to include a few fun traditions like looking at lights while drinking hot cocoa, getting our tree and visiting Santa.

I like the idea that these cards can act as a road map for the season. I like that each day Simon (with a little help from Anna) can pick out a card and it can steer us in a specific direction for the afternoon or evening.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far (I’d love to read your suggestions and ideas in the comments section):

  1. Tell a friend at school you think they’re really cool.
  2. Take a special treat to a neighbor.
  3. Pick a name from the giving tree. Find a gift for that person.
  4. Make a small stocking. Drop it off on someone’s door as a surprise.
  5. Make a card for a loved one and send it in the mail.
  6. Recycle some toys to share with others.
  7. Read a Christmas book to your sister.
  8. Light a candle and say a prayer for a loved one far away.
  9. Take food to a local food pantry.
  10. Take a trip to get the Christmas Tree.
  11. Go see Santa.
  12. Go look at Christmas lights & drink hot cocoa.
  13. Make thank you notes before they are needed.
  14. Write a list of 10 things you are thankful for this year. Share with your Grandma


Doris, one of the super creative members of the Designer Digitals team, used the PNG files on top of photos to create this set of Advent cards that she’ll be hanging on some branches in her home. She originally emailed asking me to make some more hand-drawn Christmas boxes where the words were farther down on the box – leaving room for a cute face. Thanks for the inspiration Doris!

I hope you all have a great weekend!


  • 1.
    Marisa said…

    These are great. We don’t do Advent calendars, but I might do these just for fun!

  • 2.
    Allisa said…

    I love this idea & hope to make something like it…what a clever & thoughtful twist.

    One ‘action’ I love to do every year during the holidays is something I’ve done since high school. We bake cookies & wrap them up in little packages (usually cling wrap so people know what they are). We hand them out to homeless people & people in need we come across during the season.

    Some of the most humbling & rewarding experiences have come from this & the response has always been one of thankfulness.

    thanks for your inspiration!

  • 3.
    Trisha Harrison said…

    Just bought these last night they are simply beautiful Ali !! love it !! I can’t wait to create something with them …. you ROCK !!

  • 4.
    Renee said…

    Ali – what a beautiful way to make the season. I find it is very helpful for us as we head into Christmas to have an Advent Calendar. We live in the tropics so getting into Christmas without a change in temperature can be a little challenging. A few of the activities we had on our calendar last year that are different from yours are: 1. Reading or watching a favorite Christmas Story 2. Make paper snowflakes 3. Have a holiday sing along 4. Go for a walk and look at the stars.
    I intersperse special holiday gifts (like new movies or books) throughout as well as charitable actions similar to what you have listed. We try to focus on the giving thanks for all of this rather than the give me something aspect that so frequently creeps into the holiday.

  • 5.
    Sally said…

    Another great idea Ali. I love that many of the cards are service-oriented. A great life-lesson for our kids!

  • 6.
    Deb J said…

    What a great idea. I have been trying to decide what I could do different to put in our Advent Calendar drawers. This is a great idea. One idea I will be doing is making a card for doing a Random Act of Kindness for someone–like paying the bill for someone behind me at a drive through or whatever.

    Allisa, your idea about sharing goodies with homeless people and people in need is great.

  • 7.
    Allyson MacLeod said…

    Great idea, Ali. One thing my daughter and I do every year is make home made dog cookies and give them out at our outdoor Christmas eve church service which many people walk to from the neighborhood and bring their dogs. Its fun to remember our special 4 legged friends!

    • ….
      Rebekah Pontow said…

      Love this one – you could also take them to your local HUmane Society too!

  • 8.
    Carol Zeitz said…

    These are beautiful and I love the actions on the cards that are outward-looking – helping others, being nice, etc. We celebrate Chanukah in our home but I can adapt this so easily with a color change. And we can each choose a card during the 8 days. Fabulous Ali!

