Friday 22 January 2016

My Own 'Personal Advent'. Or 'How to turn any birthday into a Christmas'

"You're going to miss not having a present to open tomorrow aren't you?" 

That's what someone asked me on my birthday earlier this month. 

And they weren't wrong; I would miss it. 

Not because I'm spoilt [although you'll soon see that I have been!] and feel entitled to a constant flow of presents or else why bother getting up each day? 

But because rather than simply receiving a gift on my actual birthday this year, in the weeks running up to it, I'd got used to opening a gift each and every day. 

For 40 days. 

[A set of 40 days -and nights - which also coincided with the run up to Christmas all of which made for a strange Lenten/Advent style gift-giving mash-up extravaganza . Which kind of implies I think I'm the baby Jesus. Which, for the record, I don't.]  

And so allow me to redress the giving/receiving balance by sharing with you the hows and wherefores of the idea so that you can treat someone else to their own private Advent ...

The idea for this pre-birthday gifting started a couple of years ago, as my sister's 40th birthday grew nearer [old faithfuls here might remember the superhero/Dr.Who/dress-up/photo-booth party she had for it?] and I wanted to do something nice, something special, something memorable to mark the occasion ... and 'my own private Advent' was born.

[Well, the idea wasbirn then ... the name just came to me about an hour ago as I started writing this post. But hey ... branding takes time].

Once I'd had the idea my parents and I had secret talks and, between us, we bought and wrapped 40 individual gifts then surprised her with them 40 days before her birthday complete with instructions on what to do. She then got to spend the next 7 weeks opening a present a day! 

And ... because my family is soooooo nice ... last year they secretly plotted, planned and wrapped ... and did exactly the same for me!  

And here's how you can do the same. [Not for me.  That would be excessive.  And slightly worrying, although, I'm sure you mean well.]

No, what I mean is ...

Here's how you can treat someone to their own personal 'Advent':

  • The idea is to create anticipation for an upcoming birthday by letting them open one gift each day in the run up to their special day. Like an Advent calendar. 
  • You can do this for any birthday ... it needn't be a 'big' one.
  • Do you want to do this on your own? If so,go for it, you autonomous devil you! You'll get all the glory once the surprise is revealed! 
  • However, if you'd prefer to spread both the effort and cost of finding and buying/making all the gifts ... then reach out to the friends and family of the recipient too. 
  • If you've planned everything else in advance [which will be easy once you've read through all my tips today] people are bound to be more than happy to join in with such a fun, unique and creative activity. 

First decide on how many days you want this run-up to last:
  • Will you make the number of days match the age of the recipient [eg. 40 days for a 40th birthday].
  • OR ... will you pick 24 days - like a 'proper' Advent.
  • TIP: the latter will come in handy for birthdays with particularly low or high numbers!! Too few days will fail to create any impact ... while finding 99 presents for Great Aunt Mary to open in the run up to her centenary may leave you out of pocket!!  

Once you've decided on how many days / how many presents is best for you:

  • Use a calendar to count backwards from the day of the birthday. 
  • Don't count the birthday itself! 
  • On the actual day you'll probably want to give them a different kind of gift, a regular gift, a 'proper' one - like how in your Advent calendar there's a bigger chocolate on the 25th of December!
  • Write down the date the Advent will begin! [Trust me ... you'll count, count and re-count, check and double check at least a dozen times during this stage!]
  • Allot yourself enough time prior to that date to browse for gifts and then to sort, wrap, and tag them all. [Allow yourself at least a few weeks for this!]. 

I'll come back to the kinds of gifts you could include in a moment but first, let's look at ...


For some reason I have no photos of how I wrapped and tagged my sister's gifts a few years back and so ... all the ideas and examples here are courtesy of my sister's creativity. [I should have worked out she was up to something when she asked me about which adhesive was best to use with paper!!].

Decide if you will give the recipient their gifts all in one go ... or one each day:
  • Not going to see the recipient every day from now until their birthday? Trust them not to open them all in one go? Then give them all the gifts in one go.
  • Not only will this be logistically easier ... I know from experience that it's lovely to have a pile of gifts waiting for you every morning! And I honestly didn't even take a sneak peek once! Not once!!  
  • However ... if you don't trust them - if they're a terrible gift-prodder, poker and peeker] or they're a child whose head will explode if they're required to have that much self-control - then maybe just hand them out one-a-day!
Good reasons to tag each gift:
  • Do you want to give the gifts in a particular order? Perhaps you'll want split a set / collection of gifts to give over several days. Something they can piece together / enjoy the full set on the final day.
  • Perhaps you prefer randomness in which case you won't need any careful tagging, but if not ...
  • To help both the gift-givers and the receiver keep track of which gift to open on which day and - more importantly - who sent that day's treasure - you'll want to tag each parcel. 
My sister printed off a countdown for each day then mounted each one on double-sided patterned paper:
On the reverse of each was written who the gift-of-the-day was from, then each was fixed to the parcels with a strip of double-sided tape. 

