Automating Advent Calendar with Github Actions and Eleventy
Reading time: about 5 minutes
Last year, I decided to take up the challenge and build an advent calendar. After some consideration, the concept was clear: it would be in Finnish and about accessibility. I have a Finnish Instagram account where I talk about accessibility, so this combination made the most sense.
After that, there was all the technical decisions and solving the problem above: How to keep content hidden until the right time? In this blog post, I'll share how I solved that problem. But first, let's look into the stack I chose to use.
The calendar is built with Eleventy - my go-to choice when I want to create something that's not so complicated that I need to break it into smaller components. Actually, now that I think of it, I'd still take Eleventy - my projects are usually simple.
Hiding Content with Eleventy
So I started doing some research. Is there a way to prevent some pages from getting into the build Eleventy does? After searching with some terms that did not give me good results, I finally found the solution:
.eleventyignore and having an
unpublished-directory containing the unpublished content. This way, the contents of the
unpublished-directory won't be part of the build.
Yes, I felt a bit stupid after discovering this ignore file because that was not the first thing I thought. I mean, every JS project and package has one, so why didn't I think about it straight away? Well, that happens. I am sharing this because, usually, these blog posts are about results, not progress.
Back to the story, I now had a way to hide the following days. The next thing was to write a script to move the current day's content from one folder (
unpublished) to another (
As I've been using Node for many years, I used it for that. I could have gone with the shell commands, but my shell scripting skills are way rustier than Node skills, so I went with the easiest solution.
After a while, I had a small function to handle moving the file. The function takes the current date as a parameter. It checks if the
unpublished folder contains a file with that date and moves it to the
The next thing was to set up Github Action to run the script daily, commit it to the main branch and rebuild the site.
For the calendar app to work correctly, there were three noteworthy aspects of writing the Github Action file: Running the workflow daily Running the Node script mentioned in the previous section Committing changes to the main branch.
For running the workflow daily, I already had an example of a schedule-event with cron in another project, so that was a little copy-paste. Github has good documentation around triggering events on workflows, and I wanted to run the workflow every night at 00:00 UTC, so these are the lines I used:
schedule: - cron: '0 0 * * *'
The second task, running the Node script, was also straightforward. Defining the script in
package.json´s scripts made it effortless to run in the workflow.
I used the shell scripts for the third task because I had an example of that in another project. I first defined the committers email and name with
git config --global user.email "updater-bot" git config --global user.name "updater-bot"
And after that, I added the moved files and committed them with
git add 2022 unpublished git commit -m "Move day"
and finally pushed the branch to the main with
git push origin main
When the commit hit the main branch, the project got rebuilt, and the new changes were published.
Writing the content was the most fun and time-consuming part of the project. I decided to go with three types of content: Information, task, and book recommendation.
I ended up having 14 days of information, seven days of tasks, and three book recommendations. My goal was to gather material from different sources, with different types, and mainly in Finnish. And as I wanted to provide something new for a wider audience, I avoided technical content.
Sharing the Calendar
At the beginning of December, I shared the calendar on my social media accounts: Instagram and LinkedIn. The initial response was tremendous and showed in analytics; there was a clear spike in the visits to the page. Looking at the analytics, there were shares on (assumed) work settings, as some traffic came from Slack and Teams.
After the initial sharing, I shared each day's content daily on my Instagram account. I could have advertised the calendar way more, but my December was so busy at work, and I didn't have the energy. It shows in the analytics; most of the traffic came from Instagram.
Do you have technical challenges you've been thinking about for a longer time and want to solve? Or something seen as an intriguing challenge (but not necessarily wanting to solve yourself)?
And oh, if you want to see the calendar, it's Saavutettavuusjoulukalenteri.