Time once was that Christmas meant decorating a Christmas tree, chucking up a few festive strings of tinsel, hanging the odd stocking and piling presents under the tree.
But these days, if you aren’t following the countdown to the big day with an advent calendar, you’re barely doing Christmas right at all. And your bog-standard, ‘picture behind the window’ isn’t going to pass muster. Nor, it seems, will your little bit of below-par chocolate, rationed out to the kids over a few weeks. Nope, advent calendars have become even more elaborate and extravagant; less a sideshow before the big day and almost as fancy as what you’ll find under the tree on the 25th. They’ve certainly come a long way since their very spiritual origins: in Christianity, Advent is celebration of the twinkly march towards Christmas Day. The ritual originated in Germany in the 19th century – back then, it was merely a question of ticking the days off on a door with a bit of chalk, and making a meal of it. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the calendars reportedly came into being. These days, the Advent calendar runs the gamut from the traditional to the ridiculous. You’re likely to find a non-luxury or sweet-filled calendar as easily as a luxury-brand one. And some are strictly adults-only. Aldi’s wine Advent calendar was an instant sellout in Irish stores when they landed in late November. Balmain’s beauty calendar housed various pricey products from the fashion house’s Hair Couture Range, from texturing salt-spray to deep conditioner (around €153).
And, for the truly flathuileach, Drinks By The Dram offer what must be the world’s most expensive Advent calendar, with 24 different 30ml drams of whiskey, which costs a cool €11,090 from masterofmalt.com.
The explosion in calendars hasn’t been universally welcomed: experts have warned that chocolate calendars are fuelling the obesity crisis among children, while Alcohol Action Ireland says that the boozy versions are teaching young people that festivities are all about drinking and are giving out the wrong message.
But despite these warnings, there’s no getting away from the fact that the calendars have become a festive staple. So what does your choice say about you?
Celebrations Advent Calendar, approx €15
If you were able to get over the fact that the first chocolate through the door on December 1 was a Bounty (and by all accounts, many people couldn’t), the Celebrations Advent calendar was a sweet way to tick away the days of December. We’d much prefer a selection box, mind.
Who has it? Fans of deferred gratification. A rare breed.
Corgi Sock Calendar, €450
Now sold out in Ireland (naturally), Corgi produced a calendar bearing 24 pairs of premium-brand cotton socks. Happy Socks, incidentally, have one that’s still available at a (well, relatively) pocket-friendly €200.
Who has it? What do you mean, ‘more money than sense?’
Charlotte Tilbury: Charlotte’s Beauty Universe Advent Calendar, €185
Charlotte Tilbury’s counters are usually heaving with beauty fans come party season, but this is one way to circumvent the madding crowd. Enjoy Mini Full-Fat Lashes, Eyes To Mesmerize and, a perennial favourite, Matte Revolution in Pillow Talk. Travel-sized versions of cult favourites like Wonderglow, Supermodel Body, Take It All Off and Multi-Miracle are all lurking within special glittery boxes (no opening cardboard windows carry-on here, in other words).
Who has it?: Beauty fans who travel a lot and could do with their beauty staples in small bottles. And can think of something nice to do with 10 sparkly gold boxes afterwards.
Fortnum & Mason Rare Tea Wooden Advent Calendar, €170
There’ll be none of your Barry’s malarkey here, but tea snobs can count the days down to Christmas – probably the only tea-free day of the year in some Irish households – with a different ‘delicious sensation’ in a silk-bag tea blend every day.
Who has it? Your mother-in-law who never drinks, or anyone who thinks that Earl Grey tea doesn’t taste like someone forgot to wash the cups properly.
Jo Malone Advent Calendar, approx €332
By turns, collectable and widely covetable, the Jo Malone Advent Calendar is always a cause for celebration every year. Unwrap the gorgeous ‘townhouse’ packaging and you’ll find festive, seasonal items (like a mini frosted Cherry & Clove candle). The big-hitters, like Grapefruit or Pomegranate Noir, are present and correct, but they’re joined by all sorts of body creams, oils and 35g candles.
Who has it? Die-hard beauty fans, or for those who think self-gifting is the best thing about Christmas.
Craft Beer Advent Box, €99
Not quite a traditional calendar, but TheBeerClub.ie went one better and presented their advent box (with numbered windows) – 24 hand-picked bottles of craft beers, from IPAs and saisons to lagers and blonde ales. Retailing at €99 (or €4.10 per bottle), the box was an immediate sellout.
Who has it? The bloke down the pub who would bore the bejaykers out of you talking about the differences between red and brown ale.
Pierre Marcolini 24 Notes of Sweetness, approx €55
If you really can’t do without the chocolate element, Pierre Marcolini’s calendar boasts 24 top-notch chocs behind each door, from almond pralines to cashew gianduja.
Who has it? Pure traditionalists who don’t mind spending (way) over the odds for what is essentially two dozen chocolates.
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