12 Days of Toddler Christmas

For the past few years, I’ve always hosted Bower Power’s 12 days of Christmas.  It was grand fun.  Like the kind of fun you have when you are with a room full of your closest friends and you are all getting tired but totally hopped up on Pixie Sticks and can’t stop laughing for even the essentials – like bathroom breaks or breathing.  

But this year I had to say no.  I knew that I’d rather spend that precious crafting/decorating/holidazing time with Will.  I’d rather be doing activities that put a big dimply smile on his face.  I’d rather spoil him rotten with all that Christmas effort.  I’d rather be gripping this fleeting time as tightly as I can.  I’m sure that every mother out there feels that way with the recent tragedy of Sandy Hook.  We all hold our babies a little tighter and a little longer and want to soak in the joy of having them in our arms while whispering up tearful prayers for those families that are hurting.  This is just a way I can intentionally invest this holiday season in the things that matter – spending time and making memories with the little loves in my life.       

In our living room, I set up twelve jars.  Our 12 days of Christmas are housed in leftover spaghetti sauce and pickles and roasted red pepper jars.  Jesus would be proud.  My best tip for cleaning jars is to wash out the old food particles (unless you are saving them for later) then soak them in hot water to soften the label.  Use a little WD40 and a scraper to remove all the sticky stuff.  The ink stamped on the jars (like the expiration date, etc.) comes off with a Magic Eraser.    

Each of our jars has a little ornament in it and a ‘special treat’ card.  The cards say different things…activities like make a gingerbread house or deliver neighbors gifts or goodies like a penguin shaped chocolate treat or a christmas bell. 

Around each jar is a little tag (they came from the mothership – Martha at Staples)…Will gets to draw a piece of paper with a number out of a bowl…and then we find the matching jar to see what we are gonna do that day.  See?  Matching.  That’s totally like learning.

The ornaments make me so happy.  They were my mom’s when we were growing up and I got to put them on the tree as a little girl.  Will is fascinated with them.  Who wouldn’t be fascinated with a red mini monkey with pink cheeks?!  Seriously?! 

I spraypainted the lids.  The Ragu logo didn’t match the Vlasic lid…it had to be done.

Will did his first day and got a package of glow bracelets (most of the purchases were from the dollar store – so this cost me no more than $12).  His special treat card also said “read in your tent”…he got weirdly excited and started growling like a tiger.  that’s completely normal for him.

We threw a bunch of blankets and pillows in the teepee (Will calls it his tent) and picked out some books and settled in with a couple christmas cookies.  The cookies were Weston’s suggestion.  Noone can argue with a newborn.

Will’s spectacles…

The activity only lasted about the length it takes to read two books (and eat two Santas) but it was squishedupfun (yes, all three of us were squeezed in there) that I’ll always remember.

I think Will is thrilled too because now he wakes up and asks for his special treat almost immediately. 

So are you guys doing little special things each day to get into the Christmas spirit?  Any advent activites?  Or daily events?  Or yuletide toddler fun that is putting the real joy into this holiday season?  I’d love to hear all about it.



  1. Carrie E says

    Your advent jar idea – steak sauce! Please tell me you watch How I Met Your Mother.

    Your boys are going to have such magical memories of Christmas!

  2. Kristi says

    I love this! We have been doing something with our little girl since December first. We have a felt advent calendar so days 1-11 she got a chocolate gold coin. Days 12-23 she gets a book/dvd/small gift (nothing too expensive). Yesterday was her 20 month “birthday” so we got her a Sulley plush from the disney store. She’s been crushing on Sulley (Monster’s Inc.) for awhile now. On the 24th she gets one of her presents early. Honestly I think next year I can get away with just doing the chocolate coins and she’ll be a happy girl. We also do elf on the shelf every morning and I take an instagram pic and I’m going to print them out at the end so she can look at it next year. We “decorated” ginger bread houses with my mom and step dad too, which is something we will be doing every year. I LOVE Christmas traditions! We are so blessed to have our little ones. My heart still hurts so badly for those families that lost loved ones last Friday.

  3. Jaclyn says

    Hey katie, my mom had those “ornaments” too, but hers were just glued to a big wooden tree. Brought back fun memories!!!

  4. April says

    Wow! I love, love, love this idea! Currently we don’t do anything to count down to Christmas but I think it would make more sense to my son to know how close we are getting if I did this. I will put it on my list to do next year and pin it. You are such a great Mommy!