  • 9.
    Jill said…

    Hey Ali –

    This is too crazy – earlier this afternoon (before reading your post) I was walking back to my office after getting my pm coffee while at work and thought – I want to do an Advent calendar this year. It’s a tradition I loved as a child (opening the windows of the *same* Advent calendar year after year), and something I miss as a single adult. The time between Thanksgiving and New Years has been a tough time for me attitude-wise for quite a few years (making a holiday daily the last 3 years has really helped – thanks!), and I find I need a “little help from my friends” more than ever. So, just before reading your project post I sent an email to 2 close friends asking if they’d like to do a shared Advent activity. I proposed that we individually come up with 25 different intentions and/or activities that can be accomplished in one day and either keep a set amount of our own and trade a set amount between us, or split up our own and trade so we have none of our own. Sort of a “fresh ideas” approach to thinking about Advent. I love that we could come up with 75 unique ideas between the 3 of us. I’m super excited about this – and I’m pretty sure they will be game for it, too!

    Here’s to sharing ideas to celebrate Advent! Love your plan :)

    • ….
      pidge said…

      As another single person, I thought this idea was AWESOME! What a wonderful way to look “out” and share with others!

    • ….
      Ali said…

      So cool Jill :) .

    • ….
      Annemiek said…

      What a great idea Jill. Just watching the video made me decide to make an Advent calendar for myself. I have to see if I can include some friends.

    • ….
      Brittany said…

      Jill – would you be willing to share your list of 75?

  • 10.
    sarah said…

    Love this Ali, we have done 25 acts of kindness for a few years now, and I love the way this is formatted…will definately be incorporating this aspect into what we do.

  • 11.
    MonicaB said…

    We have done many different advent calendar in the past, most recently the LEGO ones have been the calendar. I’ve been thinking of making one with action instead of toys/candy and I really love this idea.

    One thing we do (not always at Xmas) but we go through our books and take the ones we no longer need to the library.

    We make real Hot Cocoa, not the powder mix.

    Bake our traditional holiday bread

    Look up facts on Christmas traditions

    Thanks for the great ideas Ali!

  • 12.
    Sheri B said…

    Just wanted to say what a great project! We currently have fun with an advent calendar I made with a Making Memories kit from a few years back, but I’ve been thinking of creating a new advent calendar to add to this year, and I love the service oriented ideas you’ve shared! Love the video too, it really brings the project to life and helps get some ideas flowing!

  • 13.
    Olivia said…

    Bake Christmas cookies and deliver some to friends and neighbors.

  • 14.
    SusanB said…

    I so love the Advent season and our family has been doing activities like this since our daughters (now 16 & 18) were toddlers. One of the things that we like to do is take a walk around our neighborhood in the dark; we bundle up, take a look at the stars and the lights in our neighbors’ yards, talk and just enjoy being together. We usually have hot chocolate and cookies when we come back home. Another thing that my girls request every year is to watch the videos of our Christmases past. It’s a little bittersweet for me to see visual proof of how quickly time passes and to see people on the videos who are no longer with us but it’s another Advent tradition we wouldn’t think of skipping. I know that these are not as service-minded as the activities you mentioned but they give us time to enjoy each other’s company and have fun together. With a daughter away at college our traditions will change a little this year but we’ll still have some time before Christmas to indulge in our some of our usual celebrations. Thanks for your inspiration Ali!

    • ….
      Ali said…

      Video is something I’d really like to do this Christmas – especially in terms of looking back. Love that.

  • 15.
    Erika Bates said…

    These are so fun Ali!

    A couple of ideas that we have done:

    -create a holiday card to send to a military servicemember
    -research and try holiday traditions from other lands (we’ve tried a bunch from the British Isles since that is our heritage and its been really fun)
    Thanks for all your ideas!

    • ….
      Brittany said…

      Erika – would you be willing to share some of the traditions you have tried in the past?

