This year I wanted to create a special Advent project for our family. Something that we can use for years to come. Something the kids will enjoy. And big enough to hold almost any sort of treat.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the Christian Advent tradition, it goes like this: The Advent season is the period at the start of the month of December, from the 1st to the 24th. The idea is to use the time leading up to Christmas as a time of anticipation and preparation for celebrating Jesus' birth. It's long been a custom for kids to have an Advent calendar where a door is opened each day. Behind the door might be a sticker or a small treat, something to keep excitement and anticipation high.
Making this tree was a good family project. The steps are simple and my two older girls helped out with just about everything.
Step 1: The Stuff You Need
You don't need many materials for this project. To make and decorate the tree as I have, you will need:
- 24 boxes, 150 x 150 x 150mm. I bought a batch of 50 flat-packed postage boxes from eBay.
- 2 large tubes of "Liquid nails" glue. The hardware store had this in many types and sizes. The regular high-strength one works very well.
- 1 large vinyl wall sticker, approximately 77cm tall x 55cm wide. I found one on eBay that was the perfect size.
- 1 can of spray glue. Our local office supply store had aerosol cans of glue.
- A set of number stickers, digits 20mm high. Scrapbooking supply places have these. I also found these on eBay.
- 24 red, white and green coloured brads, 1.5cm. Crafty sellers on eBay have these, quite cheap.
- 4.4 metres thin cloth ribbon, 6mm wide. The local department store had quite a range to choose from.
- 24 match sticks
To make the basic tree, all you need are the boxes and the "liquid nails" glue. Of course, you can decorate your tree however you like, so the other items are completely optional.
Step 2: Tools for Making
The tools you need are pretty basic. You will need:
- A sharp hobby knife
- A pen for marking out. (I didn't include a picture of a pen, sorry.)
If you have these more advanced tools to hand, that's great. They will save you some time.
- "Multi-tool" with a wood cutting blade
- Drill with 2mm bit
Step 3: The Basic Tree Shape
The first step is to assemble the 24 flat-packed boxes into, um, their box shape.
I tried several glues that I already had around the house. The following glues DID NOT WORK:
- PVA craft / woodworking glue
- Hot melt glue
- 5-minute epoxy
All of these glues failed to hold the boxes together and all of the boxes needed to be re-glued. The "liquid nails" glue works very well. Apply the liquid nails glue, then hold the boxes in shape until the glue dries. I made stacks of the boxes on the floor 6 boxes high, then placed a heavy piece of timber on top of the stacks.
Next, I glued the boxes together horizontally to form the tree shape. You need:
- 1 row of 2 boxes
- 2 rows of 3 boxes
- 1 row of 4 boxes
- 1 row of 5 boxes
- 1 row of 6 boxes
And you will have 1 single box left over for the top.
The boxes are heavy enough and rigid enough that I did not glue the rows together vertically. The rows are simply stacked on top of each other to make the tree. Leaving the rows un-glued will also make storing the tree easier, ready for next year.
Since I had more than double the number of boxes I needed (I purchased a pack of 50 boxes), I made two trees, one tree for us and one for a friend's family. The other family had fun decorating their own tree, in their own way.
Next is marking out the doors. You can print out the .pdf template (attached) full size and use it to make marking out a lot faster. Since I had 2 trees' worth of marking out to do, I made a wooden template and simply traced around it. A cardboard template would also be easy to create.
I used the "multi-tool" to cut out the doors. If you don't have one of these tools, a sharp hobby knife would work just fine. Next, I used a drill with a 2mm bit to drill the holes in the door and frame of the boxes.
Step 4: Decorating the Tree
The vinyl wall sticker I found on eBay was pretty much the perfect size to apply to the tree. I have purchased wall stickers previously to decorate my son's bedroom. The thing I remember best about the project was that the wall stickers failed to stick. I needed to use spray glue to get them to stay on the wall.
I wanted these stickers to stay on the boxes permanently, so I sprayed the back of the stickers with spray glue before applying the stickers to the boxes.
Next, we applied the number stickers and the brads to the doors. That's pretty simple.
OK, cut your ribbon into 24 lengths, 180mm each. This totals just over 4.3m of ribbon. If you have plain match sticks from a craft shop, that's great. We only had matches, so we cut the red burn-ey bits off the end. Use the match stick to poke one end of the ribbon through the hole in the box. On the inside of the box, tie a knot in the ribbon around the match stick, so that the ribbon can't be pulled out of the box. The doors can now be secured by wrapping the ribbon around the back of the brad. One or two turns is sufficient.
Step 5: Filling the Tree
I purchased a Nativity scene, one with as many pieces as I could find. The scene has 20 pieces, each 8cm high so they fit into the boxes easily. Each day (or most days, since there's only 20 figures) we open the box and add a figure to the little nativity scene in our living room.
In addition to the figures, there also might be candy canes, decorations for the Christmas tree or any other little treat we may think of to add to the boxes.
I hope you have just as much fun creating, filling and opening your box tree as we have!