Free and Low-Cost Fun Advent Calendar Ideas (Ideal for Warm Climates – Free Printable List and Planner)

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An advent calendar extends the fun of Christmas to more than just one day. Here are some fun advent calendar ideas that aren’t just boring chocolate.

collage of fun advent calendar ideas

Our best Christmas memories as a family have nothing to do with Christmas day, gifts, or fancy feasts. The best memories come from the fun advent calendar activities we do every year in the lead-up to Christmas.

Most of these activities are inexpensive – many are free. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a lot of fun. 

The hard part is coming up with ideas (24 activities in 24 busy days leading up to Christmas can be intense).

If you look online, there are a bunch of advent calendar ideas, but most involve snow or cold climate activities. So today, I’m sharing the fun advent calendar ideas we’ve used over the years.

My kids are older now. They still want to do our advent traditions, but they want to be part of the planning and lead some activities themselves. And planning stuff together for this 24-day craziness brings us closer together.

I think this has become an important part of our family traditions because life is busy, and we don’t always have time to do things as a family. 

(As an introvert, I’m likely to disappear with a book and a cup of tea.)

Despite the craziness December can bring, the advent calendar forces us to slow down and spend dedicated time together as a family.

If you want to make the advent calendar pictured above, I share the instructions here: Fabric advent calendar. Or you can use paper envelopes strung up for something cheaper and easier.

enevelope advent calendar

Without further ado, here’s how we plan 24 days of Christmas fun activities, none of which include snow or ugly woollen jumpers.

Plan Around Your Commitments

There are lots of fun advent calendar ideas, but many take time, so the first step is to get out your calendar and review your current commitments.

The free printable planner (you can download it below) has spots where you can write your schedule, so you can plan around what you’ve got on. 

If you’ve already got Christmas plans, incorporate them into your advent calendar to make life easier. For example, if your work throws a Christmas party for the kids, the party can be an advent idea – no extra work on your part! 

Or if you’re going to a friend’s place for a Christmas party, don’t tell the kids, add it to the advent calendar. It can be one of the surprises for the day.

We only fill our advent calendar a few days in advance just in case we have to swap things around to adjust to our changing schedule. Also, sometimes the kids cheat and look ahead, so this ensures they get a surprise, and if we have to change, they’re not disappointed (although serve themselves right!).

Fill Your Busy Days with Easy Ideas

Christmas themed milk shakes and candy cane ornaments
The canes are NOT edible (just in case)

A month of daily fun can be a lot of work, especially during December, when it’s super busy. It helps to have some easy ideas for days that are too busy to fit anything extra in.

So yes, there are a few days that the kids get a Freddo frog chocolate or Santa marshmallow. Because life is busy, there’s work, after-school activities, housework, and dinner to cook. 

Here are some easy ideas:

  • A Santa Chocolate
  • Write in purchased Christmas cards to friends and family
  • Write a letter to Santa
  • Make a Christmas video for family afar
  • Make a Christmas milkshake (cold hot chocolate)
  • Buy a special Christmas ornament

To make a Christmas milkshake: combine milk, ice cream and chocolate powder or chocolate sauce in a blender. Top with cream in a can (easy option), plain whipped cream (cheaper but more work) or whipped cream with green food colouring and sprinkles for an extra Christmassy touch.

To make a Christmas video: Use your phone to record the kids saying a special message to family members they won’t see for Christmas. Maybe they can sing a carol or say thank you for a gift. There are a bunch of free video editing tools for your phone that come with Christmas-themed stickers and overlays that you (or your kids) can use to give your video that Christmas sparkle. Older kids can shoot and edit the video themselves.

Christmas Ornament: Each year, our kids pick out a special ornament (we have a budget and shop during a sale). Our Christmas tree is full of hand-picked decorations that have a story and reflect the kid’s taste over the years. And they can use them on their own trees when they grow up.

Look for Free Christmas Events in Your Local Area

Christmas angel playing a harp

Free Christmas events are fun for the whole family and don’t require any (or very little) money, work, or planning on your part – a win for everyone!

Last year there was a free Christmas festival at our botanical gardens where you could listen to music and enjoy other entertainment while eating your own packed picnic. 

Our local church also puts on a free event that includes a light display, a petting zoo, markets, food carts, and a show. We usually go after dinner and enjoy the event for free.

To find out what’s on, sign up to Eventbrite for your area, keep an eye on local Facebook events, visit local what’s-on website pages, join email lists for your local council and regional event organisers, and talk to friends to share ideas. Shopping centres also host free events, so it’s a good idea to sign up for their emails too.

Some free events to look out for include:

  • A tree-lighting ceremony
  • Carols in the park
  • Getting a photo with Santa
  • Church services (if that’s your thing)
  • Christmas night markets
  • Free event at your local shopping centre
  • Christmas parades (the motorbike parades for charity are good)
  • Free fireworks display
  • And, of course, you can go for a drive around looking at people’s Christmas light displays on their homes

Fun Advent Calendar Ideas That Have Been a Hit in Our Home

The following advent calendar ideas are ones the kids look forward to all year. There’s a lot of fun and laughter, and many ideas are free or inexpensive.

