There was a time when children around the country would count down the days to Christmas with a simple Advent calendar. Behind each door was a festive picture: some robins; a decorated tree; a mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Then, of course, colourful images were no longer enough to satiate youngsters in December and, as with any number of situations, chocolate was seen to be the answer. Suddenly, a calendar without a mini gift from Cadburys or Mars began to look downright retro.
Like much of Christmas itself, advent calendars began to become more and more preposterous. A full stocking, a pile of pressies under the tree, and, hell, even the rubbish cracker trinket was not deemed to be sufficient gifting, and toys started appearing in calendars, too.
Now, however, things have really taken a dark turn: advent calendars for grown-ups. And I don’t just mean fancy chocolate ones (yours from Carluccio’s for £10.95, or Hotel Chocolat for £26) but ones filled with luxury miniature treats, most of which come with a price tag that far exceeds what anyone would spend on a gift for a loved one (not that these calendars are likely to be bought for other people – instead, they are part of another recent and unwelcome festive trend, that of “self-gifting”).
Liberty is hawking one filled with teeny-tiny treats including Diptyque candles, and beauty products from Eve Lom, Ren, and Dermalogica. But at £149, wouldn’t it be more satisfying just to treat yourself to a few full-sized bits? Saying that, obviously the target market for such festive products are people who can afford to be frivolous with their cash.
Then there is the offering from Jo Malone, a snip at £250. And Benefit’s £60 calendars, which are packed with the brand’s quirky cosmetics, is now so coveted that they are snapped up and sold on eBay for a nice profit.
Ciaté’s nail-polish calendar was one of the original beauty varieties to appear when it was launched two years ago.
“We wanted to create something exciting and beautiful that adults could embrace for the festive season and advent calendars were the perfect way to give a daily treat to the beauty-obsessed,” says Charlotte Knight, Ciaté’s founder and creative director. “The reception was amazing, it sold out within days and it’s been one of our best-sellers ever since.”
Amazon is currently stocking a series of advent calendars that come filled with booze. Drinks by the Dram offers whisky, vodka, tequila, rum and gin varieties, the last of which it has decided to call a “ginvent calendar” even though that absolutely does not work. Launched in 2012, Drinks by the Dram claims that its calendar is “the best way for adults to count down to Christmas”. Ranging from £100-£150, you’d still be better off splashing out on a nice bottle of your favourite tipple and just taking a swig every December evening (or morning, depending on how stressful you find the festive season).
“The rise in adult advent calendars can be seen as a part of a trend that sees the continuing flattening of age groups,” suggests Zoe Lazarus, a global insight partner at global advertising network Lowe and Partners. “The idea of age-appropriate products and behaviours is becoming less well defined. Also advent calendars tap into our nostalgic desires, which tend to resurface particularly around holidays. Think about how many adult couples still give each other Christmas stockings.”
But the prize for most absurd advent calendar for grown-ups must surely go to Wedgwood for its £12,000 handcrafted advent house. So what’s behind each door? Dinner plates? Vases? Tea sets? Actually it’s 24 miserable porcelain ornaments. But as Wedgwood points out, it is “sure to earn its place as a family heirloom of the future to be enjoyed by all, year after year”, so really it pays for itself.
Obviously if someone’s bank balance allows it, it seems churlish to be so dismissive. But it’s more than about spending obscene amounts on a festive frippery. It’s the depressing infantalisation of Christmas in which everyone wears bloody reindeers jumpers and weeps over department store ads.
Aren’t these calendars just another unnecessary element of a holiday that already seems so over-the-top and over-extended? Plus, surely no one really needs these little titbits. But you know what might be appreciated? Twenty-four doors hiding sachets of Alka-Seltzer. Or a couple of Nurofen. Big Pharma firms are clearly missing a trick.
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