  5. Cheryl says

    I love this!! My kids are older, and this year they each wanted their own tree in their rooms. I found two miniature foil trees at the thrift store, fluffed them and had my husband put a string of lights on them. I gave them to them when we were decorating our “main” tree. They went through all of our ornaments and found all the tiny ones that would go on their tree. It was so special because all of our ornaments have memories attached and I loved hearing them say, “remember when we got this one?” LOVE

  6. Stephanie says

    The jars are really adorable! Love the little ornamants. I always thought the 12 days of Christmas started on Christmas itself, but this is a fun take on it anyway.

    • LavandulaLady says

      yes, the ’12 Days’ run from Christmas to Epiphany (Jan 6), but a friend of mine is doing one called ‘the 12 days BEFORE Christmas’

  7. says

    The jars and the matching and the doing fun things, heck all of it, is such a great idea! I love it so much & can you just imagine what great memories your kids will have of Christmas?!?
    Also, I’m all for the doing your thing and blogging about it when you have a chance vs. doing things specifically for blogging. I’d keep reading your blog even if you just posted a picture of Will and Weston most days :)

  8. Sara says

    Love the little ornaments, we always had the little guy on the sled with the white goat? horse? whatever he is :) I have an advent banner that has a little knit pocket for every day of December, I put something fun in every day for my 2 girls. If I can’t think of something I just throw in candy cane kisses they get to eat when they wake up in the morning and they are happy. My favorite thing we have done is a “fancy” dinner. We just had pizza for dinner but I didn’t tell the girls what we were doing and walked them out to the car. My husband greeted them like a chauffeur, they got inside and drove around the neighborhood looking at lights.

    I got the table ready inside and when they came back, I opened the car doors and took them inside, and took their “order” for drinks and pizza and served them. They never questioned what we were doing and played along with the whole thing declaring the “fancy” dinner the best ever. It was so fun!

  9. says

    I’m in luh-uv with that map! Imagine me in a Captain Jack Sparrow voice, “Wheaaa did you get thaaat?”

    I save sauce jars, too. Great idea for reusing them.

  10. Amanda says

    This is such a great idea, I wish I had littles to do this with! Might have to alter the idea for Valentine’s Day with the hubby :)

  11. says

    I love the jar idea! We do Advent activities from December 1st to the 25th and each night there is a different activity (like driving to see Christmas lights, going to get our tree, open one gift early etc…). This year we had an authentic German Advent Calendar but next year I may steal your jar and ornament idea.

  12. Jen says

    That is SUCH a cute idea!!!!! I’m very impressed you have the brain capacity and energy to pull this off with a newborn. Go Katie!

  13. Blythe says

    Thanks, Katie. This is such a thoughtful, but simple idea. I have quite a few glass jars at home waiting for something like this :)

  14. Amber says

    I love seeing what other people do with their stash of empty spaghetti sauce jars.
    We have a candle holder with 25 candles and we light one for each day of the month for worship each night and read Christmas stories. My husband grew up doing this with his family and his brother’s family does it as well. My husband has the entire system timed and makes sure the candles are evenly lit so it looks so pretty on Christmas morning when we light the final middle candle.

  15. says

    MAN I did not know a magic eraser would take off that stamp- I have a serious jar hoard that’s going to that treatment asap. :)

    This year is the first year we’ve had a baby at Christmas since me, my nephew- we’ve all gone a bit crazy with him. From me he’s getting The Very Hungry Caterpillar book and some other hungry caterpillar accessories. Then for the next few holidays I’m going to get him other Eric Carle books, and on his birthday I plan to take him to the Eric Carle children’s museum near my house. I can’t wait!!!!

  16. Gracie says

    Oh how cute! I may have to steal this idea. My kids would totally love it too! I’m glad Will is having so much fun with it.

    BTW – I thought Weston was a babydoll at first! It took me a second to realize he was ‘real’. :)

  17. says

    I love this idea! I made an advent calendar last year (24 mini stockings) that we just put a mini candy cane in each that my daughter got to hang on the tree (we purposely didn’t tell her they were edible). Not that she’s older (2.5 yr) we put a tiny ornament in most of them, but then made little cards with special activities that she got to do each day. We planned some of them to be on specific days (like get a Christmas tree, go to a Christmas concert, go see Christmas lights) and some to just be fun (drink hot chocolate – which she’s never had….yet, watch Frosty, Rudolph or Curious George Very Monkey Christmas). There’s totally some learning in there two, making her find the number of whatever day it is. Toddlers are so fun at Christmas!

