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Christmas Advent with Picture Books!

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

One of my favorite traditions (that encompasses most of our other traditions) is our Book Advent. This is a tradition we have where the girls unwrap one Christmas picture book a day from after Thanksgiving to Christmas. We read the book and do an activity together (I do my best to match the book with the activity). It's a countdown we have in addition to their countdown chains, and we all have so much fun with it.

I start our countdown the day after Thanksgiving, though I know many people who wait until December 1st to start. I also am very flexible with our countdown, changing days around when needed or even changing the activity for the day.

A note about the books we unwrap: I have spent years collecting the books we use in our countdown. Until I had collected more, I used the books we had already (even when they didn't match the activity) and used a lot of library books.

Here is my plan for the 2024 Christmas season!

Friday, November 24th

Book to unwrap: Bear Stays Up by Karma Wilson

Activity: Holly Days

We love Karma Wilson's bear books and this one is all about Bear finally experiencing Christmas after years of sleeping through it. It's a great one to start off the Christmas season with.

Our community has a big event the day after Thanksgiving each year called Holly Days. They have activities going all day, including free bounce houses, popcorn, hot chocolate, hayrides, and train rides. When we stay in town for Thanksgiving, I love to take the kids for a few hours in the afternoon before going home for movie night.

We'll clean up the house in the morning to get ready for decorating and then getting out of the house will keep it clean for the next day!

Saturday, November 25th

Book to unwrap: The Mismatched Nativity by Merrilee Boyack

Activity: Decorate for Christmas

The Mismatched Nativity is a cute book about a boy who moves to a new place and doesn't have friends. A church teacher helps the class befriend the new boy by sharing different pieces of their nativities with him, until he has a full nativity. I love reading this book as we bring out our own nativity and other decorations.

I love decorating for Christmas, though we usually keep our decorations fairly simple. My favorite part is the atmosphere the white lights create. I love decorating as early as possible, while not overwhelming my husband too early, so waiting until after Thanksgiving is the perfect balance for our family.

*We don't open these books, but I like to read some of our nativity books and let the kids do some nativity crafts to keep them occupied while I am finishing decorating. Some of my favorites include nativity puppets, fingerpainting, Lego nativity, and Baby Jesus in a Manger. We pick one or two nativity themed crafts each year.

This is a cute little story of the nativity and it comes with a puzzle that pops out and in. My kids love it!
I love this story of Christ's birth. It touches on all the different parts of the nativity and includes a section of what happened in the Americas at Christ's birth, as told in the Book of Mormon.
This cute book spins the 12 Days of Christmas song to go through the nativity. I like reading it to the kids about once a year and then I'm done.

Sunday, November 26th

Book to unwrap: Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Richard H. Schneider

Activity: Decorate the Christmas Tree

Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect is a cute little book about a Christmas tree that gives up its perfect shape to serve the creatures in the forest. The tree theme makes it a perfect read for when we decorate our tree.

We always try to wait for a weekend to decorate the tree to make it easy for Ben to join in. We keep it simple, just turning on Christmas music and let the kids cover the tree with our ornaments while I try to turn off my perfectionism.

Monday, November 27th

Book to unwrap: Little Blue Truck's Christmas by Alice Shertle

Activity: Decorate Kids' Tree

We are big Little Blue Truck fans at our house and my kids love the Christmas one! In the book, Little Blue Truck is delivering Christmas trees to his friends, and it finishes with light up Christmas lights.

Once we decorate our tree downstairs, we don't want the kids touching the ornaments, so we set up a tree upstairs in their room for them. They are allowed to move the ornaments around all they want with it. The day after decorating our tree, we pull out a few "kid" ornaments we don't want on our tree downstairs and then spend the morning making paper ornaments to put on their tree.

Tuesday, November 28th

Book to unwrap: The Last Straw by Paula Palangi McDonald

Activity: Draw Names for Secret Service

The Last Straw is a book about a family who brings the Christmas spirit to their home by doing secret acts of service for each other, and when they do an act of service, they get to add a piece of hay to the manger for Christmas Eve. There's a twist at the end that makes me tear up every time I read it.

A few years ago, my father-in-law helped me make a wooden manger for our own secret service tradition. Before that, we used a cardboard box. For "hay", we actually use felt cut into strips while our kids are young, and it is so easy to clean up every time the toddler empties it out.

Each family member picks a name out of the hat and does secret acts of service for that person during the week, putting a piece of straw in the manger for each act. At the end of the week, we draw new names. My oldest daughter loves this activity each year and is in charge of helping us pick new names each week. The kids love trying to make the manger as full as possible for baby Jesus (who gets laid in the manger on Christmas Eve).

