I always loved the beautifully illustrated paper advent calendars that my mom got us when we were kids. For each of the 24 days before Christmas there was a little numbered door, and behind it a picture. It was so fun to peek behind a new door each day to see what surprise awaited. And there were four of us kids at home, so we had to take turns being the one to open the door, which made it even more exciting.

For years I had wanted to try making my own, but always put it off because I was too lazy to cut all the little doors, and I couldn’t think of an easy way to do it.

Then I saw some great envelope collages by artist Camilla Engman on The Jealous Curator blog, and I knew I had to borrow her idea and make something out of envelopes.

So there was a lot of digging around in my stationery box and I started on a one-off advent calendar for my daughter. I was only able to fit 11 windows on the first envelope:


I drew the envelope houses first with waterproof pen and colored them with watercolor. Then I cut the window holes, and traced the sizes of the holes onto bits of a brown paper bag that I had handy. Next, I drew up 24 tiny pictures in Prismacolor and glued them behind the windows. It was fun thinking up the activities that might be going on inside the houses.

Here’s one of the pictures at roughly actual size. (The rest I’m keeping as a surprise!) After I drew this little pie maker, I changed my mind and decided to have bears living in one house, mice in another, and beetles living in the third. I guess this little guy is going to have to wait until next year for his debut.


The calendar turned out so cute that I ended up scanning it and making duplicates, which I sent to other family members—about 25 in all. (So much for my laziness about cutting little windows.) It about killed me, keeping it a secret until Dec. 1!


Then my sister stopped by and we decided that using the illustrations to make gift tags with little surprise windows would be really cute. Of course, we added glitter, because glitter makes things even better!

We ended up with a few extra tags, so I used self-adhesive photo corners to attach them to greeting cards. I like the idea of friends being able to re-use the tags on a gift to someone else.


Maybe now that I have the Exacto knife skills in high gear, I’ll make up a few calendars to try selling on Etsy next year.

Or maybe not! After all, it’s time to start making biscotti. Perhaps the great advent calendar craze of 2014 is done.

If you feel inspired, you could try making your own some time.

Happy Holidays!