How to run a Living Advent Calendar event

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One of our favourite Christmas PTA events is the Living Advent Calendar. 

The idea behind this event is to have 24 magical Christmas window displays unveiled in the run-up to Christmas, with one every day of Advent. When people have either been stuck at home or unable to gather indoors, it’s a wonderful way to bring an extra sparkle to your neighbourhood. The displays are often incredibly impressive!

Advent window ideas

Each window scene normally includes the number of the day in Advent within it. Scenes we’ve loved include The Nutcracker, Big Ben, penguins, a moving Father Christmas on his sleigh, gingerbread houses, doves, lords-a-leaping… the only limit is your imagination!

Why to organise a Living Advent Calendar

We spoke to longtime PTA Chair and expert Nicola Greaves to find out how and why to run a Living Advent Calendar in your area. She said: “I organised a Living Advent Calendar for our area in 2020, when we were all feeling pretty fed up with the pandemic. It was a magical way to bring everyone together, and with a little planning it was well worth the effort!

"It was absolutely wonderful to see how everyone interpreted the brief in such different and creative ways. We had everything from a ‘flying’ Father Christmas to huge light-up reindeers and intricate paper cut outs. My favourites were the ones where the children had been heavily involved in the creation. We’re doing it again this year.”

Step-by-step guide to running a Living Advent Calendar for your PTA

We’ve created this step-by-step guide to help you stage a Christmas community art project that you’ll want to replicate year on year.

This event is most successful when your school families live in relatively close proximity to each other. But even if they don’t, you can always go ahead anyway and share the photos on your Classlist groups so everyone can feel involved from afar!

How to run a Living Advent Calendar

Download the guide now

Bring your whole community together with a Living Advent Calendar event! It's a Covid-safe way to have some festive fun. Inside you'll find everything you need to run the event!

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How to create a Living Advent Calendar event using Classlist 

1. Recruit volunteers

First you need to recruit your 24 volunteer families, using Classlist’s Events tool.

Select ‘Events and Parties’ - Create a new event - Community Event (you will need to be an Admin to do this)

  • Name: Living Advent Calendar
  • Event starts: Dec 1, 6:30pm 
  • Event ends: Dec 24th: 7pm
  • Location: Select your school address. Add to the location details section: We will share a map showing which houses will illuminate their lights on which date.

Add a Sign-up list

  • Don’t select the  multiple time slots option (which is for multiple time slots on the same day)
  • Add a task for every date  from 1-24 December, from 6:30-7pm
  • 1st task title is ‘Wed 1st Dec 6.30pm’
  • The task description is ‘Illuminate your window’.
  • Select ‘1 person needed per slot’. 
  • 2nd task title is ‘Thurs 2nd Dec 6.30pm’ - and so on.
  • You could use this copy and paste this information below:

    Take part in our Living Advent calendar in the run up to Christmas. We are looking for 24 families to illuminate a window of their house with festive decorations in December. One window display will be unveiled at 6.30pm every night in Advent. The purpose of the project is to have some festive fun and create a nice way of bringing the school community together outdoors during December.

    We will create a map of which houses will reveal their windows on which days, and share the map with the school community so that everyone can enjoy taking a tour of the decorated houses.

    People often offer mince pies and mulled wine or similar on the doorstep, but there is no pressure to do this and it’s completely fine to keep it low key.

    Going along to the different displays is the best bit of the project! Gather outside each display at 6.30pm with neighbours and take in the lovely windows. You'll all get great enjoyment at seeing what fun creative concepts people come up with.

    If you’d like to volunteer to decorate a window, or if you’re interested in helping to organise the calendar project please sign up by choosing a slot below.

2. Share instructions

Once your volunteers have registered for their day, you could host a mini evening do or coffee morning to discuss the plans. Or, simply send them the following information.

Thank you for bringing Christmas to life in our area this year! Your window should be revealed at 6:30pm on XX December.

We will be sharing a map listing dates and timings of the switch-ons but you might like to ask your children to design a poster to put up in your window in the run-up to your big event.

Go all out with your display - we’re thinking fairy lights, tinsel, moving parts… We suggest you include the number for the date in your window display. Whatever you do, don’t hold back! But remember, this isn’t a competition! It’s just family fun. 

We’ll promote the Advent Calendar to school through Classlist. You might expect 6-12 people to turn up, so spread the word to friends and family if you want more! It’s a great excuse to get to know your neighbours better and invite them to enjoy mulled wine and mince pies with you.

Have you thought about music? Perhaps a few Christmas pop songs or carols would add to the atmosphere and draw more people in. 

You could shake a tin and collect money for the school, but it’s not obligatory.

3. Create a map

A simple hand-drawn doodle of the roads, house numbers, days and the timings will do! Nothing about this event has to be perfect. 

This example is from a neighbourhood in London which hosts an annual Living Advent Calendar.

Whitehall Park's living advent map

Print out the maps for school families and neighbours, pin up in coffee shops and on lamposts if you would like the wider community to join in, and share updates on Classlist too. It’s a great idea to send the story to the local paper for some free PR for your school. Your head teacher will love you for this!

4. Schedule reminders on Classlist

Use Classlist’s brilliant announcement scheduling tool to pre-write reminders to all to visit the houses. We recommend sharing this a few days before the event, and on every day of Advent so people know where to go. The more information you can share, the more likely your families will enjoy a decent turn-out.

5. Post photos 

Post photos on Classlist so everyone can see all the marvellous displays, even if they are away or in isolation. It will be a great record and an invitation for people to get involved next year, too!

Top tips

  • Do a count-down to the switch-on for added drama!
  • We had such a fun time creating our display, do it! We also met so many neighbours.
  • Buy more mince pies than you’ll expect to need. You may well be surprised at how many people turn up.
  • Move the car away from the front of your house if you can, so that people can enjoy them safely on the driveway or pavement. 
  • We used the upstairs window for extra dramatic effect (it also stopped people crowding on our previous front garden!)
  • Use a timer for your lights so you don’t have to remember to turn them off - but also so you can be on the pavement with your friends at the precise moment of the switch on.
  • Ask people to bring mugs for the mulled wine and serve it from a slow cooker
  • Don’t stress about it! 
 
Safety note

We’d advise that your families serve mulled wine and mince pies on the pavement or driveway outside, instead of inviting people into their houses. Remind your volunteers that they are responsible for taking sensible precautions to ensure no-one gets hurt.


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