    • ….
      Amy said…

      As a military spouse, thank you! We’ve been apart for the holidays and appreciate those who remember it’s hard to be far from those you love. Check out Operation Write Home if you haven’t heard of them if you want information about sending blank cards to troops overseas to use to write home with. :)

    • ….
      Vanessa Babin said…

      I love the idea of the Christmas card to the military. I did that before, but I think I will get my grandson to write one this year! Thanks for reminding me to do that again.

  • 16.
    Pam said…

    Ali, this is a wonderful idea! I love that you are including service oriented activities. Working in an elementary school, I am constantly reminded of the “me-me” approach most children have towards Christmas. This is an excellent way to reenforce the ideals we want our children to have. Thank you for all of your inspiration!

  • 17.
    anneberit said…

    I love these, and the thought behind.

  • 18.
    Denise said…

    I don’t do advent calendars, but these would make cute little tags for the preschool my DD goes to.

  • 19.
    Stacy P. said…

    LOVE this idea! As a family we ring bells for the Salvation Army every year. We choose a date well in advance due to the craziness of the season (add to that both of my children’s birthdays are the week before Christmas!) and the desire to have an indoor or heated location, however you can just stop and ring bells at any kettle if you see it is unmanned. Other ideas… giving a secret santa gift to someone, donating new or gently used books to the shelters, make cut-out cookies and take them to an assisted living home (many nursing homes have strict diet rules), go to a nursing home and sing carols, do a holiday skit or offer to decorate a small tree for a resident that doesn’t have family near by. Offer to walk an elderly neighbors dog (or any neighbor for that matter)…

    Thank you Ali for bringing me into the holiday season this year. It will be a tough one for our family having just lost my mother-in-law but having the December Daily book and the advent cards will be a huge help in getting us through the holidays.

  • 20.
    dawn said…


    I love these cards and the idea for them. Thank you for another cool holiday idea and will put these in our DD album. What I do with our kids is make a paper chain of red & green and the hang it in the kitchen. The red ones are things to do at home the green are things to do outside of home or to take to a family/neighbor kinda thing. We do most of the ideas you listed and the other commenters. We also include a secret santa one during the week off from school and they do secret things leading up to Christmas day and revealing ourselves that morning, this one is the kids favorite one to do. We also make ornaments for the tree and watch Christmas movies by the tree lights. Thanks for this again Ali. Have a wonderful weekend.

  • 21.
    Alison Exelby said…

    Love these cards Ali, such a great idea.
    Every year my boys give a christmas card to all the kids in their classroom and teacher, often there will be kids that they dont play with much through out the year but they still write a card for everyone so that no one is left out. We also do some sort of christmas baking for the class, last year we made candy cane reindeer, this year we are making reindeer cakepops, everyone in the class get ones of these two

  • 22.
    mandee mattioli said…

    I love this idea. We do some sort of this thing too, but not every day in December. I love the way this is formatted! I am definitely going to work this in.

    Some of the things that we do are:

    1. Make hand/foot print plates at a local pottery shop. I do a plate every year for each child. Then we use the plates for Christmas dinners and trays. It is so fun to see their little hands and feet in the later years. I will have 3 sets when the kids are older and plan on giving them to each child when he/she starts their own family.

    2. Find our old coats and deliver them to the local coat drive for the homeless

    3. Make Christmas cookies

    4. Open Christmas jammies… always on December 24th

    5. Go to Starbucks or the local coffee shop and have a “holiday” drink with cookies

    6. Serve at a local homeless shelter… have yet to do this one as my oldest is only 3 1/2… but plan on adding this one in

    7. Wrap Christmas presents for others or make wrapping paper for presents… stamps and brown paper bags (a good way to recycle those bags or you can get it in the rolls if you use re-usable bags like we do)

    8. Make Christmas ornaments

    9. Make Grandma and Grandpa’s Christmas presents… we always make them something each year, usually something with handprints and a photo

    10. Shovel the snow for the neighbors… they are the most lovely older couple in their 70′s

    These are just a few of the things we do… I can’t wait to see what everyone else comes up with.

