Manzanita Advent Tree

By Kate Riley November 11, 2009

A few weeks ago, I posted a blurb about Advent calendars.  They were on my mind this year because it is one tradition I’ve been saving until I had children of my own that were old enough to get it.  Sort of like how I’ve never read the Harry Potter series because I’m saving them for when my children are older.  You know, so we can experience those novels together.  I beg you, please don’t tell anyone I have yet to pick up a Potter.  It’s shocking, but it’s true.

Now that my munchkins are three and five, and know the full meaning of the words “treat” and “candy”, it seemed the right time to create an Advent calendar.  Funny how the words “Clean up your room” fall on deaf ears, but you can whisper “candy” from the deepest corner of the backyard and they come running like marathoners. 

I have a thing for branches, especially manzanita branches. They are so dramatic, especially when used as centerpieces, or spray painted and suspended over tabletops or on walls.  They take my breath away.  So I really wanted to display some during the season.  My idea was to make an Advent calendar with tiny packages suspended from those branches in a whimsical way.    

Here is my own sweetie manza-neaty Advent calendar tree.

manzanita advent tree final

Here’s the lowdown on how I pulled this one together. 

First, I acquired three sandblasted 24” tall manzanita branches from these friendly fellows, and I stabilized them in floral foam, placed them in a festive red pot, and covered them with moss.

manzanita in floral foam

cover with moss

It was too expensive to purchase individual gift boxes – they add up quickly.  I had to get a little resourceful and ‘buy in bulk’.  I circled the craft store, and chose a dozen favor boxes, a set of truffle boxes, some candy and cake boxes, jewelry boxes, and a few inexpensive felt stockings.  Repetition of the same box would have worked, but I thought a medley would be more interesting, more like a Christmas tree.  And as a result, the kiddies would never know what was coming up next.  

I reasoned an Advent tree was a great way to slowly divvy out all that confiscated Halloween candy, and also throw in a few little trinkets in the lead up to Christmas.  My kids don’t know the difference (yet) between a present that costs a quarter and something expensive, so I’m taking full advantage of their ignorance.  I raided the dollar bin at a few stores, and then inserted a few other inexpensive trinkets, like these. 

Miniature ornaments

ornaments in box

teddys in box


Good ol’ Pez dispensers:

pez dispensers

Cheap wind up toys:

wind up toys

And that Halloween candy. 

leftover halloween candy

There will be extra teeth brushing this season, I can tell you that. 

Ordinarily, I don’t have the patience to decorate teeny tiny gift boxes.  But since this is an investment in the next ten years or so, I took the time.  Here’s a peek. 

Embellished jewelry boxes:

jewelry box 3

jewelry box 2

Truffle boxes:

truffle box 

Wedding favor boxes:

favor box and silver ornament

favor box and candy ornament

truffle and favor boxes

And several tagged stockings:



It’s all in the details

manzanita tree right side


left side branches


If you’re curious about that backdrop, that’s just a little something I call “Winter Berries on Canvas”.  The Fall Leaves on Canvas I concocted a few months ago simply didn’t coordinate, so this is my winter version for my James Bond attempt at camouflage. 

If you have no clue what I’m talking about read this, then this.  And if y’all give a hoot about my homemade art, and want a step-by-step, give me a holler and I’ll write up a quick post about these Winter Berries (which would look marvelous in a series, I might add), and my amateurish attempt to copycat a photograph and make three dimensional art. 

But I must show you this gratuitous snowfall shot to tempt you.  Cause it’s purty.

winter berries with snow


Back to Advent.  For the last few days before Christmas, the packages get larger.  You know, to build up the excitement. 

larger boxes

This last gift box below is for the little baby Jesus from the nativity.  They can fight over who gets to put him in the manger, just like we did when we were kids.  I hope to continue that tradition too.  I can hear them now.  “It’s my turn!”  “No, it’s my turn!”  “Waaaaaaahhhh!”

Before I forget, I must share that my latest fascination is gifts wrapped in fabric.  Seriously !  I think the most amazing hostess gift would be homemade napkins wrapped up in a box in the very same fabric. 

Fabric covered gift box:

fabric wrapped present

Now before you question where I found cedar branches, I’ve got to be frank.  We just trimmed up our Italian cyprus, so this photo is completely staged with the clippings from those trees. 

Let me close by saying, no confessing, that the front foyer of our home has been injected with a wink of Christmas spirit.  Granted, it competes with the Thanksgiving table, but I can accept that for a few short weeks. 

entry table

Can’t wait to show you how I plan to decorate the staircase.  Let’s just say it involves hounds tooth and velvet and a musical theme.   All that is coming very soon !


  1. Gorgeous. I so want the wee box with the two teddies in knitted cardies! Once again you’ve inspired me to think of how I would like to display advent. :)

  2. This is absolutely beautiful! You have the luckiest kids in the world; they will be delighted every day to open each little treasure.

    Please do share your 3d art technique. It’s adorable.

  3. What a great tradition you are carrying on with your children. I remember Advent calendars as a child. For some reason I never did this with my kids, not sure why now that I look back. But hooray for you kiddos. I adore what you have created, and how special it will be to unpack each year after.