Wednesday, November 29th

Book to unwrap: The Not Very Merry Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen

Activity: Christmas Shopping

We have a daughter who loves the Pout Pout Fish, so I had to get the Christmas version when I saw it. The story follows the Pout Pout Fish as he goes Christmas shopping, trying to find the perfect present for each of his friends. That fits really well with doing our own Christmas shopping.

We don't actually do a lot of in-person shopping, so a lot of this is window shopping. The girls and I like to go to Walmart (the only big store in our area) and look at their Christmas set up. It's also a good time for me to replace any Christmas lights that have gone out and buy more wrapping paper.

Thursday, November 30th

Book to unwrap: C is for Christmas by Tonya Skousen Arenaz

Activity: Make Countdown Chain

C is for Christmas is a beautiful and poetic Christmas book. It has the most beautiful illustrations. I always pair with our countdown chain activity because it covers so much of Christmas that it feels like the perfect read as we're anticipating the Christmas season.

I love having a visual countdown for the kids, I think it really helps them understand how long until the big day. I usually cut the paper strips in advance (we use green, red, and white paper). Then the kids get to pick what pattern they want with the colors and put their own chain together. We enjoy making the paper chain and then we hang them by our back door as a sort of decoration.

Friday, December 1st

Book to unwrap: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Activity: Host a Polar Express Party

The Polar Express is a classic that we love reading every year! We purposely do this activity on a Friday so that we can watch the movie for movie night. We invite cousins, wear pajamas, and I prepare our own "train tickets" to punch. Then we have a spread of treats and hot chocolate while we watch the movie. The kids look forward to this party all year and it's a pretty simple event to put together.

Saturday, December 2nd

Book to unwrap: The Broken Ornament by Toni DiTerlizzi

Activity: Make Ornaments as a family

The Broken Ornament is a story about a boy who wants Christmas to be as big as possible, but in the process, he accidentally breaks his mother's special ornament. To make things right, he has to learn the true meaning of Christmas. I love to pair this one with our tradition of making a new ornament every year.

When I was growing up, my mom bought us all an ornament each year. When Ben and I were newlyweds, we hardly had money for a gift for each other, much less buying things like ornaments. We decided to make an ornament together. My mom gave us the ornaments her grandmothers had made years ago and our tree became covered in beautiful, homemade ornaments. We've continued making new ornaments each year with our own children instead of buying ornaments and we've made such fun memories together doing so (though I also love other people's tradition of buying ornaments that have special meaning!).

Sunday, December 3rd

Book to unwrap: The Gingerbread Girl by Lisa Campell Ernst

Activity: Gingerbread Houses

The Gingerbread Girl is a simple twist on the original story--with a girl instead of a gingerbread man. With three girls, it's popular at our house!

We have tried many ways of making gingerbread houses from making our own gingerbread to using premade kits to cutting up graham crackers. For us, graham crackers are by far the easiest method. Ben cuts the same pattern out of the graham cracker each year for me. Then I cut a base from a cardboard box, wrap it in tinfoil, and use my great grandma's frosting recipe (which makes the houses practically indestructible when it dries) to put the houses together before the kids come. Then we dump candy into bowls, get out store frosting for them to decorate with, and let them at it.

We also like to include an upside-down ice cream cone in the "yard" of each house and green (food-colored) frosting to make Christmas trees as well.

I also love these paper gingerbread houses for the kids to make or this paper activity. There's also a writing activity I like to do with my kids the next day during school.

Monday, December 4th

Book to unwrap: Corduroy's Christmas Surprise by Don Freeman

Activity: Writer Letters to Santa

I have to admit that Corduroy's Christmas Surprise is not my favorite Christmas book, but the kids enjoy it and we've read it every year since my oldest was a toddler. I love to pair the book with writing to Santa because throughout the story, Corduroy writes many different letters to Santa.

I like to try to get letters to Santa in nice and early, so there aren't any surprises right before Christmas (which has happened to us before!). This year, I'm going to use one of these letters to Santa templates. Then I'll put them in an envelope that has their name on it to keep in my folders to look at in the future. Then we can do some Santa themed activities together.

Tuesday, December 5th

Book to unwrap: A World of Cookies for Santa by M.E. Furman

Activity: Christmas Around the World

This is actually a new book for us this year, so I've never read it. I love the idea of the book, though, with Santa visiting many different places around the world and tasting their Christmas treats.

