A finished shot of three different holiday calendars for kwanzaa, hanukkah and christmas
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How To Make Holiday Surprise Calendars For Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas

Nov 22, 2021

Time is erratic at best. 

In a blink, winter is just around the corner. And with it, comes a flurry of holidays to celebrate. 

And while you could purchase a calendar filled with chocolates and your kids would likely love you for it, I've decided to make an activity that's perfect for parents and kids to make together. And after you've made one of these, the next step is hiding tiny treasures behind each door, so it's double the fun!

The result? Colourful and adorable countdown calendars to lead up to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas. 

And I know that 25 days is the norm for these things, and you could very well make 25 compartments if you wanted to, but I'm not cruel: who has the time for that? 

Let's get counting!

What You'll Need

  • cereal or cracker box
  • construction paper
  • paint and paintbrushes and/or markers
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • scissors
  • tape
  • glue
  • newspaper/tablecloth (to protect your work surface)

How It's Made

To begin, you are going to flatten a cereal or cracker box. The inside of the box is your canvas to start:

Look at all of that blank space! It's not going to be blank for long, because it's time to decorate!

Decorate on the plain, cardboard side however you like! If you decide to decorate with paint, lay down a tablecloth or some newspaper first.

This is a great step for kids to take part in. If they are resistant to doing the painting, have them select colours and shapes for you to include. 

If you’re not in the mood to paint, you can get fantastic results with markers — just sit down and get doodling!

After everything is dry, now comes the adult work: the planning!

Planning It Out

It's time to plan out the compartments and doors for your calendar.

Note: You’ll be doing the planning on the outside (not blank side) of the cardboard box. We’re showing the planning on the inside of the box so it’s easier for you to see.

Start on one panel of the box.

  • Draw lines about 2 cm in from each edge of the panel (blue marker in the photo).
  • Decide how many compartments you want to make (in this example, I'm making six compartments).
  • Measure the length and height of the box you’ve drawn. Do a bit of math to figure out how tall and wide each door can be, accounting for about a centimeter and a half’s width between, above and below the doors (orange marker in the photo).
  • Decide which way you want your doors to open. Draw hash marks to remind yourself to leave one part of the door uncut as the “hinges” (green marker in the photo).
  • Create finger-pulls — an easy way to open the doors. I used a dime as the template and traced around to create half-circles (red marker in the photo).

On the opposite panel of the box, redraw the blue and orange steps from above. 

The planning on the left is to create your doors. The planning on the right is to create your compartments.

Next: cutting. 

Take your scissors and cut around the three sides of your door. This is where those hash marks come in handy. Remember: do not cut this side, as it is the hinge of each door. 

PRO TIP: Put an eraser underneath the finger-pull part of the door. Use a pencil to poke through the cardboard. Then use the hole you’ve made to get your cutting started. This method is a little bit safer for kids rather than punching through cardboard with the tips of their scissors. Plus! If you start your cut inside the handle, you can get nice crisp edges on all of your doors without seeing your initial puncture hole.

No matter how careful you are while planning and cutting, it’s easy to make a mistake. If you accidentally cut all the way around a door, or otherwise muck things up, don’t panic! Use a bit of tape on the undecorated side to make a repair. It’ll be as good as new!

Now that the doors are cut, you can start numbering them. 

I hand-drew these, but if you have numbered stickers lying around, use them! Whatever you all decide will look perfect!

The next step is a bit technical, so it's best for adults. 

Find the depth of your cereal or cracker box by measuring one of the narrow sides. Then cut a piece of construction paper that is the depth of the box, and can run the width of the box, too.

Make sure this "shelf" has extra on the ends that can be folded down as tabs. These tabs will be glued to the sides of the box, and you can give the shelf more integrity by taping the bottom to the box. 

Now it's comparment time! 

Using the orange lines you've drawn as a guide, make 'C' shapes out of construction paper. 

Glue your compartments to the shelf and the flaps of the box as you go. Use tape to add extra support if you like.

When everything is fastened and in place, it will look something like this: 

Before you glue everything in place, fold the box up and give it a dry run, making sure that doors are opening and closing, and everything is where you'd like it to be. When you're happy, glue everything in place. 

This craft is very customizable. 

You can make one to count the days of Kwanzaa, using seven doors. 

Or one for Hanukkah with eight doors. 

And if you're celebrating the countdown to Christmas, I know that the standard is 25 doors, but let me tell you: as an adult, making a craft with kids, while it is possible to make 25 compartments, it is very finnicky and I don't want you stressed out. So I kept it to an easy ten doors. But do however many works for your traditions!

And the last step is filling! 

This can be candy, acts of kindness, a lovely note, a joke or riddle, a scavenger hunt clue or even an activity for the day (like movie night, dance party or toboganning). 

Make it your own! One thing is for sure: every daily surprise is going to bring little ones a dash of joy during the holiday season. 

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Article Author Mara Shaughnessy
Mara Shaughnessy

Mara is a children’s book author and illustrator who’s big into scissors and glue, making cake from the box, wrestling with her dogs and doodling with felt tip pens. You can check out her latest work at The Little Monster or craft along with her at Craft University.

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