  4. I love advent calendars. I had them growing up and now I have some for my daughters (PBK). I like put in puzzle pieces or crayons/markers in our advent calendars. Okay…and a few pieces of chocolates. They don’t need much candy because they’re sweet enough as it is!

  5. I agree, your calendar & picture are very purty.

    I’ll admit ever since I rewatched “Sense & Sensibility”, along with “Little Women,” and watched how both Susan Surandon and Emma Thompson were wrapping presents in fabric I’ve been wanting to do the same thing. Sadly I think most of my receipients would toss the fabric away rather than reusing it, so I’ve yet to do it.

  6. I’m sorry…… do you sleep ?????
    This is a super idea.
    Now for the Grandparents who have everything….. you need to make a family calendar; all important family dates: birthdays, anniversaries, etc. Then, for the header page you scan in old, present and everything in between photos and known pictures/cartoons, etc., that are appropriate. Place the pages into the page keepers you can buy at Office supply stores or if money is not an issue…get the pages laminated to make them last.
    Children all excited up to and before Christmas [better yet make it a family project and get each member to create a page that you put together ] and Gr-Parents excited and tear-filled with joy on Christmas. BECAUSE they have a one-of-a-kind gift, made with all the love and time you can put into it. Not only that!! They can brag to all their friends about how wonderful this one-of-a-kind, totally priceless gift is…and they will.

  7. This is just beautiful! I love all the details. I’ve never done a advent calendar but I may have to try something like this. Thanks for sharing! :)

  8. Very charming advent tree. You put a lot of love into that! I’m sure your kids will have many great memories associated with it. Also, you’re not the only one who’s never read Harry Potter. That series never interested me one bit!

  9. I would love to see the step by step on the art in the background!!! Always inspiring!!

    I’m a new reader and I love reading every post!! I’m definitely inspired by your unending creativity and ability to create something beautiful out of something that looks like junk to someone else. It makes me want to hit the flea market and see what I can find. :)

  10. It’s gorgeous! I have to make sure my kids aren’t looking over my shoulder as I read this. They might expect the same at our house. Ha Ha! Your kids are going to have so much fun opening up all those little goodies this December. THanks for the beautiful pictures.

  11. How do you keep the kidlets off of it until December?? Mine would be over the moon for it. It’s beautimous! I recognize a few of the pretty embellishments from my forays into Michaels and JoAnn Fabric. ;) It really makes a lovely statement.

    And nothing really says “Christmas” like kids fighting over the baby Jesus, right? ;) We totally did that too, by the way.

  12. What a clever & beautiful take on the Advent calenar. I remember with great fondness, the paper Advent calendar I had as a little girl. It got so fragile from use, year after year. It was actually sent to me from my Opa & Oma in Germany (my parents both came to the US from Germany in ’56 & I was born here, shortly after their arrival!). Even tho I used it every year, it was as if I had amnesia & couldn’t remember the pictures that were under each window flap. What joy!

  13. I never grew up with advent calendars and so this tradition is fairly new to me. I’ve made an avent rope in the past, an idea that I borrowed from a Waldorf festival in England but this one blows my little rope out of the water. You have put so much work into this. It is a piece of art.

  14. It is gorgeous! What a treat for your children as well as a beautiful addition to your Christmas decor. How in the world will they resist opening the gifts until December?

  15. That is SO cute. We have been getting chocolate advent calendars for as long as I can remember. I’m 27 and my mom still sends one to me each year! I love this idea.

  16. this is amazing I have been looking for the best advent calendar for me and my decor and this is by far my number one choice!!

  17. beautiful! this gives me the idea on how to do my tree which has been decorated during my daughter’s wedding few days ago…(same manzanita tree) and which i thought would be my Christmas tree this year…super!!! thank you.

  18. I Love your advent tree! It is so cute. I actually bought my advent calender a few years back on clearance at llbeans. I love to get new ideas of what to fill it with. I always tend to do candy and disney dollars but those dont even exist any more. Have a great day!

  19. This is one of the most creative advent calendars I have ever seen. I live on a hill very near some manzanita trees, and how ironic….I was just thinking they need a trim ;) Honestly Kate, you are such an inspiration. I’ll send you a picture or two when I finally put it together. I am so excited!!!! Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!

  20. This is one of the most creative advent calendars I have ever seen. I live on a hill very near some manzanita trees, and how ironic….I was just thinking they need a trim ;) Honestly Kate, you are such an inspiration. I’ll send you a picture or two when I finally put it together. I am so excited! Thanks for sharing this project.

  21. What a beautiful tree, and thanks for the 411 on the branches. How lucky you are that your kids are well-behaved enough to stay out of it until Dec. 1

  22. It’s fabulous!!!! So many details. Your kids will enjoy it, enjoy if they don’t get how much time, effort & love went into your making it. Maybe someday they will.

  23. I love it! The advent calendar is simply divine and looks like its been taken straight from a magazine! Can’t wait to see your staircase – I’m a newlywed, well, I guess I don’t qualify as that anymore, but I still haven’t collected a whole lot for Christmas, so I love seeing other people’s ideas to help guide me as I build our seasonal decorations!

