When you think of advent calendars past, they’re a rather disappointing memory. A rushed, clammy speck of Cadbury’s before school (or none at all if your parents nabbed it), or one of those highly religious Christmas cards with nothing but a picture of the Virgin Mary or one of her crew behind each window. It was always the most anticlimactic of the festive rituals. But now that capitalism has reached its peak, that’s all changed. Our writers have been shotting tequila, building little Lego Antony Gormleys and toasting marshmallows with a portable FIRE.
We tried what’s out there:
The Naked Marshmallow Co. Advent Calendar, £15, and £3.95 extra for a toasting kit
“This is literally the most fun I’ve had in my entire life.” Although hyperbolic, these were the words that came out of my boyfriend’s mouth as we began to roast our first marshmallows from the Naked Marshmallow Co. calendar. With the box, you get a small tin pot of flammable gel (mmm, festive fumes) and tiny sticks with which to roast each marshmallow hidden behind each door, bringing the outdoor campfire experience cosily indoors. Although I was dubious as to how good a marshmallow calendar might be, I can now confirm that it was an absolute delight. Not only were the marshmallows insanely tasty, but it was a fun evening activity to take part in – a daily dalliance into the festive season. Aside from the fact that there are only a couple of flavours on a loop (six to be exact), even the most boring ones are still brilliant and the best ones are a revelation. This calendar was tasty enough that I plan to get one for myself this December to relive the experience And I can only recommend you do so too. Sarah Manavis
Lego City Advent Calendar Price £22.99
Number one on the Lego city advent calendar is a small rocket. Now, I grew up in a city and I’m pretty sure – even in my childhood imagination – there weren’t spacecrafts hurtling around Acton in December. Perhaps the next one will deliver. A drone. Bloody big tech, wrecking my childhood nostalgia and this wintry scene. Next. Yes, a human! It’s a little man with freckles holding two 5p pieces. I don’t know which western city this is supposed to be, but he won’t get much with those. Perhaps he’s been working in the gig economy. Perhaps that’s why he has two facial expressions on either side of his head – beaming and highly anxious.
A dog that looks like an Arctic fox with a chicken (or turkey?) drumstick the size of its body follows, as does a horrifying snowman with no face, a woman holding an icecream as big as a club, and a rather handsome pastry chef in a tasteful cable-knit. The Christmas tree has a tiny Antony Gormley on top, and Santa’s hat is venerated in a separate baggie all to itself.
But mixing exciting machines with humans who appear, frankly, to have disturbing back stories (who are you, girl with beautiful thick auburn hair brandishing a giant icecream in the snow? Who are you, faceless snowbeast?) makes this the ideal Lego product. It even folds out to a little floorplan, with a football pitch, street, snowy courtyard and, yes, a helicopter landing pad, to help you play out an entire city scene once you’ve reached Day 24. Its commitment to the utterly abstract also gives it a touch of that retro Lego vibe that Star Wars, Harry Potter and gender have robbed it of late. Like what is this, for example?
Perhaps a child of the modern city would be able to identify it. It was probably invented by Elon Musk. Anoosh Chakelian
Pets at Home Luxury Advent Calendar for Dogs, £4
The individual doors of this calendar are, bizarrely, extremely hard to open without ripping the entire thing – which, while annoying, does give human users a feel for what it’s like to not have opposable thumbs, and may, therefore, bring them closer to their pooch. Parents thinking of buying these to please excited children with dogs, be warned: I really don’t think children could open this calendar.
The treats themselves, when removed from the wreckage of the calendar, went down very well with my five-month-old puppy Tub, who liked them so much he would urgently and possessively take them to the garden to be eaten in total privacy. But the doors are a fundamental and grave error: door-opening is, after all, the most fundamental part of the modern advent calendar. The rest is a luxurious extra. Anna Leszkiewicz
Tub’s thoughts: TREAT MINE. NOT HUMANS. NO TAKE BACKS. BYE BYE.