Last year, we tried having a day where we learned about Christmas traditions in different places around the world. I printed off some different papers and worksheets, and the kids liked it at first, but then they quickly lost interest. This year, we want to make it more hands on. I've chosen one different tradition from a few places to experience, though I'm still learning! I'll set up different areas of the house as different places and then visit those places with the kids to experience the tradition.

The traditions I want to try this year include:

Germany - Star Singers (stern singer) and candles in the window

Mexico - A Christmas pinata

Netherlands - Treasure hunt to find a gift left in their shoes

Italy - Befana bringing gifts in a stocking

Philippines - Parol, or a lit-up star on a stick

Ireland - Christmas cake and pudding

These are traditions that I can learn more about as I prepare them and then the kids and I can learn more about them together as well. We can choose different traditions or even countries to focus on in future years.

Wednesday, December 6th

Book to unwrap: The Gingerbread Doll by Susan Tews

Activity: Make Gingerbread Cookies

The Gingerbread Doll is a darling book we ran across at the library last year. It is set in the great depression, when a little girl's mom can't afford the doll she wants, so instead she makes one from gingerbread. It's a cute little story and perfect for when we make gingerbread cookies.

I am not actually the biggest fan of gingerbread, but my girls love it and we make and decorate them every year. I use my great-grandmother's recipe and buy special decorating things like icing bags, Christmas M&M's for buttons, and sprinkles that look like eyes. We are not professional cookie decorators by any means, but we have fun with it.

Thursday, December 7th

Book to unwrap: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston

Activity: A Service Activity

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is touching story about love and sacrifice at Christmas and the illustrations are beautiful. It's a great story to read to get us in a serving mood.

I'm not sure what service project I want to do yet. Some ideas I have are to take some gingerbread cookies and cards to our fire station, make blessing bags for the homeless, donate food and goodie bags at our local food bank, or make goodie bags for children's hospital.

Friday, December 8th

Book to unwrap: How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Activity: Grinch Day

We read How the Grinch Stole Christmas every year, but this is my first year trying a "Grinch Day". My idea is to have some themed activities and food, read the book, and watch both the cartoon and the animated Grinch movie (I am not a fan of the live action, so we never watch that one, but we love both the others).

One activity I want to do is Grow the Grinch's Heart science. You put a red heart on a green balloon, put baking soda in the balloon, and then put the balloon over a water bottle with vinegar in it; when it reacts, the balloon fills up and the heart "grows". I also want to make grinch pancakes for breakfast and write letters to family members telling them something we love about them (and connect it to the heart growing three sizes). We can learn how to draw the Grinch and later in the day, we could have Grinch Rice Krispie Treats.

Saturday, December 9th

Book to unwrap: A Birthday Party for Jesus by Susan Jones

Activity: A Birthday Party for Jesus

The book follows a little rabbit who doesn't know what to give Jesus a gift as all the animals prepare to celebrate his birthday. Along the way, he learns what is truly important to give.

A birthday party for Jesus is a tradition I've brought from my own childhood, and I love the chance to focus on Christ. We always have a treat, like cupcakes or pie, to put a candle in while we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. Then we each decide on a gift (something we want to change or a way we want to be better) and write them down. I found a present craft, with Jesus in the middle, that I really like and a poem. We end the night with watching The Christ Child on YouTube.

Sunday, December 10th

Book to unwrap: An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco

Activity: Make Gifts for Extended Family

An Orange for Frankie is a touching story about giving and a family coming together for Christmas.

When my oldest was four or five, she wanted to make a gift for a lot of her extended family members. The next year, she and her younger sister wanted to, and it's become a tradition since then. They always have an extensive list of people they want to give to, so in the past, it's been a job getting all the gifts ready. This year, my plan is to let the kids write a story, illustrate it, and then photocopy it for everyone on their list to make it easier.

Monday, December 11th

Book to unwrap: A Christmas Dress for Ellen by Thomas S. Monson

Activity: Ninja Elves

If I had to pick one favorite Christmas book, this would be it. I can't make it through the book without crying several times. The story is about a destitute family and service that is given to them to bring them a Christmas miracle. I love reading this book as an introduction to talking to my kids about the way we give to a family in need.

One year, my husband's family decided that we didn't want to exchange gifts and wanted to instead use the money to help a local family in need. After we read the book, we talk about the specifics of the situation of the family we chose to help and the way they were helping them (in giving up extra gifts they didn't need to give that money to someone who really needed it). Every year, the kids have wanted to add money from their own piggy banks as well, and my heart loves to see the generosity of children. Once we've gathered the money from all the families, we let the kids be "ninja elves" and doorbell ditch it to the family. It's one of my very favorite traditions.