  18. says

    Wow Katie, so fun! When I was little my mom had an Advent tree for me with little boxes hanging on it, one for each day of the month. She often put little clues in a box when the present was too big to fit in it and I’d have to go find it.

    My daughter is only 3 months old this year but next year maybe I’ll start something like this. I especially love your idea of including a daily special activity though. That’s really wonderful and I want to do that! Can you do a post where you list out all of the activities you did?

    By the way you amaze me that you’re able to do anything at all with newborn Weston there… I didn’t accomplish a single thing for the first month. And here you are writing blog posts, decorating your house, doing Christmas activities… Just amazing.

  19. Jamie says

    This is just too adorable! I wanted to do something special for the family this year too but couldn’t really decide on what exactly. You’ve given me a really nice idea :) I might include a treasure hunt too though maybe..

  20. Laura says

    Actually I just got back from the second hand shop where I bought my daughter the biggest, frilliest, Christmas dress they had! She’s finally old enough (three) that I can take her to see the Nutcracker! We’re going out, just the two of us, to a fancy lunch and then to the ballet!! I’ve been dreaming about this since I found out I was carrying a baby girl almost 4 years ago! I am so all about making holiday traditions and memories, and this feels like the beginning of the metaphorical star on the tree. :)

  21. Whitney Dupuis says

    So fun! I said I was going to do a count down to Christmas this year, but we have been so busy. Friday made me stop and really count my blessings and each moment I have with my son. We have been spending a lot of special times together as a family all season, but this really made us put extra effort into it. I hope to make it more formal (i.e. an advent of sorts) starting next year, but we are at least checking off our traditions this year.

  22. Hannah says

    This is awesome, I love the jar/ornament idea totally may ‘steal’ this next year! This year is our first year at doing an advent/countdown thing, mine is no where near as cool as yours though! I got 24 matchboxes, wrapped them in pretty Christmas paper and inside each has an activity of some sort to do, its been A LOT of fun, but really exhausting also! So far my 2.5 yr olds favourites have been donating food to the animal shelter (she loves animals, so for her this was amazeballs) having breakfast for dinner, visitng father christmas and attending a Christmas Circus. My favourite so far, was the day my husband and I took her shopping to buy gifts for us – for me she picked out a Hello Kitty torch and for my husband she was convinced he would like a pink barbie, we then took her home where she got to wrap them, so much fun! I am already thinking of new things for next year!

  23. erin says

    last year we started an advent of sorts where we read a christmas book every night leading up to christmas. i bought some and we got a lot from the library. each year i’ll buy another book until we have 24 of our own. at some point i’m sure that some will be taken out of rotation due to the age group of the book. i didn’t do it this year, but next year i will wrap each book so that it’ll be a surprise as to what we read each night. obviously on christmas eve we will be reading “the night before christmas.” this year i also made a christmas tree out of 25 rings of paper. we cut one ring off every evening before we read our christmas book. it’s made for a fun way to build up excitement for christmas. my parents are coming up for this weekend before heading to see my brother and his fiance for christmas eve and christmas day. with nana and poppy, we’ll make christmas cookies and go check out christmas lights at the botanical garden nearby.

  24. says

    Christmas is my favorite time of year with my family. After Christmas, we like to make box forts with all the boxes left over from Christmas & line them with the Christmas lights we take off the Christmas tree. One year we even wrapped some of the boxes & let the kids decorate the inside with markers. SO MUCH FUN!

    This year my son got a Star Wars Lego advent calendar & my girls shared a Christmas Story Advent Calendar. We do them in the evening & all day long the kids look longingly at the advent calender…waiting…and waiting…until we say it’s bedtime (hooray!) and they get to open their advent calendar & play with it for a few minutes before worship.

    Thanks so much for sharing the fun things you do with your kids. It reminds me of the fun things I did with my kids at that age & reminds me that I need to do more fun things like that with them! Your blog is so much fun to read. Thanks for sharing small glimpses into your life. :)

  25. says

    Last year I made a library book card advent calendar {http://courtneywalker.blogspot.ca/2011/12/making-advent-calendar.html} so I put that up again this year.

    Instead of having a different activity every day (I was a little ambitious last year) I collected 12 Christmas books, wrapped them and spread them over the 24 days. Our daughter loves getting to choose a new book and unwrap it. We also have the tradition of reading Twas The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve and receiving Christmas pj’s so that’s two more days done.

    I love your idea with the ornaments and think they make a cute display!