  • 23.
    Jackie Bremer said…

    I love your idea and the prompts – it is a special way to keep the meaning of Christmas in focus. I am eager to try them.

    FIRST though – I am trying to print the December Daily overlays using the PDF format. I cannot get it to scale correctly – there is no “scale” feature on my printer. I have an HP LaserJet P1006 and also a Canon MP 620. Any ideas?

    • ….
      kristin t said…

      Do you use photoshop? there is a scale option when you choose “print with preview” in photoshop. Also, if you open the pdf in Adobe Reader, when you choose “print,” the dialog box has a Page Scaling option there. hth :)

  • 24.
    zewa said…

    Take your sister by the hand and make snow angels :)

  • 25.
    Saire said…

    Fantabulous project! Looks like it’s not too time consuming for Mom to make, but big payoff for family getting into the spirit of Christmas.

    • ….
      Ali said…

      That was my goal :)

  • 26.
    peanut said…

    I love this :)

    I have a quilted advent calendar with little pocked that I use every year. I usually fill it with little pieces of paper with activities on them (usually planned out so the big things fall on weekends); stuff like “eat a Christmas orange” or “decorate” or “drive around and look at lights”. These cards will be so much cuter than my bits of paper (and I’m doing the December daily project too so they’ll have somewhere to go after the holidays).

  • 27.
    bdaiss said…

    I started doing this last year and I’m SO looking forward to it again this year! My son had a blast opening the doors and finding out what our activity for the day was. (It’s going to be tougher this year since I’m back at work and not on maternity leave!)

    Other ideas that we did: write a letter to Santa, put on Christmas music and dance, watch a favorite holiday movie (Grinch, Rudolf, Merry Madagascar), make yule kag with grandma (a holiday tradition from my childhood – you could substitute cookies or some other favorite holiday desert), make paper snowflakes, go sledding, drive around to see the Christmas Lights, and have a picnic under the Christmas tree. Some other things from my childhood that I included: putting the wooden shoes out for Sinterklaas, and reading Santa Mouse. We also rode the Polar Express – I think that one was the favorite of the whole month.

    I’m hoping to combine this with your December Daily this year!

    • ….
      mandee mattioli said…

      Oh, I love the picnic under the christmas tree! I am so adding that into our bunch!

    • ….
      Ali said…

      A picnic under the tree is a FABULOUS idea!

  • 28.
    Laura said…

    I love this and will incorporate it into our advent calendar. I like to do a mix of fun things (holiday shirts, ornaments, etc) and experiences. Here are some ideas from our family (kids 9, 7 and 4):

    1. Decorate a gingerbread house.
    2. Have a Christmas tree camp out — sleeping around the Christmas tree.
    3. Watch a holiday movie together.
    4. Attend programs at library and local nature center
    5. Shop for adopted family.
    6. Craft basket — goodies for making paper chains, pom-pom garlands, noodle garlands.
    7. Plant paperwhites (do early so they are blooming for Christmas).
    8. Make gifts for the birds.
    9. Family game night — get a new game.
    10. Fondue night.
    11.Attend holiday concert or play.
    12. Make ornaments.
    13. Make gifts for teachers.

  • 29.
    Maria said…

    I love your post and your Advent Action Cards idea! Some of the things we like to do at Christmas include decorating a gingerbread house, watch the Christmas parade with the family, listening to our favorite holiday music, make and send cards, make crafts, watch our favorite old-time Christmas movies with the family, and in the spirit of giving, it it is always fun to make and deliver/mail holiday cards and gifts to either hospitals, or homeless shelters.

  • 30.
    ali gitt said…

    Cute ideas…love the boxed Advent calendar.

