Advent calendars are big business, counting down enticingly from December 1 to Christmas Day. The first printed Advent calendar dates back to the early 1900s. Reichold and Lang’s printers in Germany produced some of the first mass-made calendars until the 1930s.
It was only after the end of rationing in the 1950s in the UK that chocolates were increasingly included as daily Advent treats behind each tiny door. The combination of the anticipation of Christmas and the promise of delicious mouthfuls ensures their lasting popularity. Increasingly, people are purchasing calendars that will be used for many years to come or even be passed on to their children as heirlooms, connected to fond memories of Christmases past. Once you own a permanent, annual advent calendar of a wooden or fabric variety, you will simply need to buy your 24 or 25 chocolate treats to drop into the boxes or pockets each year.
Calendars to Consider
The selection is wide and varied. Conventional Advent calendars are available in an almost bewildering array. The selection has grown because of the increasing wealth of twists – and we have more on this further down the page. But first you might want to give thought to the list of options, including:
Calendars with chocolates behind each door
Paper calendars with Christmas images behind each door
Paper calendars with religious phrases behind each door
Wooden boxes divided into 25 sections
Wooden houses decorated with 25 door and window compartments
Calendars made from fabric, with 25 pockets sewn on
Small boxes to fill with gifts to hang from a tree, branch or stretch of ribbon
Crackers filled with gifts and chocolates
Miniature buckets on a line with a gift in each one
Mittens, pouches or socks on a line with a gift in each one
Pots of sweets in Advent tubes
String of numbered balloons
Personalised photo Advent strings
Activities box and calendar combo
A box or string of paper packets, parcels or envelopes
Advent twig trees
We have a fresh selection of more specific calendar choices and suppliers below. But before we leave the basic decision-making, take a look next at our thoughts on trinkets for Advent calendars. This might help you narrow down your options.
What type of gifts work with your calendar of choice will depend on the shape and size of the receptacle you choose and the age of the recipient. We suggest taking one of the boxes, bags, envelopes etc. with you when shopping so you can check your proposed presents will fit. It can be challenging but fun to find 24 small and completely different items. Here are a few suggestions for you to consider:
For Adults: Chocolate decorations; chocolate coins; tiny pots of jam or marmalade; mini squares of Christmas cake; mulled wine spices; Christmas tree trinkets; pack of tissues decorated with seasonal images; small items of jewellery; pot pourri refresher oils; key rings; lip salve; iTtunes gift cards; photos with a special significance and a message written on the back; Christmas jokes and poems.
For Children: Write or print out passes for staying up an extra 30 minutes or for treats such as a trip to the cinema or a Christmas event; any chocolate or sweet treats; hair bands and decorative clips; small toys; collectables; magic tricks; stickers; badges.
Elf Helper: Perfume and cosmetic samples you may collect throughout the year or you find in promotional gift sets can make decent Advent gifts. You will also find many more ideas for Advent gifts on our Stockings & Socks page.
notonthehighstreet.com – a wide variety of different calendars to suit all tastes and pockets such as hand-made Advent Bunting, Advent Calendar of Tea, Personalised 24 Sleeps ’til Christmas Books, Lots of Pots of Sweets Santa Advent Calendar and Personalised Christmas Tree Advent Calendar Wall Stickers. See also the Badges and Treats combo, the Activities Box idea, the white marble tiles that make up the Personalised Desktop Countdown and the Wooden Train Advent Calendar.
masterofmalt.com – a selection of 24 samples of wonderful Scotch whisky, including such brands as 15-year-old Bowmore Darkest, Copper Dog, Monkey Shoulder and Glenfiddich, so you can “Embrace the Christmas spirit every day during December with a Drinks by the Dram booze-filled Advent Calendar! From whisky fans to gin lovers, mezcal fiends to absinthe enthusiasts, there’s something for everyone.” Alcohol-based calendars are hugely popular. Just take your pick.
thorntons.co.uk – a personalised calendar of Thorntons delicious chocolates complete with the recipients name iced onto them. Basic boxed calendars, too, with favourite children’s characters pictured.