Drinks by the Dram Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar, £149.95
The modest, brown cardboard packaging of this advent calendar means it could be easily mistaken for an Amazon parcel, rather than an indulgent, £149.95 month-long boozing session just for you. Each bottle, sealed with black wax, is small enough to slip into a pocket and drink surreptitiously at any occasion – the opera, the train, your hospital bed. In theory, you should be journeying through the drams of the world, and this is no doubt the main allure for whisky buffs, but as a Scot I was happy to discover an inordinate amount of single malt whisky.
As a Scot, I also had to work out the exact price of each bottle, which at £6.24 is not particularly cheap for supermarket whisky but might be for, say, Dalwhinnie’s 2002 Oloroso Cask Finish Distillers Edition. Having reviewed a similar advent calendar before, I quickly broke the rules and began plundering multiple dates at once so I could sip the finest in company and not spend every evening drinking alone.
One consequence of a whisky calendar is you end up with 24 beautiful and tiny bottles that are too cute to throw away and too small to be any use. Except perhaps to fill up with some Famous Grouse, put back in the cardboard box, and see if anyone notices next year. Julia Rampen
Match Attax Premier League Advent Calendar, £20
Few things unite actual children and conspiracy theorists in their twenties and thirties. Well, few things other than complete dependance on their mothers for food, shelter and clothing – and football stickers. This very much inedible but nonetheless nourishing take on the advent calendar by Match Attax will delight both, provided, obviously, that they like football.
As a 23-year-old with a healthy distrust of the official line on Paul McCartney’s continuing existence, I can only really claim membership of one of the aforementioned groups. Opening this calendar 24 times over made me feel like both. Like most football fans of my age, I collected stuff like this as a kid: first the official Premier League stickers (35p a packet! Stick that up your RPI!), and then the slightly edgier Shoot Out cards, which replaced toothy headshots and autographs with full-length studies of your favourite stars in action.
Match Attax, like the latter and other playground currencies like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards, are notionally a game, but these cards are only ever stockpiled like tins of Fray Bentos in a doomsday shelter and bartered and swapped after the ensuing nuclear strike. There are 120 of them in this calendar, which will delight or shut up the football-loving kid in your life for hours.
It certainly did for me. Opening the first window threw me deep into the recesses of my own memory, as if I were having a near-death experience. I wasn’t, but what I found inside did make me wonder whether life was still worth living. West Ham – fine. Tottenham’s Davinson Sanchez – okay. Newcastle United’s inexplicably shiny Kenedy – excuse me? Wolves’s Ivan Cavaleiro – who?
The quintet of solid pewter chumps I held in my hand took me back to the summer of 2001, when my first packet of football stickers I ever bought bequeathed me, erm, legends such as Arsenal’s Junichi Inamoto (zero league appearances, zero goals, one signature copied by me into an autograph book that lay humiliatingly bare until my dad got me Vladimir Smicer’s on the back of a receipt four years later).
Things did not pick up on day two, when I opened my second packet and saw Ivan Cavaleiro staring at me again. Then came Huddersfield Town – more relegation fodder. I felt myself getting angry at the proliferation of duff cards and deliberate suppression of the good. I remembered the shameless racketeering of whoever it was who made the 2005-6 Shoot Out cards, which inflicted upon the world an embarrassment of Jérémie Aliadières and choked off the supply of Ruud van Nistelrooys. The sight of Harry Maguire (no relation, sadly) soon lifted my mood, as did Jordan Henderson, captain of my beloved Liverpool.
By day five I had two Hendersons and four shinies. By day six I had four goalkeepers, which somehow rankled. By day seven, two of Crystal Palace’s Jeff Schlupp, which is more than anyone needs to see of Jeff Schlupp – whose name surely cannot be real – in a week. But I also had lots of decent swaps, and as I approached the 24th window I found myself, when not questioning the almost quaintly low pricetags on the players (Paul Pogba costs £8m compared to £89m in real life, which I am sure is a paternalistic ploy to insulate kids from the evils of late capitalism) quietly fist-pumping more than once and almost convulsing with childish glee when, on day 21, I opened a packet to find Mo Salah. My very own Egyptian King.