Decorating the Christmas Tree

This is an activity that needs no explanation.

We plan to do this on a weekend when everyone is home, and there’s plenty of time. 

It’s nice to follow this activity with dinner by tree light to extend the festive fun.

Loungeroom Sleepover

A family loungeroom sleepover costs nothing, but the kids look forward to it every year.

We drag the mattresses from the beds and down the stairs, watch a Christmas movie together while eating ice cream and then sleep overnight on the loungeroom floor. Sometimes we follow this up the next day with a special family breakfast.

All the streaming options have plenty of family movies, but if you don’t have a streaming service, you can rent a movie through Google Play, iTunes, Amazon, or YouTube for a couple of dollars. 

Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is a lot of fun, and we do one for Christmas and Easter. 

When we have a scavenger hunt, the advent calendar note for the day is a clue. There’s one clue for each child.

Each cryptic clue leads them to a spot in our home where there’s another cryptic clue, and so on, until they find the hidden treasure, which is usually something small like some pencils.

If we have crafts planned, then the prize will be something we need for future crafts.

We do different clues for each child so they are age appropriate. They need to be hard enough so the fun lasts a little while but not too hard that the kids give up looking.

You can personalise the clues for each child based on their interests. For example, hubby and my daughter have been reading Lord of the Rings together, so he used book references in her clues.

Minute-to-win-it Christmas Edition – *Most* Favourite Activity

candy drop minute to win it game

A family minute-to-win-it Christmas games day is by far the highlight of the season. The kids enjoy games day even more than Christmas day, so I’m thinking of saving it until then!

Christmas minute-to-win-it games are easy games like old-fashioned egg and spoon races, but with a Christmas theme, where you have one minute to play each game. 

For example, one game we play is candy cane drop (pictured), where we stand on a chair and drop candy canes onto strung tinsel, trying to get as many to hang as we can in one minute. 

In the spirit of having fun, we don’t keep score, but having a timer makes it more exciting.

There are also hundreds of ideas for minute-to-win-it games on the net, especially Pinterest. Play Party Plan has a wealth of fun party games and has been my number-one go-to resource for fun ideas.

We use found items around the house and reuse the purchased items every year to reduce cost and waste.

I usually serve some treats, like these pizza scrolls, to enjoy while we’re playing games.

Read a Book Together as a Family

We read books to our kids every night, but one year we decided to read a (chapter) book as a whole family. Even the kids took turns reading a chapter.

We made a cup of tea, got comfy in the lounge, and read a couple of chapters each night leading up to Christmas. 

I purchased the book from a second-hand bookshop for a couple of dollars, keeping the cost minimal. You can also borrow a book for free from the library.

If you don’t like reading, you can listen to an audiobook together instead – these can also be borrowed for free online from your library.

A Special Family Breakfast

Often held after our family sleepover in the loungeroom, a special family breakfast is a nice way to start the day.

Sometimes we do waffles, which isn’t an everyday breakfast in our house. You can purchase them in the bread and freezer aisles at the supermarket if you don’t have a waffle maker.

Sheet pan pancakes are another favourite because it’s inexpensive, the batter can be made ahead, and you can bung it in the oven in the morning.

For more ideas, check out the article on breakfasts for special occasions.

A Family Picnic at the Park/Beach/Backyard

Christmas means summer in Australia, which is the perfect time for a picnic at the beach, park, out in the backyard, or even on the loungeroom floor, depending on the weather.

This is also a great time to catch up with friends. If everyone brings their own picnic, it’s a ‘free’ (no more than the cost of a meal) way to have fun with friends – let the kids run around at the park or build sandcastles while you relax and chat.

Bake and Decorate Christmas Cookies

kid's decorated Christmas cookies

Nothing says Christmas like baking and decorating cookies.

This simple cookie recipe is easy and inexpensive, but if you don’t want to bake, you can decorate plain supermarket biscuits (arrowroot) instead.

Decorate your cookies using homemade icing (cheapest option) or store-bought icing in squeezy tubes (easiest option).

Here’s a video on how to make royal icing and a video on how to make piping bags from baking paper. You don’t need piping tips, but if you have them, you can put them in the baking paper bags.

Go Roller Skating

There’s no ice skating in Australia in summer (or ever), but there is roller skating!

A skate in the park (free) or at your local rink (which may be transformed into an ice rink for Christmas) is a fun way to pass a weekend day.

Crafty Advent Calendar Ideas

Orange and salt dough garland
Orange and salt dough garland

Pinterest is a treasure trove of ideas, or you can try some homemade Christmas ornaments. Aldi and Kmart often stock easy and inexpensive Christmas craft kits, which can save you time and hassle.

Below are some of the crafts we’ve tried.

Christmas Cards

homemade watercolour christmas card

To make Christmas cards, you can get cardstock cheaply from Kmart, Big W, and discount stores like The Reject Shop.

To decorate, collect Christmas cards, old wrapping paper, gift tags, and other Christmas paraphernalia from previous years. 

Last year, we decided to try one of the simple watercolour Christmas card ideas I saw on Instagram. For the above card, we drew around a cup or cap for circles, drew designs in the circles with a white crayon, and then coloured over with watercolour paint. Once dry, we used a gold pen and a black pen to add the details.

