Creating a Christmas Countdown for Kids: 25+ Classic and Unique Ideas
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The anticipation of Christmas is as magical as Christmas Day itself…maybe even more so.
Making a Christmas countdown for kids is a fun way to celebrate this wonderful time of year. Start December 1st and complete a fun activity each day through Christmas Eve.
A fun countdown doesn’t require giving 24 toys or trinkets – in fact, it probably shouldn’t.
While there are now advent calendars for just about every theme you can imagine – Star Wars, Harry Potter, plush animals, rocks – I worry it sets an expectation that’s hard to live up to year after year and adds even more pressure for parents.
Plus, gifts are already such a big emphasis of the Christmas season, and kids don’t need even more of them (and moms don’t need the added clutter!).
This list of ideas thus focuses on countdown ideas that are consumable (e.g. chocolate), non-material (e.g. jokes), or reusable (e.g. books). I’ve also aimed for ideas that encourage family bonding.
How to Set Up a Christmas Countdown for Kids
A magical, memorable Christmas countdown for kids is just as much about the HOW as the WHAT.
Kids LOVE surprises.
When I watch my kids open the advent calendar doors of their chocolate calendar, it’s clear the “reveal” moment is nearly as fun as what’s inside (maybe more so!).
Some Christmas countdowns, like chocolate calendars, have the reveal element built right it with little doors to open or items to color in.
For DIY advent calendars, you’ll need to do a little bit of prep work. The huge grins and excited squeals will make your efforts totally worthwhile.
Here are some Christmas countdown set-up ideas to consider:
- Number and hang 24 festive envelopes, bags, or miniature stockings along a ribbon.
- Number and hang 24 gift tags on the Christmas tree (all at the same time, or one added each evening for your kids to find the next day).
- Put the slips of paper inside a mailbox ornament so your child can check each morning for new “mail” (because in addition to surprises, kids LOVE mail). If your countdown consists of the items themselves, you could create a DIY mailbox using a simple paper sorting bin.
- Place your paper slips or small items in advent calendar boxes you put under the Christmas tree.
- Get an advent calendar you can fill yourself.
- Put the slips of paper in a Christmas-themed tin or jar and have your child draw one each day.
- Get in touch with your creative side through one of these DIY advent calendar ideas.
The little things go a long way toward making magical Christmas memories for kids.
Christmas Countdown Ideas for Kids
Get a chocolate advent calendar.
This classic tradition never gets old. I loved it when I was a kid and now my kids adore it, too.
We get our calendars from Aldi; they were $1.49 each this year and will provide joy worth many times that amount. The chocolate is European (=delicious) and the boys love discovering what object (a bell? a sleigh? a star?) their chocolate will be each night.
Put up an advent calendar.
One of my most vivid childhood Christmas memories is my brother, sister, and I taking turns hanging ornaments on a felt Christmas tree advent calendar.
It’s a tradition my boys love, too. We hang ours on a command hook just outside their bedroom where they can hang the ornament first thing each morning.
(Side note: command hooks are also good for hanging mistletoe. 😊)
For little kids, you could get this highly rated magnetic tree calendar.
Make a paper chain countdown.
This is another classic Christmas countdown for kids that never goes out of style.
Cut 24 strips of paper. You can alternate simple red and green construction paper, or use Christmas paper in fun patterns.
There are even options where the paper strips have already been cut for you!
Take your first strip of paper and form a loop. Attach the ends together using a glue stick or staples.
Then take another strip of paper, stick it through your first loop, and attach the ends. Continue until all 24 loops are attached, forming a chain.
Hang the chain across a curtain rod, on a wall, or draped across an archway (command hooks can again be helpful here). Have your kids tear off one loop each day until it’s Christmas.
Make a calendar of favorite family Christmas activities.
There are tons of different Christmas activities you can spread throughout December — check out my December bucket list for ideas!
Some days can feature big outings, like going to a Christmas concert or to see lights. Others can be as simple as making hot cocoa or dancing to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
Unwrap a Christmas story each day.
Reading Christmas-themed books together is one of my favorite ways to count down to December 25th.
Gather up all your holiday picture books – your own plus whatever you can get from the library! – and wrap them up.
Each night have your child open one to read together before bedtime.
You can number the books if you want to read them in a certain order, or if you want to make sure your family’s favorites are around for most of the month.
Otherwise, just wrap ‘em up — preferably in something reusable or at least recyclable to minimize the waste! — and let your kids have fun choosing them at random.
Here are some of our favorite December read-alouds:
Get a book-themed advent calendar.
Have a child obsessed with Disney or the Marvel Universe? Give them a new story about their favorite characters each day!
After Christmas, put away all the books in one place so you’ll have them for next year. You can then present them in a fun new way (see How-to section above!) and change up the order to give the activity a fresh feel.