jacquielawson.com – a computer calendar that day-by-day builds a festive scene. There’s more than one choice of scene. Each day there are either musical animations or little puzzles to watch and complete, all adding extra elements to the developing Christmas scene. The Advent calendars make excellent gifts and are a great way to help your friends and family kick off the season. You can subscribe to this splendid website to secure unlimited use for a year or more and we promise it will bring you and your loved ones a great deal of pleasure.
biscuiteers.com – Biscuiteers makes beautifully decorated biscuits. Buy the Advent biscuit tin and cloth calendar in combination. In recent years, Susie Watson and Sophie Conran have created designs to delight.
libertylondon.com: Liberty’s stunning calendar, housed in a beautiful Liberty London box, is an annual best-seller, with each drawer revealing a beauty treat hand-picked from Liberty’s favourite brands, including the likes of Hourglass, Byredo and Diptyque. The store’s facade is captured in its wintery glory, with Liberty print decorating the inside. The products are worth around three times the retail price of the calendar. Little wonder it flies out of the iconic London store.
fortnumandmason.com – Fortnum’s traditional paper advent calendar is decorated with the Piccadilly store’s iconic façade, with renowned window displays and Christmas wreaths and is also available in wooden form or with musical attachment, but at a considerably bigger price. There are other stunning wooden calendars with other Christmas designs, plus a beauty calendar. Be sure to check out Fortnum’s website.
lego.com – Lego Advent Calendars combine a must-have toy (anytime of the year, let alone Christmas) with the Christmas countdown to create an annual winner. The Lego Star Wars edition is a particular champion. Lego City and Lego Friends are other splendid options.
diptyqueparis.co.uk – Exquisite scented candles are Diptyque’s flagship product, but the French perfumer also produces bath and body products and other items of luxurious fragrance. You will find a decadent collection in its gorgeous Advent calendar, usually available for pre-order from October.
selfridges.com – The luxury calendars at Selfridges traditionally sell out fast. You have been warned. They are available exclusively at Selfridges from late-September.
snafflingpig.co.uk –the Advent calendar that’s A3 sized and full of pork scratchings encourages a “Merry Piggin’ Christmas”. As the website blurb points out, chocolate Advent calendars can be great for a sweet tooth “but if you’re more of a savoury loving swine, they’ve tended to be a piggin’ let down.” Thus the creation of this tasty porky delight.
thewhitecompany.com: The limited edition Advent calendar from The White Company is back from October, filled with 24 luxurious treats. The packaging is, as always, classically and stylishly ‘White Company’ chic.
nespresso.com: Coffee lovers take note. Nespresso launched its first Advent calendar in 2019 to count you down to Christmas with a selection of flavoursome blends. Unusually, it came cube-shaped. The calendar included blends from Nespresso’s festive collection. Here’s to more of the same each and every year.
Beauty Advent Calendars
Forget the chocolate. Beauty Advent calendars are the must have countdown product of the age and have been some of the most sought-after pre-Christmas products of recent years. Here’s a selection of our favourites.
Jo Malone; Kiehl’s; Liberty; Charlotte Tilbury; ASOS; Decléor; Harrods; Elemis; L’Occitane; Clinique; Morris & Co; Liz Earle; Net-A-Porter; Rituals
Variations on a Theme
Whatever you select to hold your Advent treats, whatever kind of countdown calendar you decide to employ, it will work as long as you create a suitably exciting festive feel. Your only limitation is your imagination. Just how far will it stretch?
This alternative to a conventional Advent calendar is a cracking idea for youngsters. Buy a couple of boxes of inexpensive crackers, 24 small foil-wrapped chocolate treats and the same number of tiny trinkets.