Help the gift-receiver keep track of the days with a count down:
  • Having the parcels labeled so clear really helped me work out which one to open next:
  • And the focal point my sister created - like an Advent Calendar - really helped me see how close my birthday was getting.
  • Decorate a board to which the gift-recipient can clip that day's gift tag which displays how many days remain!

Now we're all organised let's move on to the important bit ...


Well ... obviously, the specifics will depend entirely on your recipient's preferences and your pocket! However ... having been both a gift-er and a gift-ee I am in a position to offer some general suggestions ... 
  • Don't confuse the ideas of 'a little daily treat that shows you care' with 'a future heirloom' ... these don't need to be 100% long-lasting treasures. 
  • The whole activity of a personal Advent is a grand enough gesture ... each individual item needn't be the recipient's next treasured possession! 
  • Choose both practical and frivolous gifts. Frivolous because: birthday! Practical because: you're giving someone a lot of new stuff. Some of it might as well be good for something!
  • Visit £1 /$1 shops [but don't get carried away, even though it's cheap ... remember how many items you need to buy in total. The costs soon mount up].
  • Buy sweets, or anything less than £1, to intersperse with other gifts. These can be just as meaningful as big-ticket items! 
Let me illustrate using the gifts my parents and sister carefully curated for my personal Advent! 

eg: One of the fabulous badges from my sister plus mints. Because I always have travel sweets with me.

  • If you're crafty and creative you could include a handmade gift or two too.  

eg: My Dad made me this adorable chubby wooden bird!
Some of my other daily gifts the photo above include a mix of useful winter treats ... and essentials ... like additional zebras:

  • sweets, chocolate, another badge;
  • rubber stamps, coloured pencils and a colouring book;
  • hand cream and thermal trouser socks; 
  • and a Nanoblock zebra!

And in the photo below: 
  • gloves, cosy socks, lip balm and nail files; 
  • some crafty embellishments, more rubber stamps and another badge;

Plus this adorable little guy:
And some beautiful earrings:
The following week's gifts included ...

  • more crafty supplies, some sticky labels and another badge;
  • plus more socks, exfoliating gloves and another cute creature [this time a fox]:

While the final week featured: 
  • More sweets and chocolate and face cleansing wipes [perhaps I needed the latter to get rid of traces of the former?]
  • Gift vouchers to spend in my favourite restaurant;
  • A framed illustration.
  • A vintage Ladybird book:
  • A vintage left-handed pen nib [because it's tough being a leftie in a right-handed world!!]

All in all a wonderful haul of treasures, don't you think? [I told you they spoiled me!!] And, amid them all were a few examples in there of great, personalised, gifts which cost nothing!!!

IDEAS FOR FREE (and free-ish) GIFTS! 
The eagle-eyed among you might have been straining to see what the 'The Lost Boys' and 'Our Songs' printouts where in two of the photos above [notice how I didn't call you nosey? Mainly because I'd have done the exact same thing]. Well, let me stop you straining [it's not good for your eyes or ... 'other' areas] and show you what they were:

  • A token to indulge in a movie night at a future date:

  • And a compilation of songs that mean something to me and my big sis! 

Both brilliant, personal, gifts that cost little or nothing [apart from the wine and popcorn I've been promised!]

Other freebie ideas include:

  • tokens / IOUs the recipient can cash-in for things like baby-sitting, car cleaning, ironing etc.
  • Gift vouchers for a home-cooked meal.
  • Tokens for a day out together or an 'experience'. These needn't cost anything [or not a lot] eg. a walk along the beach, watching the sunset view from a favourite hill top, picking wild fruit, visiting a museum/gallery with  free entry.
  • Set free all those memories that live in your camera/phone/Facebook by printing out some photos that mean something. 


Here a few ways you can help the lucky recipient can extend the 'personal Advent' experience even further: 
  • When you bestow the surprise gifts upon them - tell them about how I set up my own little 'gift-opening station'! 
  • I propped up my countdown board on a chest of drawers in my bedroom, wrapped some fairy lights around the picture frame behind it, and made sure to switch on the lights for each day's 'opening ceremony'!! 
  • You can share this link with them [to this post] to give them an idea of what you mean.

Having somewhere as focal point for the gift-receiving [like a Christmas tree I guess] really helped make opening each gift feel like an occasion and helped to stop me getting complacent! 

To be fair - after nearly 7 weeks of daily treats - complacency was always a possibility. Especially when you consider that there was even one of my #personalAdvent gifts to open on Christmas day; meaning that on Christmas morning I'd opened a present before I'd even opened any presents!! 

