Hi dear friends! I’ve got something wonderful to share with you today.
Do you not love advent calendars?  I have the fondest memories of those little pop-open-doors-and-windows advent calendars from when I was a kid.  They are so special and exciting for children, and they are also a great way to build anticipation for the great Christmas story. 
This year, I made an advent calendar for my children, and it’s nothing short of magical. We are so excited to begin our countdown tomorrow.  But today, I wanted to share it with all of you first.
Truly, I’m sorry to be sharing it with you a mere 24 hrs before we begin our advent countdown, in case some other crafty soul would enjoy making one like it–but!–you could easily adapt this project to work for the 12 days of Christmas (and save yourself half the work!).

Are you ready for the how-to’s?  Here we go.
First, I must tell you this idea was not my own.  I got some artistic inspiration from here (imagine that!) and used some of the helpful tips and hits from Gail’s directions.  That lady.  She’s amazing.  And I loved her 3D calendar as well. 
Mostly, I just changed the scene for ours. I really wanted something Biblical, something that we could use to build up to celebrate Christmas day, and keep our eyes on Jesus, with his coming down to dwell among us as THE center of our joy and hope and attention.
So I did a night-time scene of Bethlehem, with all the buildings and homes filled with travelers–leaving no room for Mary and Joseph to go, except for a lonely stable.
I sketched my scene first in pencil onto a large piece of stiff cardboard from the back of a box. I only used permanent marker once I knew all my boxes would fit onto the buildings.
As for the 3D buildings, I used empty candy boxes. I actually went out and bought my own candy for this project since I didn’t have any little boxes of candies sitting around.
If you’re doing a traditional advent calendar, you’ll want 24 little boxes to open.
Here are the sizes of my boxes which will become our little buildings in the scene…
For my scene, one bag of Junior Mints=15 small boxes, plus 4 small jelly belly boxes, plus 4 boxes of nerds, plus the larger box the nerds came in=24 candy boxes total for the 24 days of advent season. Of course you could use any size candy boxes you want, and they don’t have to be different sizes either.
I removed all the candy from the boxes and put it into ziplock bags and stuck it in our candy jar to be eaten over time.  Some of it will actually be given away to the kids during the advent countdown, which I’ll explain below.
Next, I unfolded and turned all the junior mint boxes inside out and re-glued them so they would be white and easier to paint.  This was a method recommended by That Artist Woman–click over to her site for the how-tos if you are interested.  I just did all of mine one night when my hunny and I were watching a movie together.  Here you can see what I mean:
It was actually pretty simple, but it took a bit of time.
However, when I realized my other boxes were not ones that could easily be unfolded and turned inside out, I simply sprayed the remaining ones with primer out in the garage.  If I had to do over, I would probably just spray-paint prime all of them, since it took about 2.5 minutes from start to finish.  Way easier.  (Plus, I always keep primer on hand for other projects).

Then I layed out all my little boxes onto the large piece of cardboard where I had rough-sketched the Bethlehem scene.  I just sorta laid them out at first to make sure they would all fit one way or another, made a few adjustments on some buildings, then went over it all in permanent marker.  For the most part, I used 2 or three boxes per building to fit them all in. 
I then numbered all the buildings and their corresponding spots underneath.
By the way, learn from me when marking #s on the boxes, and use light pencil, or it will show through your paint in the end (duh!).
The stable-box was placed at the very front of the scene, in the corner.

And by the way, doesn’t this box just make THE perfect stable?  I was so excited when I found it at the grocery store.  [check your seasonal candy area–there were similar boxed sets of candy for FunDips, etc).

Here you can see how I traced around my boxes lightly so I knew which box corresponded to each building for painting. I needed the actual boxes out of the way for painting.
 Ok, on to painting (the fun part!).
 I used acrylic paint for everything.
I did a monochromatic color scheme of mostly blues for this scene–I wanted the light from the star to be showering down on the town, so I did a brighter, lighter blue on one side of the buildings, and a darker blue for the back sides.
I’m not a traditional artist, so this was a fun exploration of color and shadows and light for me.  I just played around with it until I liked the scheme.  I knew I wanted a purplish sky and purplish shadows, so I went with it, and I think it turned out lovely.
I did one building at a time so that I could paint the background and the box that belonged on top at the same time and keep them the same colors.
See how each box matches its part of the building?
I added yellows and whites to light up the town streets, and some purples and grays for the shadows.

And now I added the definition back into the scene using a thin black sharpie.
I drew in all the little windows and doors again.
And used yellow to “light up” the windows which really popped against all that blue.
Next, I adjusted the sky coloring, and added lots of twinkly stars, plus THE Bethlehem star.
To give a nice sheen, and also some durability (so I can use it for another few years), I Mod Podged the whole thing…
 Including (and especially) the boxes!  To do this, I opened each box, Mod Podged it, then set it upside down to dry.  Only took a few extra minutes.
Once all this was done, I showed the kids the nearly-finished project.  They ooohed and aahhhhed and my girl helped me add some sparkly sequins for stars (since she adores all things sparkly and glittery).
To secure each house onto the board, I opted to use self-adhesive velcro, which I already had in my crafty stash.  My kids are all little, and I knew they would have a hard time opening each box if I simply glued them onto the board. By using velcro, they can easily remove a box each day, carefully open it (they are taped shut) and then replace the empty box onto the scene.
When using velcro, you really only need the tiniest piece for something like a paper box.  You don’t want it to be very difficult for little hands to pull apart.  And by the way, the Mod Podge created a much smoother, nicer surface for the velcro to stick to.
Now I turned my attention to the main characters~Mary, Joseph, the donkey, and of course baby Jesus and his manger.
I sketched out the characters on the back of a cereal box first…
 Next I painted them and Mod Podged them and cut them all out.
{Basically, I stayed up waaaay too late one night to do this part.}
 It was worth it though.
 Right now Mary and Joseph are at the front of our Advent Calendar, getting ready to search Bethlehem for a room where they can stay.