Open up one end of the cracker and upgrade the contents with one of your foil-wrapped chocolate pieces and one of the trinket gifts, like key rings, small decorations and mini sweet tins. If you wish, put in your own poem or trivia question on a small piece of paper. Close up that end once again and tie ribbon around it, making a big enough loop to hang it over a door handle. Repeat the process with all 24 crackers. Number 24 pieces of card or paper: 1 to 24. Stick a number on each of the crackers. Hang cracker number one from a door handle of a child’s room as they sleep on November 30, ready for them to greet the first day of December with a bang when they awake. Make sure any pets are out of earshot when the crackers are pulled.
You can tailor-make these for family and friends – even pets. Start with a strong tree branch, with plenty of twigs sprouting from it at various tangents. Alternatively, you can obtain a shop-bought wire tree. Some come dressed with Christmas lights. If you go for the natural option, put the base of the branch in a plant pot and surround it with pebbles. Don’t put the pebbles in first and then try to push the branch in. This won’t work. You can now buy packs of Advent boxes, small cardboard boxes with numbers on them and ribbons attached. Fill each box with a festive trinket or chocolate and hang them from the branch. If you feel extra creative, you might want to include a line of poetry, a Christmas anecdote or trivia question on a slip of paper in each box.
The 24 Books of Christmas
This idea can be adopted for adults and children alike. Wrap 24 books in Christmas paper. They might be books you already own, an entirely new collection or a combination of both. Number two-dozen gift tags from 1 to 24 and attach to the wrapped books. Put them in order in a rectangular basket or container, with number one at the front and number 24 at the back.
On December 1, open the first book and make that your reading material for the day. Continue the process through to December 24, when our suggested read is the classic “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. This is straightforward enough for youngsters, with so many children’s books to choose from that can be read in one, short bedtime burst. Think of books like “The Gruffalo”, “The Gruffalo’s Child”, “Room on the Broom”, “Father Christmas Needs a Wee”, “The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas” and “The Dinosaur Who Pooped Christmas”.
You can also include books from Our Original Stories page. Make certain you have enough books for the collection of 24 well before December. Even if the books are not new, children will enjoy the unwrapping process – more an unveiling process really – and have fun guessing what that night’s bedtime story might be.
For adults, bite-size books are the key, the kind of work you can easily digest in one sitting at night’s end. Carol Ann Duffy’s collection is perfect. The Poet Laureate has delivered a lovely series of Christmas poetry pamphlets “The Twelve Poems of Christmas” and also “Bethlehem”; “The Christmas Truce”; “Another Night Before Christmas”; “Wenceslas: A Christmas Poem”; “Mrs. Scrooge: A Christmas Tale” and “The Wren Boys”. Other books for your consideration might be: “At Christmas Time” by Anton Chekhov, “The Christmas Box” by Richard Paul Evans and “The Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Andersen. Once the books are wrapped, shuffle them before you add the tags. That way you (or the person for whom you’re creating this experience) won’t know what book you’ll be reading each evening until the wrapping has been torn off, so it’s a surprise whether or not the books are new. You could make fabric book pouches, attach numbers to each and re-use them year after year. Perhaps combine each read with the lighting of an Advent candle to make it more special.
The Bucket Line
Tiny numbered buckets on a line can be purchased, ready to carry small gifts for each day of Advent. The same concept works equally well with little bags, envelopes, mittens, socks and boots that can then be pegged on to decorative ribbon. Although decorative bags look pretty, it is also possible to enhance plain envelopes or bags with Japanese washi tape. We have seen Advent calendars made from hanging shoe organisers and even jam jars.
Taper candles marked with 24 notches are readily available in the festive season: Advent calendars in a simple candle. Burn down one notch for each day of December until the big day arrives. These can also be obtained in pillar candle form, which increases the burn time for each day. You might also try Advent tea-lights marked with glitter numbers with several hours’ burn time for each tea-light.
Life Size & Awesome
Around the UK, numbers of towns and villages are offering their ‘living’ Advent calendars. The Saltaire Living Advent Calendar in West Yorkshire started in 2006. Every year, 24 Saltaire windows are illuminated with a festive scene. One scene is ‘opened’ each day from December 1-24. The windows remain lit until Twelfth Night, so why not wrap up warm and view an alternative Advent calendar? See saltaireinspired.org.uk for further information.