    Ideas of things I did growing up or just thought of…
    1. Build snowmen in front of a Senior Center
    2. Go Carrolling
    3. Buy your pet a special holiday treat or take to the dog park.
    4. Collect all your can tabs and donate to Ronald McDonald House.
    5. Create art/craft bags for kids in hospital for the holidays.
    6. Mail unused xmas cards to St Jude’s Ranch for them to use in their Recycled Card Program.
    7. Make Snow Angels and then enjoy snow ice cream.
    8. Celebrate another religious or cultural holiday by trying new foods, learning about Hannakkah, etc.

    Have fun.

  • 31.
    Theresa said…

    So YOU bought those vintage milk caps from Banana Fish Studio–LOL. I had my eye on those but didn’t act quickly enough and they were gone . . . and no more have been listed since :-( What an awesome project to use them with. Love it.

    • ….
      Ali said…

      You should email her and see if she’s making any more. Love them – great little addition.

  • 32.
    Kaylea said…

    I just compiled a story like this – for the church (Children’s ministry) Advent Guide for this year (Advent starts on Nov. 29 – the Sunday after Thanksgiving – AND for a project for the Dec DST insider.

    Obviously, we’re thinking alike!

    • ….
      Ali said…

      Tis the season! I’d love to read what you wrote :) .

  • 33.
    Linda said…

    i’m having a really difficult time finding a good self healing cutting mat that doesn’t leave marks after cutting. which cutting mat do you use?

  • 34.
    barbi defazio said…

    I adore this project! Thanks for sharing. Our family will be using this idea with our traditional advent calendar.

  • 35.
    Heidi said…

    Lots of great stuff above (love the picnic under the tree idea and making a card for military or service personnel etc) – I haven’t even been thru all of them. Was just thinking that this year I may have our children pick a name from a tree or one of those type of ideas and contribute $ from their “giving” savings/piggy bank toward the selection & purchase of the gift (and time to wrap etc). I’m into giving heart stuff whether it is in the form of time, talent or blessings (and I include $ in this, regardless of the amount). Can’t wait to read the rest of the ideas. Heidi
    PS Love the boxes. Love Doris’ idea w/ photos on one side. Love me envisioning a few lovely branches from trees stuck in a big pot filled with pine cones or rocks or something and sitting in our home with potentially painted branches and these hanging on it.

  • 36.
    Sylvia said…

    Such an inspiring video. Thanks so much, I will definitaly do this!

  • 37.
    Shelly K said…

    SUPER CUTE idea!! LOVE it and will be adapting for our family!!! Thanks, as always, for the inspiration!

  • 38.
    Shelly K said…

    Visit a Senior Home with small bottles of hand lotion to give as gifts. The elderly love to see the kids!

  • 39.
    roni hunt said…

    I love this!!!! Although my children are grown and moms themselves, we continue the Advent caledar with our grandchildren at Beedee & Papa’s (that’s us). We’ll add: make a special card for their teachers; walk the neighbor’s dog so she does not need to go out in the cold; take grandma-mary for a walk and look at holiday lights; and these types of things. We live in Florida and can do many service projects together. Love the inspiration once again, Ali!!!

  • 40.
    {vicki} said…

    What about Bake Cookies!!!!!

  • 41.
    Amy said…

    Awesome idea Ali!! And great video tutorial!

  • 42.
    Sarah K said…

    Bring a plate of goodies to your local fire station or police station with a thank you note. Also, most of them are doing toy drives so maybe a gift for their giving tree.

    • ….
      Ali said…

      That’s a great addition – I can see Simon getting into that one.

  • 43.
    Erin said…

    We have several family traditions, but one that has become a favorite over the past several years. Quite a few years ago, I was talking with some military personnel and they had mentioned that most deployed soldiers never receive anything from home. That comment saddened me and so when Christmastime came around, our family went and picked out 5 Santa hats and filled them with all kinds of goodies and shipped them overseas. (A few times we have received a thank you note back from the soldier and a couple included a picture of themselves wearing the hat–so much fun.) We will definately be doing this again this year, but will be sending 7 since I have two brothers who are deployed this holiday season. Thanks, Ali, for the inspiration to get started already. Have a great weekend.