  26. Mel says

    I love this! I fully intend on stealing your idea. Then, of course, I’ll tell my husband I came up with it. :) I need to impress him somehow. My little man, also named Will, just turned a year old so we’ll have to wait a bit longer. Great job!

  27. says

    We’re doing a matchbox countdown this year, and yes! Little, cheap or free, and out of the ordinary activities have tickled my kids to no end! Many of the things we already do, but it’s been helpful to space them out and help me get motivated after a morning’s worth of home schooling to do something fun. :) Your version is darling!!

  28. Chitra says

    You are such a fun mom…Great idea!
    I really wonder how you have so much time and energy to do this with a new born at home
    You are my inspiration:)
    Go mommy!
    Happy holidays


  29. Jenn says

    Love it, Katie!

    Instead of pulling a little gift or treat out of the advent calendar everyday, my 2 year old son pulls an act of kindness out everyday! It’s so fun!

    One day we paid for the person behind us at Starbucks, we took donuts to the fire station, baked cookies for our new neighbors, took a poinsettia to a friend, baked a Crockpot meal and took it out to our 90 year old Grandma that lives an hour away, etc.

    It’s been a lot of fun and gives us a chance everyday to talk to our son about kindness and the spirit of Christmas. Have fun celebrating your 12 days of Christmas!

  30. says

    I totally have the ornament with the little red guy and sleigh with tree (close up in the 5th picture) that was my dad’s growing up! It’s one of my favorites.

  31. Melissa says

    Katie, I smiled when I saw your jars. My husband’s got me saving and reusing glass jars and I’m using a few to house presents for Christmas this year. I have found that acetone nail polish also takes off those expiration dates.

    The way you dolled them up looks great!

  32. says

    We do the same 12 days of Christmas…except I wrap of 12 random gifts…(tissue boxes, chocolates, pjs, pencils…calendars..) I don’t spend much but my kids still love it. They are going to be 13 this year…and they still look forward to it. Either that…or they are just apeasing me…I’ll take that too. ;)

  33. Kim A says

    Such cute ideas. I wish my babies were little again (31 and 34).
    Love, love, love the tepee. Any chance I could get a few pictures of it in full length and inside, outside. I would love to make one for my 3 year old granddaughter. She would love it. And I love the white Christmas lights inside going up the poles.

  34. says

    Ahh!! I’m in love with it! So simple, classy, and just sweet. I’m going to do this next year for the hubby since I’m baby less. And the ornaments took me back. They’re so similar to my parents when I was growing up. My first thought was “they still make ones like that?!”

    And is it weird that I got all teary over you spending such sweet time with your boys? You’d think I was the one that just had a baby…

  35. Meghan says

    “His special treat card also said “read in your tent”…he got weirdly excited and started growling like a tiger. that’s completely normal for him”

    Oh gosh, laughing so hard. Awesome project!

  36. Jessica S says

    We had those ornaments too! They were my grandmother’s we only have a few left, but it was fun to see all of yours!

  37. says

    I love this idea! My little guy is still a bit young for this (well, the ornaments and “treat” ideas don’t appeal to him, but he loves tents and pillows), but next year he’ll be about Will’s age and I think will get more out of something like this. I am totally stealing this idea!

    On a completely different note, I was wondering if you were going to stay on Instagram with their new terms of service (which say they can sell your photos without compensating, or even notifying, you). You and YHL are two of the main reasons I even joined instagram and I’m trying to decide if I want to stay. I’m leaning toward “no”, but I will miss it so much! I use it way more than FB or Twitter (which is saying a lot if you know who signs our paychecks).

    • says

      I did hear about that…I also read the little post on the Instagram blog….here is the link to that…and hopefully the selling photos thing will pan out to respect the photography rights of users. For now, I’m gonna stick around and hopefully I won’t have a reason to leave because I do still love it.
      xo – kb

  38. Tanya says

    I absolutely LOVE that first pic, Katie! I pinned it immediately! You are a star!

    Merry Christmas from Australia : we’re in the middle of a heatwave, and we’re surrounded by crunchy brown grass. Bring on some RAIN, please!

    Warm wishes,

  39. says

    Cute idea!!

    I never thought we’d have as much fun as we are having with our simple Advent candles. There’s 4 (3 purple and 1 pink); you light the first candle the 4th Sunday before Christmas and light it everyday at dinner. The 2nd Sunday you add the 2nd candle and so on. Our 2 year old starts singing “Happy Birthday” everytime…which simply comes out as “Happy To You” over and over again. She also figured out the flames move when you blow them, and loves to blow them out after dinner each night.

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