Stamps, stickers, and coloured paper are also great, along with the craft items you already have at home, like pencils and paint.

Christmas Garland from Last Year’s Christmas Cards

Recycle last year’s Christmas cards by cutting off the back, punching holes in the top or corner and then running string through them.

It’s a free Christmas decoration full of bright colours and joyful pictures that’s easy to make.

Salt Dough Ornaments

salt dough ornaments and christmas stamp

Salt dough ornaments are cheap, easy, and elegant. 

And if you’re looking for a way to keep kids busy for longer, these ornaments can take up two days on the advent calendar or one whole day to make, bake, and decorate!

You will need the salt dough ingredients, a cookie cutter or two, and something to decorate with, like poster paint or textas.

If you don’t have any cutters, use a round cutter like a cup or milk lid to make medallion ornaments.

You can get the salt dough recipe here – it’s basically table salt, flour, and water. Roll it, cut it, and dry it in the oven. Use a skewer or straw to make a hole before baking so you can hang your ornaments. 

I found an inexpensive set of Christmas stamps at Aldi, and we use them to imprint the salt dough ornaments, as well as to make Christmas cards and wrapping paper.

Decorated Leaf Garland

leaf garland

I got this idea from the SBS website

We loved this garland so much that we never took it down. Three years later and still looks exactly like the photo!

For this project, you’ll need to collect some fallen, dried gum leaves. Other large, dried leaves will work too, but won’t last as long.

Sharpies work best for this project as regular textas don’t stand out on the leaves. If you have a paint pen, it really stands out – we found some inexpensive paint pens in gold and silver at Kmart in the craft section.

Crystal Candy Canes

diy crystal candy canes

This idea came from Little Bins, Little Hands

Making crystal candy canes is a quick activity, but you need to gather a few supplies beforehand. Borax is toxic, so it’s good to do this project with older kids (not toddlers).

Once the canes are in the solution, put it somewhere safe and watch the crystals grow. They start forming quickly, and you’ve got some pretty crystals by the next day.

They are also fairly solid – we still have these canes two years later, with most crystals still intact.

You will need borax, clean glass jars, pipe cleaners, sticks, and string.

Paper Snowflakes

paper snowflakes

While you can use office paper, these are easier to cut into intricate shapes if you use thin baking paper.

I use this site for inspiration. It’s not in English, but they have good photos and cutting diagrams that are easy to follow.

Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment with cutting different shapes and come up with your own unique snowflake patterns – just like nature!

For something different, last year, we hung our snowflakes from the ceiling in the stairwell with string. Kind of like it was snowing on the stairs.

Toilet Paper Roll Ornaments

upcycled toilet roll crafts

You can make some gorgeous creations with the humble bog roll. Above, we’ve made a wall decoration and a little gift box. 

You will need a sharp pair of scissors and some glue. If you like, you can also paint the rolls, although I think they look nice left plain.

Again, check out this article and Pinterest for hundreds of beautiful ideas. 

Christmas Wreath

homemade Christmas wreath from Australian native plants

For this project, you will need a bare wreath.

I purchased cane wreaths cheaply from Kmart that we can reuse. They are natural cane and can (eventually) go in the green waste bin.

You can also use a wooden wreath (I saw some at Officeworks), a wire wreath or make one out of an old wire coat hanger.

To attach your decorations, you can use string, florist’s wire, or both. Wire is useful for attaching the decorations like oranges, and it can be reused each year.

For the decorations, we cut some twigs off a native bush at home, which lasted weeks. We also used some Lilly Pilly, rosemary, and Eucalyptus twigs. 

You know the drill – get permission to trim your neighbours’ trees, and don’t take stuff from parks, national parks etc. 

To add colour, we dried slices of orange in the oven and added a raffia bow picked up cheaply from the $2 shop.

Gingerbread House

purchased gingerbread house kits

You can make gingerbread houses from scratch. For years, we purchased them, but when my kids became teenagers (yes, they still like this stuff!), we challenged them to make a gingerbread house from scratch. The upside is that it took three days, so that was two fewer ideas I had to think of for our advent calendar.

You can find them for between $6 and $20 at Big W (Choice’s favourite pick), Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, Kmart, Ikea, and Target.

If you prefer to make yours from scratch, we used this gingerbread house recipe from and found a set of gingerbread cookie cutters like this set (amazon link) from our local Spotlight store, but you can also cut around a paper template.

homemade gingerbread house from scratch

Incorporate Charity in Your Advent Calendar

Christmas is about giving, so you can incorporate charitable giving into your advent calendar.

You might ask the kids to choose a charity to donate to, put together a Christmas hamper for someone else, donate requested items at a homeless shelter, or volunteer your time.

Check out this post on reverse advent calendars for more ways to give at Christmas.

Free Advent Calendar Planning and Ideas Printable

To make things easier, I’ve put all the ideas into a PDF document you can download and print. I’ve also shared the planner I use every year to plan out December.

To download, click the images below.

I hope you have a joy-filled Christmas season and that these ideas help fill your home with fun and laughter. 

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