Christmas is such a magical time of year. Around our house, we love it so much that we just can't wait until Dec. 25 to start celebrating. That's where our handmade Advent calendar comes in ... it helps us spread out the fun and festivities for the whole month of December, giving us all something to look forward to as we count down the days to Christmas.

Think an Advent calendar is just some prepackaged cardboard box stuffed with crappy chocolates? It doesn't have to be. If you're into chocolates, you can pick up a decadent Divine Dark Chocolate Advent calendar filled with eco-friendly fair trade chocolates. Better still, you can make your own Advent calendar to customize your countdown to the holidays.

Don't worry: you don't need oodles of free time and piles of supplies to get started. I whipped up the advent calendar shown here in less than one hour ... and that wasn't one hour straight either. It was one hour squeezed between dinner, dishes, homework, bath, books and bedtime last night. And I'm no arts and crafts maven, so if I can do it, anybody can.  

My Advent calendar is extremely simple (bordering on rudimentary.) I cut out a Christmas tree shape from white poster board (I actually reused a piece that we had laying around,) painted it, and cut out ornaments from scraps of construction paper. On each ornament, I wrote down the special things we can look forward to as a family this month, like baking cookies, writing letters to Santa, watching the town's Christmas parade, and of course, enjoying a few candy canes. Like I said, quick and easy ... and my girls are gonna love it.

If you've got time and you'd like to whip up something a bit more fancy, check out a few of these posts for inspiration:

• The Crafty Crow: 2009 Advent Calendar Roundup

• How to Make Your Own Advent Calendar

• Eco-Friendly, Handmade Advent Calendar for Green Kids

Also on MNN: 

• See a gallery of 10 eco Advent calendars

• DIY walnut shell Advent calendar