Tuesday, December 12th

Book to unwrap: The Nutcracker by Valeria Docampo

Activity: Christmas Science

One of my daughters went through a phase of being obsessed with the Nutcracker. This book follows story of the ballet and has beautiful illustrations. It's a bit of a stretch to connect this book and the activity, but Grandfather is an inventor and I think it works.

I've never done a Christmas science day, though we've done some small science experiments. I'm excited to do a few Christmas-y science activities with my kids this year, because I know they'll love it.

Here are the activities I want to try this year:

-Magic Milk, Christmas Edition

-Dancing Cranberries

-Why do Pinecones open and close

Wednesday, December 13th

Book to unwrap: The Christmas Wish by Lori Evert

Activity: Visit Santa

The Christmas Wish is such a fun book! The story follows a little girl who is trying to find Santa to be his helper, and she has a lot of animal friends help her along the way. The illustrations are photographs and really bring the book alive.

Our kids always love to visit Santa. This is one of the activities where we have to be flexible. Because I like to plan our Christmas countdown so early, the library and city haven't announced their dates for free Santa visits yet, but we usually just switch with another activity. We always have a lot of different options, so we can always find a date that works well.

We also have some Santa-themed activities that we can do, and my kids often like to make a little present or note to take to Santa. My two oldest understand about Santa (it happened a lot earlier than I had wanted) and they still love visiting Santa.

Thursday, December 14th

Book to unwrap: Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck

Activity: Make Cookies for Neighbors

I remember hearing this story when I was a child and loving it. It's a sweet story of a boy who learns how to serve and truly show love to his father at Christmas time. I like reading a story about giving and serving on the day that I make neighbor gifts.

I love making Christmas cookies and I love doing neighbor gifts, so I love taking a day to make Christmas cookies to gift to neighbors. I take the whole day (and usually mix up some cookie dough to chill overnight) and make several batches of several kinds of cookies and then distribute them to gift bags. I like to get out coloring pages for the kids and watch some Christmas movies while I bake. The next day, the girls help me deliver cookies.

I usually make green cookies with Christmas M&M's (I use my chocolate chip cookie recipe and just replace the chips with M&M's), red chocolate chip cookies with white chocolate chips, snickerdoodles, peanut butter kiss cookies (rolled in sprinkles), and homemade Oreos with red and green frosting. I make big batches of all of them so I can do about 50 bags to deliver.

Friday, December 15th

Book to unwrap: Mouse's Christmas Gift by Mindy Baker

Activity: Make Christmas Cards for the Beehive Home

Mouse's Christmas Gift is a beautiful book about how Mouse's small act of caring brings a community together for Christmas. I love the story, message, and artwork of the book. I like to pair it with making cards for our local Beehive Home, because that's a small act that my kids can do to serve our community.

Saturday, December 16th

Book to unwrap: Merry Christmas, Little Pookie! by Sandra Boynton

Activity: Pajamas and Christmas Poems at Breakfast

We love the Pookie books (and all Sandra Boynton books) and this one is no exception!

I saved this activity for a Saturday so we could do it as a family and not be rushed. It's a new activity that we've never done before, but I'm excited for it! The idea is to have a slow, unrushed breakfast in our pajamas while we read Christmas poems. There are lots of poems online, though I recently bought a book from a thrift store that has Christmas poems in it, so we'll probably read out of that this year.

Sunday, December 17th

Book to unwrap: The Little Drummer Boy by Bernadette Watts

Activity: Caroling at the Beehive Home

I really like the story and illustrations of this version of the book, based on the song. I really like pairing the story of the drummer boy, someone who gifted his musical talents to Christ, with caroling. Our girls love to go caroling and we like to do it at the Beehive Home because it is warm and the residents love it.

Monday, December 18th

Book to unwrap: The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Activity: Make Sibling Gifts

The Gift of the Magi is such a traditional story and I love it. The one we own has beautiful illustrations and uses the original text, so the old-fashioned language can be a little hard for my kids to follow. I help though, and they always light up when the twist at the end comes. Because of the focus on giving, it feels like the perfect book to pair with making gifts.

Having my kids make gifts, rather than buy them, for each other is a tradition I got from my aunt, and I love it. With four kids, we now have them draw names and make a gift for just on sibling. They love making the gift and get really excited about it, and usually the gifts are the kinds of things that we don't need to keep forever.