Each day of December leading up to Christmas, Mary and Joseph will “knock” on one of the doors in town to see if there is room.  🙂
Now for those little boxes, representing houses and inns…
Inside each one is a clue where the kids can look for that day’s treat or activity or trinket.
To do this (using the method described by That Artist Woman from her 3D calendar) I created 24 little clues and printed two copies.
I cut apart the first set of clues and put one in each box.
The other set is hanging on my fridge to remind me where I need to go place that day’s treat or activity.
So, what will I be hiding for them to find?
Small gifts like:
~Little candy treats
~Small ornaments for the tree
~Characters for our olive wood nativity set (to build it a little at a time)
Activities like:
~A special, meaningful book to read while enjoying hot cocoa
~A Holiday Craft (making ornaments, homemade gifts, Christmas art)
~A surprise date with daddy (probably to go see Christmas lights and eat dinner out)
~Bake a treat together
~Build our Gingerbread House together (which we do anyway each year)
~Watch a special Christmas dvd (The Nativity Story, Little Drummer Boy, Star of Christmas, etc).
I really enjoyed making the little clues, and I put many of them into simple little rhymes.
I can’t wait to see the kids running around each day to find their surprise for this little scavenger hunt. 🙂
And little by little, each box will be checked, and still, no room for Mary and Joseph…
And eventually, on Christmas Eve, they’ll settle down in the only place they can find.
I’ll let the kids set up the stable before bed.
And that night, long after they’re all tucked into bed…
Love will come down.
Can’t wait to see their faces on Christmas morning when they find the little baby Jesus I made for them.
The whole stable is also velcroed, so it’ totally detachable, which is nice if the kids want to play with it later on.
It’s also the only part of the picture that’s in full-color. 
I want to add a cow and a sheep still, and perhaps a lantern hanging inside the barn.
Shepherds and angels and kings?  Maybe next year we can add them.
Well, that’s it! I am so excited to start our countdown tomorrow.
And each evening, as part of our family devotions, we’ll be doing this wonderful Jesse Tree advent, free from A Holy Experience.  Together we’ll trace the Messianic story from Creation to the Manger, highlighting the major prophetic types and shadows from the Old Testament.
I hope you also have a blessed advent season, friends, as you enjoy your own traditions, and together, we unwrap the gift of His Love.


7 thoughts on “O Little Town of Bethlehem Advent Calendar

  1. Emily Fusco

    Funny, i was just thinking today that I was doing such a poor job of building up our relationship. No worries Joanna. I know you well enough to know that you are sincere. The great part about our friendship is that we don’t judge the other person for getting busy and we always pick up where we left off. Love you guys!

  2. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Thanks Gail, and thanks for stopping by to see the project. One of these days I’ll have an original idea instead of stealing all yours 😉
    And yes, spray primer is a great friend to me for many, many of our projects. Nothin’ does the job faster, though of course, it is not always feasible to use in certain settings.
    Holiday blessings,

  3. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    Ha! ..yes, Crafting OCD is probably more like it, but it is indeed therapeutic to get my hands messy, and oh, so fun to share the joy and creativity with the children. I just can’t help myself. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Happy Advent season.
    Blessings, Joanna

  4. Crafty Homeschool Mama

    What an encourager you are, Emily! And to a girl who really doesn’t deserve it! Oh, I’ve been so bad about keeping in touch, and I am sorry. But THANK you for such kind words–it means a great deal, especially on those melt-down days when everything seems out of synch here at home [I have no doubt you know what I mean]. I love you too, hugs across the miles… 🙂

  5. Gail Bartel

    Hey Joanna, love your variation! I especially like your hints about the velcro, never thought of that, and using the spray primer. Thanks so much for the link back and sharing this with me. It’s amazing 🙂

  6. pink and green mama MaryLea

    Wow Joanna, you were not kidding about crafting ADD– I would say its more like crafting OCD! That must have taken forever to make. What a beautiful family heirloom and such wonderful memories you are making for your kudos. I am impressed and my girls love it too!

  7. Emily Fusco

    Joanna – my dear sweet friend. Everytime I visit your blog I am blessed. Today, I just want to give you a word, and hopefully pass along the blessings you give to others. I can see through who you are and through your writing that you are doing what and being exactly who God created you to be. I know that being a stay at home mom is not glamorous, but you do it with grace, humility and beauty. God created you to be a wife, mother and a teacher. Thank-you for being obedient to God and allowing Him to shine. Love you

Comments are closed.