    • ….
      mandee mattioli said…

      Love this idea too. Where did you find names/addresses to send them to?

    • ….
      Ali said…

      I’d like more info on this too Erin -

    • ….
      Lisa said…

      I’d love information on how to send this to them. I have a girl scout troop and this is something they would love to do.

    • ….
      Barbara said…

      Your local base chaplain’s office should be able to help you.

    • ….
      D&Smum said…

      If any of you are interested in working for a service project that touches the lives of our soldiers, please check out Project Rudolph (I’ll attach the link). The group still needs thousands of handwritten cards from adults to place in the Christmas bags they hand to soldiers en route to war during the month of December.

    • ….
      Amy said…

      Hi ladies- If you visit “Adopt a Platoon”, they’re a wonderful non-profit that will work to match you with either a soldier to support monthly or a one time assistance for the holidays, or other campaign- they run them all the time. I’ve sent school supplies to a base working to improve relations by offering them to the children, DVDs to troops and the Stockings from Santa of course. Last year, my church sent over 86 stockings and we always have at least one soldier to support year-round when my husband is home. There are security reasons why they can’t just post names/locations of troops seeking support, but they can provide you information if you request it. Thank you for remembering our military!

  • 44.
    Linda said…

    I love these ideas, since this is the first year that not all of my kids will be home for Christmas (DD moved to Boston with Hubby to be a resident–and new residents NEVER get Christmas off) I think the idea of making them with pictures of my girls over the years would be great. May make me cry but will probably do that anyways!

    The servicemen cards are a great idea too!

  • 45.
    Rebekah Pontow said…

    I love this so much! I have never done Advent calandar and will attempt to make one this year just because this is exactly what I needed to bring the true meaning of christmas into our home.

    Some idea I got from reading your article and the comments
    - read bible passage related to the birth of Jesus
    - Do a gift exchange game with friends (a game where you all bring a gift under $10-20 and then hand out numbers. 1-10, number 1 starts, and as the game progress you can take the opened gifts or open a wrapped gift) So much fun, we do it every year with my husband’s family.
    -Visit a church you do not usually attend
    -watch Charlie Brown Christmas
    -Read about other December holiadys (Haunakah, Kwankah)
    -Make a ginger bread house
    -Take dozens of cookies to a local retirement community
    -Create a Christmas tree out of legos

    Love your ideas Ali, you are always so inspiring!

  • 46.
    Kerry said…

    These are great ideas, and I love the twist to the advent calender! Will be doing something along this line I think this year! x

  • 47.
    Patricia said…

    Love your ideas ~ thanks for sharing! I read through most (but not all!) of the other ideas and they are all terrific. One thing we do is a prayer walk around our neighborhood. It’s such a honor and a blessing to pray for those around us!

  • 48.
    Cathy said…

    I was just talking to my kids tonight about how they have so much to be thankful for…and how there are sooo many children who are less fortunate. I think this would be perfect for them!! Some ideas that I have are…visiting a nursing home and sing Christmas caroles, have a bake sale or garage sale and donate the money to ASPCA or your local shelter, donate out grown clothes and jackets to a local foster home or orphange. I can’t wait to get this started!! Thank you Ali….you are such an inspiration!!!

  • 49.
    joellen said…

    make a bird a treat out of a pine cone, pnut butter and birdseed!

    love the idea!

    • ….
      Ali said…

      I think Simon would like this idea…and I like that we can talk about doing something nice for animals.

  • 50.
    joellen said…

    make a special bookmark for your favorite storybook

    give your favorite neighborhood pet a christmas present

    sing a song outside at night to a shining star and remember loved ones who are no longer here to celebrate with us.

    write a love note and put in under the pillow of someone in the family

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