Tuesday, December 19th

Book to unwrap: The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg

Activity: Candy Cane Hunt

The Legend of the Candy Cane is a cute little story that ends with teaching how the candy cane symbolizes Christ. I love the story and the message of the book.

We always do a "candy cane" activity when we read this book. We start with a candy cane hunt--I hide candy canes around the house and then the kids search for them. Then they can eat one of the candy canes while I read the book to them. Then we do other activities. We've done some science experiments, measured candy canes, made paper candy canes, or made butter cookies into the shape of candy canes. This year, I want to be "candy cane bombers", where we leave a nice note with a candy cane on people's windshields.

Wednesday, December 20th

Book to unwrap: Llama Llama Jingle Bells by Anna Dewdney

Activity: Jingle Bells Day (magnets, tower, dancing)

We like the Llama Llama books and this one is pretty cute. We also really like the show on Netflix and they have some cute Christmas episodes. I paired it with this activity because of the title.

This is the first year I am trying a Jingle Bells Day and I think it will be fun. I found some ideas on Pinterest to try. We're going to explore magnets with jingle bells, make a tower with jingle bells and playdoh, and do dancing magnets in a jar (you put water, vinegar, and baking soda in with the jingle bells and they go up and down; we've done it with corn before).

Thursday, December 21st

Book to unwrap: Harold at the North Pole by Crockett Johnson and Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner

Activity: Snow Day

This is the only day we'll open more than one book and it's because I love both of them so much. I love doing a Christmas-themed snow book for our snow day!

Because I can't control the snow and I like to plan ahead (and some years, it doesn't snow where I live until Christmas Eve/Day), our snow day involves indoor activities like making paper snowflakes and playing with fake snow. My favorite thing is to make each person's name into a snowflake. When we're done with the snowflakes, we hang them on the ceiling of the kids' rooms. Some years, like last year, it lines up and we have real snow to play in as well!

Friday, December 22nd

Book to unwrap: You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love

Activity: Look at Christmas Lights

I love the poetic feel of You Are My Miracle, and the way it reminds me to treasure each of these moments with my own kids.

Driving around looking at Christmas lights is a tradition my kids all look forward to. I try to look up beforehand some neighborhoods that go all out or houses that have dancing lights. We also often will pair it with dropping off some Christmas gifts farther from our house or stop for a treat somewhere.

Saturday, December 23rd

Book to unwrap: Christmas Cookie Day by Tara Knudson

Activity: Make Sugar Cookies for Santa!

Christmas Cookie Day is a cute but simple book about a Mama Bear and her son who make sugar cookies together. We always save this for when we make sugar cookies.

We always leave sugar cookies for Santa, and I like to make them the day before Christmas Eve, so we can spend Christmas Eve morning relaxing. I make it manageable to have the kids help me by doing one kid at a time. They take turns rolling out and using cookie cutters with the dough and then I finish up after every child has had a turn. Then I let them decorate their own plate of cookies with store frosting and sprinkles and decorate the rest myself.

Sunday, December 24th

Book to unwrap: The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

Activity: Christmas Eve Traditions

This is my favorite version of this traditional story. I love the illustrations in it, and it follows the traditional poem. Most of the other books we open in the morning or afternoon as we're doing the activity, but we always save this book for right before bed on Christmas Eve.

Our Christmas Eve traditions start in the morning. We play games in the morning, especially video games like Mario Kart or Mario Party. We love to have the morning relaxing since our evening is busier.

In the afternoon, we go to our in-laws house for an early dinner. Some years we have done a fancy dinner and other years, we'll do the fancy dinner the Sunday before Christmas and do something like soup for dinner on Christmas Eve. After dinner, we act out the Nativity scene, one of my very favorite Christmas traditions.

Then it's usually time to go home. At home, we open one present. Right now, our tradition is to each get a new blanket (we get our Christmas pajamas after Thanksgiving so that we can wear them all season long). After getting on pajamas and snuggling in our blankies, we read The Night Before Christmas. Then we set out cookies for Santa and get the kids in bed.

Other Christmas books that we love:

*Another Christmas activity we love to do is Operation Christmas Child through Samaritan's Purse. You pick a shoebox and fill it with things like a toy, school supplies, and hygiene products. Then you can pick an age group and gender for your box and Samaritan's Purse delivers the boxes to children in need around the world. It's a neat experience for the kids to pick out the gifts for the box. We do it before the countdown begins because you turn in the shoeboxes earlier in November.

Our Christmas traditions are something that I love and look forward to every year. This sort of countdown is something that my personality as a mom thrives on. I would love to hear some of the traditions you as a mom thrive on and love! Let me know in the comments below!

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