I wanted to make an advent calendar for the simple reason that I can’t buy one here. I have never seen any since I’ve been in Mexico, it’s just not part of their Christmas traditions. And, I admit, I love the idea of making one myself. The more I looked into it on Pinterest, the more amazing and gorgeous ideas for handmade advent calendars I saw and I just wanted to make them all!
As a child, every December I had an advent calendar. Of course, they were always shop bought, with a pretty Christmas picture and different images behind each door. Later, we got chocolate-filled advent calendars which were even better. They helped build excitement and expectation in the run up to Christmas. In those days, nobody made their own calendars, or at least nobody I knew.
I want my daughter, Emma, now three and a half, to experience some of the magic of the Christmas traditions that I loved when I was a child. Last year, time got the better of me and I just didn’t get round to it, rather disappointingly. It required too much planning ahead, well before Christmas. Of course, if you haven’t done it by December 1st then it’s too late, isn’t it?
This year I was determined to be more organised! I started thinking about it in October and included some of my favourite examples in my post 7 Pinterest-inspired Christmas crafts. I began collecting toilet roll tubes. I was really attracted to the cute little red and white packages of the first advent calendar below from Mamaskram but realistically to achieve the whole look I would need the right kind of string and tape and to have the numbers printed out in red and white, so materials-wise it was too complicated.
The second calendar from Parents.com seemed simpler, and I would only need twelve toilet rolls instead of 24. This was the one I planned to make, with a few changes: instead of a tissue paper lid that you punch through to open, I would somehow make a lid that would swing open like a door and could be closed again with a bit of tape. That would make the whole thing reusable year after year.
When it came down to it though, something just didn’t convince me and I kept going back to the idea of those neat little parcels. I suppose the shape does lend itself to being made into an owl – and we’d made a toilet roll owl last year, amongst several other creatures. How cute would that be? All those little handmade owls hanging up in a row on the wall. Once I started on the project, the reality of making 24 owls became a little daunting and I wondered why I always had to complicate my existence! The owls worked their magic on me, however, and I had to see the idea through to completion.
How to make an owl advent calendar
24 toilet roll tubes
Ribbon or string to hang up
White craft/school glue (resistol in Mexico)
(Red) felt for wings
Circle sticky labels for eyes
Black permanent marker or black paper hole punch circles
Coloured paper or card for beaks
Number stickers to make numbers 1 - 24
24 Small wooden pegs
To mount on the wall:
Long length of ribbon, string or curling tape
or long stick or 2 or 3 shorter sticks and ribbon to hang.
Make sure you give yourself enough time to collect 24 toilet roll tubes and to turn all of them into owls!
First, you fold down both ends of each toilet roll tube to make the owl-shaped parcels. The neatest and most simple way to do this is to score with scissors the curved line that you’re going to fold. Press the end flat – not the whole tube – then use something round as a guide for where to score. I used a mug, it was the perfect size, and with the scissors scored a narrow semi circle on both sides of each end of the tube. Then it’s easy to fold down along the scored lines to get a perfect little parcel.
Note: for the first 12 owls, it did not occur to me to do it like this and I was just trying to fold down the ends by hand, which was much more difficult, time-consuming and the finished owl looks messier.
For the other steps it doesn’t really matter which order you do them in.
To hang up:
Open the top flaps of the owl and make two holes at the back, just below the fold line. Take the ribbon or string that you going to hang the owl up with and thread it through the holes, leaving the long ends inside the owl. Tie a knot in the ends so you have a loop, lift it up and make sure the knot is hidden inside the owl. Then close the top flaps and adjust the loop so that it comes out of the middle between the closed flaps. I did it this way so that when you hang the owl up, it hangs straight and doesn’t tilt forward.
I used some red felt I had left over from when I made Emma’s Christmas stocking a couple of years ago. I wasn’t too precise, they’re all slightly different shapes, but I cut them out two at a time so at least each pair of wings would be the same. I stuck them on to the sides of each owl with a blob of white craft glue slightly below where the eyes would be.
Eyes and beak:
I didn’t fancy the idea of cutting out 48 little circles for the eyes (and didn’t have the time either) so I bought some round sticky labels just the right size for the eyes. I chose silver, but perhaps white would stand out better against the grey of the toilet roll tube. Emma stuck most of the eyes on. I drew the pupils on with a black permanent marker, but it would probably look better if you stuck on little black paper circles from a hole punch. I drew the eyes looking in different directions, some up, some down, some to the sides, some straight ahead. I like the idea of making each owl slightly different, with its own personality! For the beaks I cut out triangles of different coloured card and paper and glued them on under the eyes.
I wondered whether to draw the numbers on circles of paper, or print them out in different fonts. In the end I bought two sheets of number stickers because I was running out of time. It was also easier for Emma to choose the numbers and stick them on the belly of each owl – a fun way for her to practise recognising numbers, too. The downside is that they didn’t stick all that well and some of them kept falling off so I had to paste them on with glue stick.
Then Emma would drive me mad by deciding to change the numbers after she’d stuck them on. “I don’t want this number 3, I want a different number 3!” At least she kept to the same number!
I’d bought a sheet of different coloured sticky stars for Emma and she insisted on decorating all the owls with a star. She said they all had to have stars or they would cry!
On the wall:
I decided to use a length of curling tape to hang the owls on with some little white wooden pegs I bought last year and thought would be perfect for this. It occurred to me later to try to find a long stick to hang the owls from, instead of the tape. If I can find one, or two shorter ones, I’ll try it out.
It was the evening of November 30th when we finished making the first 12 owls and I started to peg them onto the tape on the wall…”No, no, no!” Emma shouted and took them all down again (nothing is out of her reach these days). And she hung them up on her castle! I tried explaining that it was a calendar to count down the days until Christmas and that there were going to be surprises hidden inside the owls if they were hanging on the wall, but to no effect. I had to wait until she had gone to bed to put them in place.
I decided – and I think this is a genius idea for an advent calendar for a three year old, by the way – to put the surprises in one day at a time. So there will only be something inside the owl on that day. If Emma opens the wrong number owl, or tries to rush ahead and open the next days’ owls, no problem - there will be nothing inside because it’s not the right day! Of course, I have to make sure I remember to put the treats in each night. For the fillings I’ve started off with some cute animal stickers – every three year old loves stickers! Some days I’m going to put in a little chocolate, like a Hershey’s kiss that’s small and individually wrapped. And I’ll see what other surprises occur to me. I can’t put in anything heavy that will weigh down the owls or even fall through the bottom, it has to be small and light.
On December 1st I got home very late from work so we opened the first owl in the evening. Emma was very excited about it and I explained that each owl was for each day of December to count the days until Christmas – when we open the last owl it will be Christmas! She loved the sticker she found inside and I told her that tomorrow was day two of December so we could open owl number two. Of course she said “I don’t want to wait till tomorrow, I want to open it now!” And I told her there wouldn’t be anything inside it because it’s not Day two yet. She checked just to make sure!
She was so excited to open her owl the next morning! She asked me how the surprises got inside the owls and I told her it was owl magic. I thought, maybe that spontaneous answer could start a new family tradition. I rather like the idea of “owl magic”.