That made all the Jeff Schlupps and Ivan Cavaleiros I ended up with worth it. I can’t imagine how happy this calendar would make a boy or girl of eight. In the stack of 120 cards I ended up with I saw countless childhood afternoons. Never such innocence again. I’ll be sending the stack to my cousin, though I do worry whether I should designate a guardian or put them in trust or something because I feel like he’ll get drunk on the power that arsenal of swaps will provide. I’m keeping Mo Salah though. That one’s already in my wallet. Patrick Maguire
Haribo Advent Calendar 2018, £5
As someone who’d always pick a gelatine-based sugary snack over any Christmas tree-shaped chocolate, the Haribo calendar was always going to be a hit with me. I’m their target market. Well, perhaps not quite. I’m a 30-year-old man and the artwork features a giant bear decorating a Christmas tree in some sort of wintry children’s playground. But you know what they say: “Kids and grown-ups love it so!” Except this calendar actually says “Haribo macht Kinder froh und Erwachsene ebenso!” Which is roughly the same thing in German. (“Haribo makes children happy and adults as well!”, GoogleTranslate tells me). Because the calendar seems geared towards the German market, and the treats within aren’t just your standard Great British cornershop affair, there are a few more exotic surprises than cola bottles and fried eggs. Sour Maoams and “Fruchtschneke” were particular favourites. If chocolate isn’t your thing and you prefer a Tangfastic to a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, then this is for you. Jonny Ball
Countdown to Christmas Wine Advent Calendar, £55, Amazon
I was very excited about this as I like wine and I am not opposed to calendars, but my joy quickly turned into horror. Behind 25 doors there are 25 bottles of wine: red, white, mulled and two bottles of fizzy wine (one on the first and one on the 25th). Not full-sized bottles, mind, but those little travel bottles they bring you on a train or a plane or whatever to dull the sounds of the children two seats behind you.
The first problem is that you have no way of knowing what colour or type of wine you are going to get, and the calendar does not keep the wine cool – in fact it keeps all of the wine a slightly unpleasant room temperature, you know, like the temperature that wine gets at a crowded party or a wedding or whatever. The first door was a bottle of fizzy wine, but I wanted a drink right away – I am aware this is the kind of sentence an alcoholic might write, I would like to stress that I am not an alcoholic – so I moved onto the second door, which had red wine in it.
The second problem is that the wine is not good. As well as being the temperature of the cheap wine you get at a wedding or a conference or some kind of large catered event, they are also those blended wines that are a mix of different, low price and low quality wines, you know, the kind where the red wine has a sort of used and heavy flavour and the white wine has an unpleasantly sickly tang to it that is an awful lot like the taste left in your mouth the day after drinking too much nice white wine. If you’ve ever been in a supermarket and seen the own-brand box wine and thought “how bad can it be?” and then discovered the answer is “pretty bad, actually”, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The third problem – and given my comments about the flavour I know I am risking further cementing my reputation as a drunk – is that the bottles are too small. Like all of those little travel bottles, you get maybe a glass and a half worth of wine out of them, so you are immediately dissatisfied. (It also makes the mulled wine days very tricky – why on earth would I want one and a half glasses of cold mulled wine or to heat up one and a half glasses of mulled wine?)
So I had no option but to keep opening doors until I found some more red wine. The little labels try to claim that the wines are actually specific vintages but this isn’t true: they are all just pretty nasty blended wines with subtly different branding.
The next day, having drunk maybe four windows worth of wine, I didn’t really feel like opening another, so I gave that day a miss.
