Reverse Advent Calendar | Teach the Spirit of Giving This Holiday Season

If your kids are like mine, they ask every day, multiple times a day, when such-and-such holiday, birthday, or event is. A few years ago, we started making countdown rings. They would cut strips of paper, decorate and color them, then tape them together in rings that we hung on the wall. Every day they would remove one until the big day arrived. We did this for birthdays, vacations, holidays… anything they were really excited about.

How Does a Reverse Advent Calendar Work?

This past Christmas we decided to shake things up. Instead of a chain of paper rings hanging from the wall, we made a reverse advent calendar. Instead of opening a cardboard, store-bought advent calendar with sweets my youngest likely couldn’t eat due to allergies or some themed trinkets we definitely don’t need cluttering the house, we went the opposite route. Each day, our kids chose one item each to give away. It was widely successful and we hope it will be a hit in your home as well.

Choose a Reverse Advent Calendar Container

I picked up a clear, over-the-door shoe organizer and assigned each pocket a number 1 – 25. I cut up red and green paper, clearly labeling each pocket with a permanent marker. You could simply place your items in an empty box but I wanted something to serve as a visual reminder. You could get super fancy with a Cricut machine and labels, but we kept it simple.

Set Some Ground Rules

My girls are 6 and 10 years old. They each have a lot of toys, accessories, and other items that are tucked away and forgotten – things they played with and now haven’t touched in forever or have simply outgrown. The main rule we established for our Reverse Advent Calendar was “It has to be in gift-giving condition (for the most part).” To us, that meant the dolls needed intact limbs, games and puzzles needed all their pieces, and other items needed to be fully functional even if they weren’t brand new.

I really didn’t know how my girls would react. We often donate some of my things so they’ve seen the process and the purging I have done with my clothes and household items. But I wasn’t sure how they’d feel about giving away their own things. They did a fantastic job.

Even before December 1st, they were thinking of things to put in the pockets. They were excited. They each put one thing in the day’s pocket every day until Christmas. If their item was too big for the pocket, they wrote a note for the organizer and put the item in a bin we had set aside. All in all, we cleared out over fifty things. We gathered Barbie dolls, games, puzzles, crafts, books, flashcards, hair bows, stuffies, and fidget pop-its. Fifty things we won’t have to ever see again. Fifty things THEY chose to say goodbye to on their own. I did halt a few things from being placed in the pockets…mainly sentimental things like a baby book from a loved one or one of MY old Barbie dolls.

After Christmas, we unloaded the pockets and that bin with the larger games and puzzles was suddenly filled to the brim. It looked great. I have a favorite place to donate to, so I’m sure they will love passing along our goodies to those in need.

Personalize It Or Try a New Theme

I think this will be an annual tradition in our house. I did find that it was more challenging for my oldest as she simply didn’t have a ton of toys. She donated games, fidgets, and books for the most part. If your kids are also older, you may need to adjust your expectations. Maybe make it a book drive, so to speak. Gather a book a day and donate to a school library, a nursing home, a children’s hospital, or the neighborhood Little Free Library.

You could try different themes every year. Try doing an act of kindness a day. Write holiday cards to our armed forces serving overseas or the elderly in a nursing home. Fill a box with pantry staples and deliver to a food pantry. Gather personal hygiene products for a women’s shelter or homeless center.

We have a lot of stuff and with grandparents who like to over-indulge in more stuff at Christmas, I knew we had to do something. This reverse advent calendar worked out so well that we may just do a “Christmas in July” one as well.

Oh, my girls also made a countdown paper chain that they hung next to the reverse advent calendar. Because they just couldn’t not do it.

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