Here are step-by-step instructions.
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Advent Calendar Main
Credit: Annie Campbell

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Kind of. Well, actually, it’s not looking like Christmas at all.

As I write this, Halloween season is in full swing, Thanksgiving isn’t even on most people’s radar, and gingerbread has not quite replaced pumpkin spice in our hearts and minds.

But, here at MyRecipes, we’re always thinking two steps ahead. The holidays are fast-approaching and it’s important to be prepared—especially when it comes to your Advent calendar. I mean, that thing’s gotta be locked and loaded before December 1 even rolls around.

These days, it seems like every company is mass producing festive calendars. You can countdown through the season with wine, whiskey, cheese, fruit preserves, or potato chips.

Heck, Trader Joe’s even makes an Advent calendar for your cat.

But here’s the thing: Good-looking and functional Advent calendars can get pretty pricey. Specialty products, like Aldi’s mega-popular wine-filled box, went for about $70 last year.

There are some absolutely gorgeous options on Etsy, but those can cost upwards of $100. And, you can’t forget, you still have to buy stuff to put in those calendar.

So what’s a Christmas-loving crafter to do? Make one yourself, of course. It’s actually pretty easy.

I found a blank paper mache Advent calendar at my local craft store for just under $10. The bad news? Its boxes are too small (about 2x2) to fit mini wine bottles. The good news? Chocolate takes up less space than wine.

I also stocked up on scrapbook paper (less than 50 cents per sheet), chalk paint (less than $2), and some other craft supplies. All in all, the whole thing cost less than $30 to put together.

And, if I do say so myself, the finished project looks pretty dang good.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Advent Calendar Supplies
Credit: Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell

  1. Paper Mache Advent Calendar (11 1/4" x 11"), buy it here: Hobby Lobby, $9.59
  2. Chalk Paint, buy it here: Hobby Lobby, $1.99
  3. Paint Brushes (2)
  4. Pencil
  5. Scrapbook Paper: You can mix and match whatever patterns your Christmas-loving heart desires. I got a little wild and used a sheet of burlap. You can find the paper I used here, here, here, and here.
  6. Matte Mod Podge: Buy it on Amazon for $11 for a 32-ounce container or about $5 for at a craft store for an 8-ounce container.
  7. Number/Letter Sticker Set (at least 2 packs): Again, it’s your Advent calendar. You should get creative and go nuts in the scrapbook aisle—but here are the ones I used. They were on sale for $3.49 each, but they’re regularly $6.98.
  8. Finishing Touches (optional): I can’t find the plastic holly I used online, but there’s no shortage of dirt cheap Christmas-themed accessories at craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michael’s.

STEP 1: Set boxes aside and paint the outside of the calendar.

Advent Calendar Step 1
Credit: Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell

I used a white chalk paint because I was going for a rustic look, but you can use whatever type or color of paint you have on hand.

Because I’m lazy, I only painted the back, sides, and edges of the calendar. The front of each box is going to be covered in scrapbook paper later anyway, so it doesn’t matter if they’re left untouched.

STEP 2: Trace an outline of the front of one box onto one of your scrapbook paper sheets. Use this as a template to cut out 24 more box-shaped pieces of scrapbook paper.

Advent Calendar Step 2
Credit: Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell

I’m going to be honest: This step sucks. It’s the least fun step in this entire process. Each box has a semi-circle shaped, finger-sized indentation on top for easy pulling, so it takes a bit more effort to cut cleanly than a regular ol’ square. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

Note: There are 25 days of Christmas. I cut five pieces each from five sheets of scrapbook paper because I wanted the patterns to look sort of random, but you don’t have to follow my lead. Get creative.

STEP 3: Decoupage the paper onto the boxes.

Advent Calendar Step 3
Credit: Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell

Brush a thin layer of Mod Podge onto the front of each box, carefully cover it with one pre-cut piece of scrapbook paper, then cover the paper with another thin layer of Mod Podge. Repeat 25 times.

Don’t panic if it looks streaky at first—it’ll dry clear.

STEP 4: After the Mod Podge has dried, create a fun arrangement with the boxes before inserting them into their assigned spots.

Advent Calendar Step 4
Credit: Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell

I wanted my calendar to look like each box was placed randomly by someone who doesn’t have a care in the world. That’s why I spent an embarrassingly long time painstakingly creating a completely non-random layout. But it looks good, right?

Since I had five boxes of each pattern (holly, festive cars, plaid, buffalo check, and burlap) and the calendar is set up as a 5x5 grid, I was able to kind of Sudoku my way into a carefree-but-pleasant-looking design. Basically, I made sure that no pattern was featured more than once in any row or column.

STEP 5: Carefully stick the numbers (and whatever else you want) onto the boxes.

Advent Calendar Step 5
Credit: Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell

Here’s where things get tricky again: There are no (as far as I can tell) sticker sets that include 13 ones, eight twos, and 2-3 of every other integer. Annoying, right?

There are three ways to proceed:

  1. Write the numbers onto the calendar yourself with a marker. This is probably easier and definitely more economical.
  2. Buy enough stickers to number each box correctly. This can get really expensive really fast—most sets don’t contain more than two of each integer.
  3. Get creative with the included letters and with how you apply the numbers. I ain’t made of money, so I did not go with option 2. Instead, I only included odd numbers to cut down on the amount of stickers I had to use. Since there still weren’t enough ones, I cut the Ts and Ls that were included in the pack (mine contained both numbers and letters) to look like the number “1.” Then, because nothing is easy when it comes to Christmas, I had to cut the serifs off the included ones (in the end, they all resembled a lowercase L) to match the others.

If you want to make sure the numbers stay put for years to come, you can reinforce the adhesive with super glue.

Step 6: You’re done! Fill the boxes with small items and enjoy the countdown to Christmas.

Advent Calendar Step 6
Credit: Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell

I used Lindor truffles, but you can use whatever treats you want.