Here are all the options I found. It’s worth noting only the Sesame Street calendar features solely holiday-themed stories.
Read a story a day from a Christmas-themed collection.
Grab one of these books containing a different story to read each day of December leading up to Christmas.
You could also put together your own collection of Christmas readings using a book like this one.
Read aloud from a Christmas chapter book each night.
Now that my older two boys are independent readers, our nightly read-aloud ritual usually entails reading from a chapter book.
I love when the boys are in a hurry to get ready for bed because they can’t wait to find out what happens next in the book we’re reading!
For this idea, you can:
…read a book specifically written as a countdown:
The book How Winston Delivered Christmas is written in 24.5 chapters – a Christmas countdown for kids that begins on December 1st and concludes Christmas Day. As a bonus, each chapter includes daily Christmas activity ideas.
There’s also now a sequel, How Winston Came Home for Christmas.
…or make a countdown on your own:
Kids of all ages can enjoy listening to a Christmas chapter book or a kid-friendly version of a classic, like The Christmas Carol.
Once you’ve picked a book, take the total number of pages, divide by 24, and voila! There’s the number of pages to read each day.
While this approach isn’t as tidy as the Winston books, stopping mid-chapter with a good cliffhanger can be a wonderful thing.
Do an advent reading countdown.
I love this idea from Everyday Reading!
Kids get to complete fun reading tasks – e.g. “read a book with a movie adaptation” — and color in a cool Christmas mural as they do. Find the template and details here.
Complete a Christmas Mad Lib every day.
This simple Christmas countdown activity guarantees big laughs!
I loved Mad Libs as a kid, and now my own kids do, too. Find a place to hang up the funniest ones for re-reading.
Ask a Christmas would-you-rather question each day.
My first grader’s class does a would -you-rather question every morning and he LOVES them. My eight-year-old gets into them, too.
To use Christmas-themed questions to create a countdown, look for online lists (here and here are a couple) or grab this highly-rated book of questions (you’ll have plenty left for future years if you want to continue the tradition).
Read a Christmas joke or trivia question each day.
“Knock, knock!” Every kid loves a good (or terrible 😉) knock-knock joke. Here are 50 Christmas-themed ones to choose from.
Alternately, here’s a list of regular Christmas jokes.
If you have older kids, Christmas trivia might be more their speed. Here and here are some good lists of questions covering Santa, the Christmas Bible story, Christmas movies, traditions in other countries, and more.
Have daily discussions with Christmas conversation starters.
Connect at the dinner table with these holiday conversation questions.
Sing a favorite Christmas song together each day.
Christmas music is such a fun part of the season! This inexpensive book contains the lyrics of more than 70 popular songs.
Grab a copy – or two or three so each family member can read the words easily – and then pick out a favorite song to sing each day. If you need accompaniment, find a YouTube video.
Belting out Christmas tunes as a family will make for wonderful memories.
Get your groove on with a daily Christmas dance party.
Do your kids love a good dance party as mine do?
Choose a different song to dance to each day, then play the whooooole list on Chirstmas Eve for an epic dance party.
Check out the song suggestions here and here to get you started on your playlist!
Commit random acts of kindness.
Get your kid into the spirit of giving by collecting donations for the food pantry, giving out candy canes, helping a family member, etc.
Coffee Cups and Crayons offers a free printable calendar filled with great ideas, as does Action for Happiness.
Create a countdown with candles.
Candlelight gives a warm, cozy, intimate ambiance in dark December.
Grab 24 holders — I love how gold mercury glass looks with candlelight dancing through it — and put a tealight in each one (order some extra candles so you can replace them as needed).
Number the holders 1-24 with pre-made advent stickers or some easy-to-remove labels if you want to reuse the holders for other occasions.
Light one candle on December 1st, two on December 2nd, etc. Get a rechargeable lighter to make the job simpler.
By the time Christmas Eve rolls around, your home will be bathed in glorious light.
This could become a family tradition that maintains relevance even when your kids are teenagers or grown adults.
Do a Christmas drawing together.
ArtHub for Kids has a huge collection of Christmas-themed drawing videos to choose from.
Make drawing a daily activity you and your child do together, then hang up the drawings for a festive holiday display.
Keep your favorites to hang up next year and in the years to come.
A decade from now, seeing the art your child made at this tender age will make you smile (and, if you’re as sentimental as I am, maybe tear up a little).
Color a Christmas picture each day.
Here’s a free Christmas coloring page with a different item to color each day.
If you have a kid who loves to color, you could give them a whole page to complete each day.
You could also purchase a coloring page from Etsy (like this one), have it printed poster-size at an office store, and hang it up on the wall for the whole family to color in together.
See also the poster from Everyday Reading linked to in #9 above.
