DIY: Walnut Shell Advent Calendar

Surprise someone each day with an unusual twist on a tradition

By Lindsay Kurz

Tight on cash this holiday season, but still want to give something special?  A homemade advent calendar can be the perfect solution to delight the receiver each day leading up to Christmas. (It can easily be adapted for Hanukkah as well, with a gift for each of the eight days).  When you think of advent calendars, one of those simple milk-chocolate filled cardboard and plastic ones sold at grocery stores may come to mind. But this holiday staple can mean so much more when you create your own and fill it with small personal gifts and notes.

In this project we’re using old walnut shells and found ribbon to enclose a small gift each day. (So if you are eating any walnuts soon, save those shells!) Each shell is meant to double as an ornament. We’ve included some ideas for the gifts, but it is up to you to decide how elaborate each gift will be.

-    Dull table knife
-    Glue (EcoGlue® is a good choice)
-    Scissors
-    Pen
-    Paper hole-punch

-    Whole walnuts
-    Found ribbon, cut into roughly 13” lengths
-    Scraps of paper
-    String, cut into 8” pieces

1.    Gather the appropriate number of whole walnuts for your “calendar” — whether that is 12 for the twelve days of Christmas, or eight for the eight nights of Hanukkah. You may want to have a few extra walnuts on reserve in case a few of the shells crack. Using a dull table knife, carefully pry open each walnut so you have two intact halves.  The trick to doing this without cracking the shell is to insert the knife into the seam at the back where there is often a tiny opening. Be very careful not to slip and cut your hand!  Keep each walnut half paired with its mate, otherwise you’ll have a pile of ill-fitting walnut shells.

2.    Remove the nutmeats and set aside (skip down to the bonus Candied Walnut Recipe at the bottom to find a tasty way to prepare walnuts).  Scrape out the thin interior dividing walls of the walnut and discard (in compost bin of course!).

3.    To each shell, add a small gift.  (See Gift Ideas at bottom for inspiration).  Glue the shell halves together and set aside until dry.  If there is a particular sequence you want the gifts to be opened in be sure to set aside the walnuts in a way that you’ll remember the order.

4.    Cut the paper scraps down to small 1” inch squares (one square for each day).  Write the date to be opened on each paper. Punch a hole in the corner of each square.

5.    When the glue is dry, tie a ribbon around each walnut and fashion in a bow.  Reuse ribbons from old gifts, packaging or even salvaged from old clothing. Before you tie the knot, slip a paper square with the corresponding date onto each bow.

6.    To hang the walnut on the Christmas tree, slip a piece of string through the ribbon and tie securely. For Hanukkah, place the walnuts in a pretty bowl beside the menorah. Your giftee can pry or crack one (gently!) open each day.

- Small pieces of jewelry, such as earrings, charms, cufflinks, or rings.  (Thinking of proposing to your special someone this holiday year?  Hide the ring in the final day!)

- A personal note or poem

- A small locket with a special photo, or just a small photo

- A chocolate or candy (click here to read about organic candy options)

- A gift certificate (folded very compactly, or a tiny IOU for the certificate)

- A small vial of perfume (Look for perfumes preferably made from pure plant essential oils, with no synthetic “fragrance”)

- Glass beads and perhaps jewelry wire to string them on to make a necklace

- A personal coupon such as “Good for one homemade meal,” or “Good for a shoulder massage”

- Tickets (IOU tickets) to a play, sports event or music concert

- Seeds of their favorite flower or vegetable

- Small toys, such as doll house accessories or marbles (not for children younger than 3)

Perfect to serve at a holiday party, candied walnuts are a well-loved winter-time treat.

- 2 cups shelled walnuts
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- butter

1.    Spread nuts on baking sheet and toast at 375 F in oven for about 5 minutes, or until the smell of roasting nuts fills the kitchen.  Don’t let them burn!

2.    Butter sides of a two quart saucepan.

3.    Combine sugar, water, salt and cinnamon in saucepan.

4.    Boil the mixture over medium heat, stirring continuously until it reaches soft ball stage*. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

5.    Add the roasted nuts to the mixture and stir in until all nuts are coated well. Spoon the nuts onto waxed paper and separate each nut to dry.

*Soft ball stage = when mixture holds together as a ball, instead of dissolving, when a drop of the mixture is dripped into a cup of cold water.


So clever! I love your whole use of natural things...the nut meats well as the outside shell. Your philosophy is wonderful.
Thanks for sharing.