That sort of sums up the problem with it overall: who is this calendar for? I know no one who wants to drink a glass and a half of wine every day. In my experience, I either want a little bit more or none at all. And at £55, it manages to be at a price well in excess of anything I have ever spent on wine while being wildly overpriced given that you’d feel robbed if you paid £3 for a glass of this vile muck in a bar. Who is the target market here? A drunkard who really likes opening windows? Stephen Bush
Christmas Die Advent Calendar, £24.99
This calendar simply provides a different small metal thingy each day – kind of like very stiff sequins, or mini stencils. Absolutely baffling, considering this product was put to me as “ideal for beginner crafters”. It turns out these thin little pieces are called “dies”, which gives the advent calendar the slightly unfortunate name of “CHRISTMAS DIE”. You need a die-cutting machine to use them, which, alas, the New Statesman doesn’t have. The death of print media. But although I can’t judge this on a crafter’s level, I can critique the aesthetics. The front of the calendar is a smiling blonde lady who looks a bit like Rebecca Adlington, with shiny red nails and perfect white teeth in a Santa’s outfit, sitting at her crafting table. The dies are all in rather unimaginative shapes. A handbag! High heels! A pram! Hearts! Butterflies! I feel like the die world has a long way to go in terms of gender equality. Anyway, probably someone craft-crazed enough to have a die-cutter, but not creative enough to ask for better from their dies, would enjoy this as an advent calendar. All incomprehensible £24.99 of it. Anoosh Chakelian
Chase 12 Days of Christmas 12X 5CL single estate spirits, £59.95
First things first, this isn’t so much an advent calendar as a cube with 12 alcohols in it. Twelve is half of 24, which I suppose makes it a kind of festive number..? Plus, the design – although beautiful – isn’t remotely Christmassy. Trying to get “Christmas” from a sketch of a distillery reminds me of the time circa. 1999 my mum decided we were having a “classy” Christmas and replaced all our extremely naff baubles that I adored with wicker ones from Habitat. I cried.
In all fairness, this “calendar” didn’t make me cry. For starters, anyone who loves ASMR as much as me will be very excited by the little drawers the mini bottles of booze come in. They make a little “ssssshhhk” sound that’ll have you tingling till Boxing Day.
So anyway, the alcohol. It’s all gins and vodkas in different flavours, with an elderflower liqueur thrown in, just to put a great big spanner in the works. There are cocktail recipes to accompany each, which I ignored because I’m a barbarian. The plain vodka is genuinely one of the nicest I’ve tasted. It’s smooth, warming and not at all like a cleaning product. The gin, on the other hand, well, full disclosure: I hate gin. I have a theory that no one truly likes it, not even those people who put “drinker of gin” in their Twitter bios, as if that’s a character trait. However, the marmalade gin was pretty drinkable (the marmalade vodka was genuinely delicious). The highlight was a rhubarb vodka that tasted exactly like rhubarb and custards. The absolute low point was a smoked vodka that tasted like a pissed frankfurter. But – all in all – I am drunk. Eleanor Margolis
That Boutique-y Gin Company Advent Calendar, £99.95
“You like gin, don’t you?” a colleague asked me a surprisingly long time ago. “Do you want to review the advent calendar from That Boutique-y Gin Company? The one which was founded to bring delicious gins from the world’s best distilleries, brands and minds to the gin-craving masses?”
I paraphrase, probably. Anyway: I do like gin, yes, and that was weeks ago, and hey, I can drink 24 gins in a month, right? That’s less than one a day. Except I forgot, and now I’ve got 24 shots of gin in front of me and it’s not even lunchtime and oh god.
So anyway, I’m improvising. The gins in the calendar certainly have an intriguing variety of names. Aged Perry’s Tot Gin sounds old fashioned, classy, perhaps a little dusty. Mojito gin sounds like the sort of thing you’d drink to get you through a party that you didn’t really want to go to but then have a really good time at, and then regret for a month. Salt Marsh Gin sounds like it’ll be unpleasant but good for you; Finger Lime Gin sounds like a medical condition, perhaps one that Salt Marsh Gin might cure. I don’t know what Very Old Tom is but it’s a bit of a worry.
