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as a kid my mum would put together the BEST advent calendars for me – counting down to christmas was almost more fun than christmas day itself! when i was really small she bought fabulous cardboard calendars from europe – the ones with tiny doors you open, and there’s a little picture inside. these made a big impression on me; i was only about 2 or 3 but i can still remember some of the illustrations. each year i’d have a different kind of calendar: one year each day was a tiny book telling part of the sort of the nutcracker (to hang on the christmas tree). some years i’d get a little chocolate each day, and so on…

when i turned 7 mama stepped up her game – she made me a fabric advent calendar, with little pockets. each day of december she would tuck a little tiny present in there, or a slip of paper with an activity written on it. she did this for me every year until i turned 18 and moved to england. even then, she’d email me funny or cute things every day of december. so when i had my son i was thrilled to have the chance to pass on this tradition that had brought me SO much happiness through the years. its really only been a couple of christmases so far, but he totally gets it. we say the advent fairies come and leave little surprises for him and he rushes out every morning to see what’s arrived. i’ve been using the old fabric calendar my mum made, but this year i felt like something new and so, inspired by those fabulous vintage european matchbox labels, i created a printable kit of matchboxes to countdown to christmas with!

how to make them

you will need to download my matchbox kit.

the kit contains:

  • 24 individually designed matchbox labels by draw! pilgrim, all vintage style with an aged color tint, fake ‘off register’ color overlaps and a variety of european christmas greetings
  • templates to fold up the matchbox bases/drawers
  • a template for slips of paper to write notes for treats or activities etc


what you will need

aside from the kit mentioned above, you’ll need to print the templates on heavy-ish paper: regular printer paper is quite flimsy – it’d be ok for using JUST this year, but if you want to use these matchboxes again i recommend something a little heavier, around 300gsm (i believe thats equivalent to 200lbs weight). printing at home is convenient but for paper advice you might want to splurge and take this project to the print shop where you can see what range of papers they have and decide what will fold best for your needs.

you will also need:

  • glue or double sided tape,
  • scissors and/or a guillotine paper cutter (it makes cutting down the sheets of labels a bit faster and neater)
  • a bone folder or scoring tool will really give you great crisp edges when folding.


what to fill the boxes with?


you know your own people best, but some ideas are:

  • tiny candies: jellybeans, m&ms etc
  • individual chocolates
  • hair accessories
  • teensy toys

or put in slips of paper hinting at where to find treats that are just a bit too big for the matchbox, e.g.: “look behind the dictionary!” and there will be hidden a new matchbox car or a little bottle of nail polish.


or write a list of treat experiences: “let’s put up the christmas tree!” “let’s go out for egg nog!” “gingerbread decorating day!” etc

how to display your calendar?


  • thread them on a string and hang them as a garland across a mantlepiece or door frame
  • add a strip of magnetic tape and put them up on your fridge
  • leave one each day on their bedside table
  • put one in their lunchbox
  • hang them all vertically on a length of string
  • …or just stick them all to a plain colored poster sheet!


so go ahead! its so much fun and a project that the whole family can get involved in.

did you have christmas countdown traditions too?


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15 Responses to “to DIY for: vintage style matchbox advent calendar”

  • Hi,
    I started folding your advent calendar today. I LOVE it! Can´t wait to have it finished!

    Wrote about it on my blog today:

    Regards, Tonje

  • Pilgrim, these are absolutely fantastic. So authentic looking! You should email these around to some blogs, I’m sure they will get featured all over the place. Great work.

  • Kate:

    I sent this msg with my etsy order…bit JIC you missed it…;;You’re wonderful, Pilgrim! A girl after my own heart…I myself, have just posted off handmade advent calendars to my mum and my sister and her baby boys in the UK. This year I did tiny seed envelopes with enclosures of all sorts, including vintage euro stamps! Snap! And I included daily suggestions – like you do! “Dress up and take special christmas photos”, “Make tonight the night you visit the neighbours’ light displays”, “Bake Christmas cookies!” (OF COURSE!!) “Make a beautiful festive floral arrangement” “Snuggle up and read your favourite Christmas books…mine is Raymond Briggs’ Fr. Christmas and JRR Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas – do you know it,Pilgrim? He wrote beautiful, beautiful Christmas letters to his children, every year, from Fr. C at The North Pole. They have been a lifelong inspiration. Magically decorated envelopes and witticisms about Northern Pole Life etc. Oh my gosh – I just remembered they re-issued the book in Jolly Postman-style one year. Even MORE fun. Envelopes and openings. And small boxes. I’ve always loved them. And curiously enough, I can trace it back to Mum collecting matchboxes to make us all sorts of things, including advent calendars, dolly’s drawers etc etc. Advent has always been as magical for me, as it is for you. I love that! And of course I MUST make your AMAZING calendar! Ahhhhhmazing. On many levels. Jeez I just babbled a lot to you! If only I could be so dedicated to my blog….bad..bad…bad..! Oh! I just remembered another good book – The Advent Calendar by Jostein Gaarder. the author who did Sophie’s World. Gorgeous. Ok…that is all. I have a sore throat from all this typing. hehehehehehe LOVE Kate

  • Really nice work, Pilgrim. They are beautiful!

  • [...] no secret how much I LOVE the work of Draw! Pilgrim. She is definitely one super-talented and creative gal. So, although I'm a bit late to the [...]

  • [...] matchbox advent is from Draw Pilgrim and you can buy it here for $3.50. The instructions show how to make your own little matchboxes but I cheated and just covered actual [...]

  • [...] My other fabulous friend Pilgrim (I really do have the most creative friends!) has a great template for making your own DIY match box advent calendar. I’ll be posting it on the Link Hootenanny later this afternoon, but here is a little sneak peek: image: draw! pilgrim [...]

  • I just wrote about your advent calendar on my blog. I used the design to create mini notes instead of the matchboxes, but I may end up doing the matchboxes in the future too :) I love your idea for these. It’s GREAT! Love the colors. My mom always put hershey kisses in our advent calendar pockets :) I’m using the same advent calendar.

    Here’s the post link:

  • [...] PERFECT LITTLE ADVENT BOXES. Oh Pilgrim! Once again our talented girl has come up with the cutest advent calendar template. These are so fantastic—they feature vintage inspired imagery, complete with “off [...]

  • Elke:

    These little matchboxes are SWEET!!!! I just LOVE them! I have a 2 year old that is having a great time with this. It teaches them such a great lesson in patience (although I’m still working on this with the little one…)

    I wanted to share a little trick I found out through a happy accident while making these. I was having a difficult time finding 200 pound paper to use to make this and really wanted to just wrap the covers around existing match boxes but the template size was just a smidge too small. I found that if I selected a cover in the pdf viewer and then copied and pasted it into Word it magically made it the perfect size to fit over an existing match box. Not sure why that is, but it worked for me! I’m on a Mac and am not sure if that makes a difference. I bought several packs at the store for a total of $3.45 and all I had to do was print and score the covers, add a little adhesive (a dry adhesive tape runner worked best for me), wrap it around, and voila! Perfect, cute, fantastic.

    Mega thanks for this ultra cool idea. I had been looking around for a looong time for something that fit my taste, and your designs are the best I’ve seen around.

    Thank you!


  • [...] also created this cool little advent calendar from draw! pilgrim using matchboxes filled with [...]

  • Kristhel:

    Wow, there is one matchbox with a letter: Rõõmsaid jõulupühi (first foto) and it’s in estonian :) I am from Estonia! So cool to see this…

  • Jess:

    Pilgrim! I saw these before (at a glance) and assumed they were vintage. That’s how damn clever you are.

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