Make and hang paper snowflakes.
Make a new snowflake each day and write the corresponding day number on it. Hang the snowflakes in a window or string them along a ribbon.
Put together a Christmas-themed puzzle.
I have a couple different options for puzzle lovers of different ages.
For little ones, make a DIY puzzle.
First, get a Christmas-themed poster. Here’s one I love.
Next cut the poster into 24 pieces, putting a number on the back of each one, to make a puzzle.
Give your child a new puzzle piece each day.
Put a couple tiny bits of easy-to-remove putty on the back of the piece and let your child stick it to the wall.
They can move the pieces around as needed to make the puzzle come together.
If you have access to a laminator, coating the pieces in protective plastic would prevent tearing and keep the puzzle in great shape to reuse in coming years.
For older kids and adults, try this Christmas countdown puzzle.
I love this cool idea for a daily family activity!
Each day, open a box containing 42 puzzle pieces. Put those pieces together to form one section of the puzzle.
Then, over the course of the month, put the 24 little puzzles together to form one big scene.
Make a Christmas craft each day.
If you don’t want to spend hours and hours putting together craft ideas and supplies, there are now Christmas craft advent calendars that do it for you.
Proceed with caution, as you might be setting the expectation of a new craft calendar each year.
However, if you have a kiddo who loves doing crafts and it’s part of what you do each December anyway, these calendars are awesome.
They’ll save you a ton of time and energy since you won’t have to find all the ideas and procure all the supplies.
They’re probably a more economical option, too, given you won’t have to buy all the materials separately.
Do note the reviews – younger kids will need grown-up assistance and some crafts require additional supplies.
Get an advent calendar book filled with different activity ideas.
If you want to do a bunch of fun activities with your child but want someone else to come up with the ideas, check out these books. Lots of great ideas for your countdown!
Give instructions for Christmas-themed LEGO creations.
If you have a kiddo who loves building with LEGOS, this calendar from Little Bins for Little Hands is amazing.
It contains 25 different sets of detailed instructions to make Christmas-themed creations using bricks you likely already have (and buying suggestions if you don’t).
And if the $4.99 price point isn’t already a great selling point, all the proceeds go toward a non-profit focused on providing building bricks for kids in foster care.
Learn about a different country’s Christmas traditions every night.
Read about one or two traditions from a single country each day of your countdown.
There are some recently published books that would be great for scouting out ideas!
One that adults and older children will enjoy is The Atlas of Christmas: The Merriest, Tastiest, Quirkiest Holiday Traditions from Around the World. It contains information about ceremonies, music, parades, Santa (and variations thereof), and more.
A couple books geared to younger audiences, both with simple, rhyming text, are Joy to the World: Christmas Around the Globe and It’s Christmas Everywhere: Celebrations from Around the World (which unfolds to form a self-standing Christmas tree!).
As you read about traditions in different countries, a fun extension activity would be to have your child use a thin-tipped dry-erase marker to number the countries (to correspond with the days) on this laminated world map placemat.
You could also look up the locations on a globe or in an atlas.
Consider having a reference book on hand in case you and your child feel inspired to learn more!
Explore Christmas treats from different countries.
Christmas baking is a big deal all over the world.
The award-winning picture book A World of Cookies for Santa describes Christmas treats from many different locations around the world and includes recipes for nine of them.
I’m not going to make the crazy suggestion that you bake a different holiday treat every day!
Instead, you could read about one treat per day (you won’t necessarily make it through the whole book, but that doesn’t matter), then decide with your kid which two or three recipes to make.
You could make them all at once, make one a week, whatever timing works for you.
If there’s a recipe for that treat in the book, you’re all set. Otherwise, just search for a recipe online.
Alternatively, if you love reading about cookies but don’t love making cookies, here’s a very cool mapping activity you could do with your kids instead.
Listen to global Christmas songs.
Make a playlist of 24 Christmas songs from 24 different countries. Check out the lists here and here to get started.
Listen to one song each day and vote on a favorite at the end of the countdown!
Make Your Own Christmas Countdown for Kids
For kids, anticipation of special days brings so much joy and creates meaningful memories – it’s one of my favorite aspects of family traditions.
Maximize your kiddo’s excited anticipation by creating a fun Christmas countdown. I hope this list has given you some great ideas!
And let me know in the comments section if there are other ways you and your family count down the days until Christmas!
I love that this doesn’t have to focus on buying a bunch of clutter, and that you acknowledge that we don’t want to add more pressure to ourselves by setting up some crazy expectation. I also like the focus on books.
Thanks, Lou. I appreciate that validation. And yes, I love to place an emphasis on books whenever possible because books are amazing. 🙂
Love this! Tons of great ideas to savor December. Love the book recommendations.