And if your gift recipient likes to share experiences via social media ...
  • taking and sharing a photo of each day's gift would be a fun way to keep the 'specialness' growing [especially when comments from others can help the recipient appreciate their good fortune!] 
  • If they choose to go for that option then do let them know they can use the hash tag #personalAdvent to share it with me - and to help them keep track of all their posts/photos too. 
Similarly ... 
  • If you set up a #personalAdvent for someone and you share it on your own blog or social media ... let me know! 
  • Find me on Instagram @withjulieKirk
  • And on Twitter @notesonpaper ... as I'd love to see how the idea gets taken on by others!

And so ... that's how you can treat someone to their own personal 'Advent'! 

  • Any thoughts? Questions? Plans brewing?
  • Let me know in a comment 
  • Or on social media. Using the hashtag #personalAdvent. Obvs.


  1. I love this idea! It's my husband's 40th this year and I've been looking for ideas to make it special - I think this will feature! Thank you for sharing the idea!

    1. Happy to pass on the experience to others! Keep in touch when you get around to doing it!

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  2. What a fabulous idea! I love the mouse- did someone you know make it?

    1. :-) No, the little mouse, and the fox, were bought from a gift shop by my sister. Strangely I'd picked-up the exact same mouse in another shop, in another city a month or two prior to this ... and *almost* bought it for my sister!!

  3. You stashed this pretty near the front of the Hivemind, right? Because I did it for my nephews at Christmas this (last!) year - 24 small advent presents instead of one big Christmas gift. They get so much on the day itself, and half the fun when you're a kid is the anticipation and build up to it all, so I made what I suspect will be an ongoing rod for my own back and filled a box with random kid-crap, plus a few experience-type things (ingredients to bake cookies with Gran, materials to make your own Christmas cards, stuff for dressing your baby sister up as an elf, "here's £5 - buy each other a present", etc..). They really loved it, and I have no idea how or if I'm going to get away with not doing it again next year. >_<

    We also set up the Present of the Month club a couple of years ago, where instead of buying them one big birthday gift each year, they get a small parcel in the mail each month. It spreads the expense out a bit, means I can be more considered and/or responsive about the things I send, plus I always think getting a parcel in the mail is such a cool thing when you're a kid, that it almost doesn't matter what's inside (almost...).

    All of which is a very rambly way of saying I love this post and I love that you've shared the idea so other people can adopt it. And shared in such a thorough, enjoyably-readable way . . . have you ever considered writing a book? Or picking less annoying friends?


    PS. I HAD THAT LADYBIRD BOOK! I'm fairly certain I actually made a few of the things in it as well. Such a big grin seeing it again.

    1. Watch out ... I know who's been doing this at 'real' advent for all her daughter's life. Her daughter's now in her 30s. Don't say you weren't warned!

      I love everything about your comment. *Makes note to be careful what she stores in the hivemind ... *

  4. Am I bad to say that I want someone to give me a personal birthday advent!

    1. No, absolutely not!! It's fabulous. Not only is it lovely to get gifts ... it makes a great talking point amongst the family! Maybe 'accidentally' forward a link to my blog post to your kids/husband ... ;-)

  5. We did this but with instant lottery tickets and instead of delivering them the trick was to get them two each other via wily and crafty means. Like slipping it in his lunch box without him noticing, or asking his boss to hand it over during Friday morning meeting, taping it to his rear view mirror, and such... lots of fun.

    1. Wow -that sounds like it took quite some planning / creative thinking .. and sneakiness! Fun idea!

  6. This is fabulous, what a great collection of gifts you received! I will definitely do this for my sister for her 30th. I still have a few years to plan for that. The compilation CD is the best bit, I will have to do that for her too - it will be full of Disney songs! x

  7. Great idea. Also my husband's 40th in April. Now I need to work out if I have 40 days to go!

  8. How fabulous - although I am so lazy and disorganised it would probably take me 2 or 3 years to sort one out for someone else! A wonderful read too - hope you had as fantastic a birthday as the build up sounds!

  9. You've done it again Julie!!!!!!! what a fantastic idea!!!! my DD2 turns 40 this year and I just know that she would LOVE this. I'm already starting on this.....The Lost Boys is now sat in my Amazon basket, yes she too LOVED that film, the original she had was a video which I think she wore out!!

    I can't thank you enough for this idea, think i'm going to have "some" fun getting bits to make up the gifts, maybe a few "headaches" as well thinking up of stuff to get? and.... I hope you don't mind me asking but is there a chance you could tell me where you got the countdown tags from?

    Again Julie many many thanks for this, and, keep up with your fabby blog xxx

    1. Thank you Irene! That's really kind of you.

      As for the tags - my sister made those just by typing them out in a Word document, printing and sticking them to patterned paper. I guess you can go as simple / creative as you fancy! You could use alphabet/number stickers if you don't fancy printing.

  10. This is such a fun idea! I LOVE that Matilda illustration in the frame...any idea where it was purchased? =)


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