  24. Awesome Job!!! I love the way that your advent tree turned out, and I like the berry decopage painting you did as well :) I really enjoy reading about your lovely projects.

  25. My sister in law at (you would love her) created a family nest tree that looks like yours but had family photos on card stock with ribbon tieing it to the tree. It was adorable. Then I made a more contemporary one for our home I was going to print pictures of past Christmases to use on the tree. Somehow on the back of the cardstock I want to mount a mini gift card with a # and stating what scripture to read and what treat they can have. Can’t wrap my brain around it yet. Love how your tree turned out. Holly at lifelaughlatte

  26. I love your advent tree – so much more fun than those dollar boxes of nasty chocolate.
    I can’t wait til i have kids that I can share these traditions with.

  27. Still crazy about advent calendars and absolutely this version. I can’t believe it’s November 11th and you already have it done! Your endless reserves of energy and creativity are awe inspiring.

  28. This is the coolest advent calendar I’ve ever seen! I hope your kids love it as much as all of us do! I really like this, especially because the kids will have to search for the day because they are not all lined up like in some more traditional advent calendars. You make me want to get married and have kids asap so I can do these fun things! I have a few years until that happens, though. I’ll keep adding to my ideas though, and this will definitely be one of them. :)

  29. Oh I love it!!! I love the branches it so original yet adorable!! I would like to see your Winter painting in its own post. It looks amazing. I am so excited for your staircase reveal! I love checking your blog because its so inventive. Thanks again for the ideas!

  30. I absolutely love your Advent Tree. My mother-in-law had given us a fabric calender when my oldest, now 19yr.old twins, were celebrating their first Christmas. I have four children now and they still look forward to the calender. No candy or toys, which makes it easier with four children. They each take a turn for each day, but whoever does the first day is also the one to put the star on the tree, very special honor still, and the last day is a Santa heading our for his adventure.
    It’s these small enjoyments that make the season so special. I hope your children will have fun for years to come with with their Advent Calender.

  31. Oh my gosh, I LOVE THIS!!! I love your blog and this has to be one of my faves! What a great idea-I really want to do this, but not this year since I just moved (ah!) I love how the baby Jesus is in the last box!

  32. I love the advent calendar, it is much better than the paper flap ones! I would love for you to share how you made the cranberry branch, it is too neat!

    Congratulations on hitting over 2 million viewers!

  33. Kate, this is very, very beautiful. You’re making some wonderful memories for your kids.
    And it’s OK you haven’t picked up Mr Potter; I haven’t seen Sex in the City which is almost as shocking!

  34. Your beautiful little tree inspired me tonight to take a trip to Michaels where I found some beautiful pink favour boxes and white favour boxes- can hardly wait to dress up my own little tree!!

  35. Beautiful idea! And such a great treasure for your kids-we have some much loved Advent traditions too, make Christmas that much more special!

  36. WHAT A GREAT MOM YOU ARE! I love all the little trinkets and what have yous you did. YOUR KIDS are not going to need Christmas w/ all the fun you created. Recycled hallow candy GREAT JOB! HA! I painted a cookie sheet last night red, to make a Christmas advent calender.. but now I am seconding that thought.. and may make a tree instead. GREAT JOB MOM AKA CG!

  37. So cute! that advent calender looks so perfect, i love it! i’m already coming up with my own version! – although just for me and the hubby. i’d LOVE to see a tutorial for the berry art – its fantastic! the fake snow is the best part!

  38. So Kate, you really inspired me. I have been looking for a more substantial advent calendar than the one from Trader Joes with a chocolate per day. I loved your manzanita branch advent calendar. So, I was in Michaels looking for boxes to do something similar when I saw these cookie gift boxes by ‘Martha’ which were on sale. They are a brownish color with white print on them depicting ye olde worlde buildings–they look like little gingerbread houses. My boys are mad for gingerbread, so I bought several packets of these boxes and set up a little gingerbread town advent calendar tray (just slips off the tongue doesn’t it?). In anticipation of Dec. 1st, last night I put them on a large tray with some batting (ie snow) and set them up. Oh, and I used those red glitter numbers from Michaels as well. They look so cute. The boys are going to flip tomorrow night. Thanks for the inspiration!

  39. This is awesome. Truly awesome.

    I really, really, REALLY would love to do this — but it seems so late in the season now! If only I had found this sooner!!! Thanks for the inspirations!

  40. I love this! I am going to try something like this next year seeing as it’s a little too late now. Your blog is so inspiring, thank you!

  41. I’m making my very first advent calendar for my kids this year…so happy I stumbled on yours! (thanks to the Link Within boxes!). I’m hoping to make the treat holders out of cones. I’m still working out the ‘tree’ part…I have some good clippings from the yard, but they have full on leaves and berries. Cross your fingers for me!

    And like you, I’ll have two treats per box…identical of course!
    xo, Cassie

  42. I know it’s been over a year since this post, but I’ve just navigated to it now, and am so amazed and inspired! I love this idea, and the result is just beautiful! Unfortunately, I also will have to wait until my child(ren) are older to start up this tradition…

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