So I posted a little a few months ago about our family home burning down in the California Thomas Fire last December. Crazy. And now even more horrible fires and a lot of people way less lucky than we were. But I’m not gonna get into a whole downer thing about it, because we’re talking about the Best Personalized Advent Calendar Ever! Why am I talking about the fire then? It all ties together, I swear.
So my sister and I are advent-obsessed, and had talked for years about creating a “found object” one. Meaning like repurposing random weird crap. We started and stalled, and it didn’t happen. And then SHE MADE ME ONE. And it’s THE coolest, most thoughtfully insane gift I’ve ever received. It’s totally personalized to me, she had my whole family work on it, it’s full of family traditions, it’s totally original, and it took her months to figure out and make. I KNOW. Who’s the luckiest? Honestly, she should be writing this blog, but she’s not, and here we are. So the advent calendar is a magnetic Christmas tree and every advent day reveals a different ornament or decoration to pop on it. Here it is bedazzled with all the magnets :
Now on first glance, does it look sort of like a thrift store threw up on a cookie tray? Prolly a little. But that’s the point. It’s not a cutesy generic, mass-marketed advent calendar - it represents my weird aesthetic and things that are meaningful to me. And that’s what makes it amazing. There are mini versions of our Christmas decorations and traditions, pieces made from old keepsakes, and ones with inside jokes. She shrinky-dinked photos of my favorite family Christmas ornaments (weird and old and quasi-racist ones of course) and cookies from our annual cookie decorating contest, so there are twee little real-life representations. Right? My mom made one using a pic of our house and put tiny Christmas lights and the bat that lived in the entryway on it. My dad made a little diorama that looks like the living room… k, these are too complicated to explain here, so follow me on Instagram (cakeandpenny - also just over there on the sidebar) and you can see each one every day counting down to Christmas! You can jump straight down to the Mini DIY below if you want to see more details and how you can make one of these bad boys yourself.
Now back to the fire! Spookily just a few weeks before, for some reason I had been joking about the house burning down (do not get me started on the terrible things I’ve joked about that came true), so we were talking about what we would take in the event of a fire. And I immediately said “the advent calendar.” SO, a few weeks later, on December 4th, just a few days into the advent season, the fire came to town. Everything happened really fast. First it was some flames peeking up over the hills and an hour later, the power went out and police with loudspeakers came by declaring a mandatory evacuation. We had 15 minutes. I scooped up whatever was on my floor, in the dark, and shoved it into a bag. Now, of course we didn’t think anything was going to happen because you don’t think your house is going to burn down (my dad only took a pair of underwear and a shirt - whoops!), but because we’d just had that weird fire conversation, I ran to the kitchen and packed up the advent calendar and threw it in the car. And I already spoiled the ending, so you know that the house did end up burning down, taking with it over 40 years of collected family heirlooms and mementos. And, you know, everything else too. I won’t get into it, it’s a whole thing. But my patented joke it, “hey, at least now we don’t have to clean the garage!” Lightens the mood, right?
Since this was right before Christmas, we were immediately hit by the loss of all of our Christmas keepsakes and heirlooms. And there were a lot. We’re talking one-of-a-kind tacky, homemade, 60’s and 70’s kitsch - Christmas trees made of bottle caps, paper mache carolers, patchwork Santa dolls - we loved this stuff. And now the advent calendar was all we had left of Christmas. But I had totally forgotten what was in it, so it was an amazing surprise when we’re opening each day and suddenly we were holding mini representations of favorite memories and decorations and the house itself and so much of what we had lost. Now, this advent calendar is the family Christmas keepsake, and one of our only family heirlooms. So what’s my point? That the one thing I chose to save out of everything wasn’t an expensive piece of jewelry or my laptop, or even family photos, it was a thoughtful, meaningful gift from my family. And this is why I love gifts so much - it’s always what’s behind the gift that matters, and when there’s thought and meaning put into a gift, it can be everything. Sappy but true.
Aaaannd you can make one too! In whatever sweet style you want, like it can even be pretty, or charming, or quaint if you so choose. I’m not gonna do a whole DIY, but here’s a quick and dirty on how she made it should you choose to take this on (for next year of course):
Like I said, it’s a magnetic Christmas tree and every day is a different magnetic ornament to go on it. The tree is a print out decoupaged onto an old cookie sheet - she used Liquitex, but Mod Podge would work too.
The base of the calendar is an old (should I start saying “vintage” maybe?) portable easel with drawer. This makes it easy to slide the tray in to the easel, whatever size it is, and the ornaments all fit in the drawer. So the easel can stand up, and then go flat for easy storage. Figuring out the magnetic base was always the hardest part when we were brainstorming. She figured it out and it’s goddam genius.
Then the ornaments! She collected a ton of random little gewgaws and spread them out on the table and just went to town. Glitter and pompoms and sequins and glue. This is the part that’s all creativity and pizzazz.
Then she placed them in little tins, tissue paper, and vintage tampon bags (yup!), and fit them in the drawer.
And voila! Look how easy! Just kidding, it will take forever to make. But, maybe someone will save it from a fire one day?…
And don’t forget - I’m gonna post each ornament on my Instagram (cakeandpenny - also just over on the sidebar), so you can share in the magic and amazement every day as I open them!