Create your own DIY Advent tree calendar from painted branches and recycled paper rolls. This is a fun, eco-friendly way for kids to celebrate the countdown to Christmas
This craft was first published in 2013 and has been updated and reshared for today’s audience
You might also like our printable paper Christmas Tree advent calendar
This Advent tree is a collaborative project I made together with my girls when they were preschoolers. Recycled paper rolls, kids’ art, and even an old party decoration were all incorporated into our tree.
The girls had so much fun helping to make their own Christmas Countdown. It gave them ownership so this calendar was way more special than a store-bought version.
Opening a package per day is always exciting to little ones. Because there are two of them, it helped to have a book in the evening and a package in the morning, that way they could take turns unwrapping the different components. Of course, the book part is totally optional—make this calendar your own.
How to make a DIY Advent Tree Christmas Countdown
Making the tree
Essentially the ‘tree’ is a bunch of sticks secured into an upcycled milo tin with plaster of Paris. I originally created this as a party decoration for my preschooler’s Enchanted Forest-themed birthday party (for the party itself, I strung chocolates all over it and used it as a table decoration).
We decided to give it a Christmas makeover. The girls gave me lots of help painting our tree white.
It’s certainly not a perfect job with lots of bare patches of brown stick showing through but we love it anyway.
Creating the Christmas book countdown
I love the idea of a Christmas book-a-day advent and decided to incorporate this at the base of our tree.
Still, twenty-four Christmas books is a LOT to come up with! We didn’t have enough in our collection so I scoured local second-hand shops and found more to make up numbers. A few vintage books add to the Christmas charm. When Christmas is over, you can pack the books away and use them again next year.
To wrap the books, I upcycled some of the million-and-one paintings my four-year-old brings home from preschool, turning them into decorative wrap. They look so pretty! Check out more ways to upcycle kids’ art into gifts here.
While I did all this wrapping (it took waaaay longer than I anticipated!), the girls beaded pipe cleaners with plastic beads and bells to use as extra tree decorations. This wasn’t on my plan, but like I said, they took ownership of the project and this was their little addition.
The bells and beads do add something to the tree and this kept the girls occupied for a long time so we’re all happy.
Making the advent packages
Our advent packages are made from cardboard tubes cut up into sections and stuffed with ‘surprises’. They’ve been wrapped in kid-made tie-dyed paper towel, another repurposed art activity. We also used our stash of kid-dyed paper towel to make suncatchers for Halloween decorations. For Christmas, you could always cut them into snowflakes instead!
If you don’t want to spend time tie-dying paper towel you could use tissue wrap instead.
Free printable calendar numbers
You can’t have a countdown without numbers! Here’s our set saved as a free printable to make it easy for you at home.
Filling your advent calendar
There are TONS of ways to fill an advent calendar, but honestly, you can’t beat a packet of chocolate Santas as a kid-friendly, affordable filler. For a sugar-free option, there are small toys such as dinosaurs, zoo animals or mini cars that come in multipacks. You could get away with purchasing one packet and wrapping one up one toy per day.
A few other ideas are kids’ jewellery and hair accessories, lip gloss, small stationary items or mini fidget toys. If the idea of buying cheap junk only to have to pick it all up again when the kids leave it all over the house doesn’t appeal, maybe try putting the money as coins directly into the calendar—that way your child can learn to save at the same time, haha.
Money would be a nice idea for older kids and teens too, interspersed with chocolates and a few less ‘junky’ surprises.
Ta-da! What do you think? I photographed our finished calendar on the dining table because it was difficult to get a good shot of it in front of the window where it sits, adding plenty of Christmas cheer to our living area.
We love how pretty it turned out and I think it adds a beautiful, handmade touch to our home. So much better than the commercialised chocolates in a cardboard box!
Do you have any special Christmas traditions?
- For the tree:
- Recycled milo tin (the largest size you can get), or a similar-sized container
- Plaster of Paris
- White paint
- Paper rolls (12)
- Tie dyed paper towel (see our website for instructions), or use tissue wrap
- Printable numbers
- Your choice of surprises to fill the calendar (you'll need 24)
- 24 Chrismas picture books (use ones you already own, or search thrift stores for more if you son't have enough)
- Kraft paper
- Childrens' process art
- Follow the instructions on the Plaster of Paris packet to mix it up.
- Tie branches together and have another person hold them in the tin while you pour the plaster of Paris around it. Leave the tree to dry for 24-48 hours (or as per the instructions on the packet)
- Paint the branches white.
- Cut your paper rolls into sections of either 2-3 per roll (depending on how big your surprises are)
- Stuff a surprise into each roll then wrap in a sheet of tie-dyed paper towel. Tie with string.
- Cut the printable numbers out and punch a hole in each one. Tie a number to each tie-dye wrapped surprise.
- Hang the surprises on the tree, spreading them out evenly.
- Cut the recycled kids' process art into strips.
- Wrap each book in a piece of kraft paper and then wrap a process art strip around it to decorate.
- Put the book presents under the tree.
More Advent Calendar craft ideas:
- Make a paper bag advent calendar for a quick and easy DIY advent
- Try this arty advent calendar idea for something the kids can help to make
- This DIY Advent drawing calendar with free printable drawing prompts is a low-mess, low fuss way to count down AND keep kids busy in the holidays