The packaging all these gins come in is rather lovely: a weighty, midnight blue box, illustrated with a picture of two anthropomorphic cats enjoying their generously gift- and gin-laden Christmas tree. One of the cats is wearing a maroon dinner jacket and bowtie like he’s Hugh Heffner. This, perhaps is old Tom.
Even better, the box comes in a very pleasing pillow of inflated plastic that feels like it would make a good bath toy and is almost certainly not dangerous.
The one gin I tried (“Bush Tucker gin”) was nice enough, but fundamentally would have been nicer if I’d had some tonic and hadn’t been in an office at 11 o’clock on a Thursday morning.
Please do not stop sending me free stuff. Jonn Elledge
Sous Chef Big Chilli Advent Calendar, £29.95
This may be the most impractical advent calendar ever. I reckon swigging a sizeable bottle of whisky at one’s desk every day for a month (see: Drinks by the Dram Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar) would be a much easier feat than committing to trying a different type of chilli each day.
I value my internal organs too much to make this commitment, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the big chilli calendar. If you remove the pressure of one-a-day consumption, receiving a collection of chillies from around the world, of varying spiciness, with a cute little recipe book, is a lovely gift for a foodie like me.
It’s also fun to hand out sachets to friends without specifying the level of “heat units” on the handy “Scoville scale”, in a slightly demented lucky dip. My mother – fellow spice fiend – called it “labour-intensive gratification for the New Year”. Safe to say I’ll be enjoying my chillies long after the festive period is over! Augusta Riddy
Oxfam Large Nativity Puppet Advent Calendar, £4.99, Sourced by Oxfam
To properly review this calendar, I am currently attempting to type with one finger inserted inside a small, cardboard animal that I think is a cow. The delightful design, with cute finger puppets tucked up in tiny beds with their faces popping out of the pockets, is for children – but it is missing two key ingredients: chocolate and/or the element of suspense. However, the more I look back at this small, brown cow looking back up at me, the more cheered I feel – by the thought that buying cards and calendars from Oxfam helps fight poverty, by a plan to waggle the puppets around in front of my friends’ baby later, and by the sheer good-company of this friendly bovine face. Maybe puppet-typing is the way forward for 2019. India Bourke
Snaffling Pig Pork Crackling and Beer Advent Calendar, £65
I have no problem with boozy advent calendars (see below). At their best they add a structured sense of adventure to what is, essentially, an expensive excuse for drinking throughout the month of December (like you weren’t going to do that anyway).
But the Pork Crackling & Beer Advent Calendar is not a boozy advent calendar at its best. For a start, it contains just three different varieties of beer – Meantime’s London Lager, London Pale Ale and Yakima Red. You may be familiar with these beers, as at least one of them is available in pretty much every pub with even vague pretentions beyond “old man pub”. An adventure they are not.
The other half of the calendar’s offering is “Pork Crackling”, which appears to be some sort of euphemism for pork scratchings. At their best, pork scratching are the king of bar snacks. These are not pork scratchings at their best. While the “Low & Slow BBQ” and “Perfectly Salted” flavours are just about passable, the “Marvellous Maple” is positively disgusting.
You can of course see where the idea for this calendar came from – the inspiration derived from that perfect combination of beer and crunchy pork snack. But here’s the thing, there are just 12 bottles of beer and 12 packs of scratchings. So you have to wait at least two days to even get to your mediocre approximation of the perfect pub combo. And at £65 for the whole thing, your money would be better spent actually down the pub, talking to some people (which is what you were probably hoping to do anyway). Jasper Jackson
The ASOS Face + Body Advent Calendar, £55
Behind one door of Asos’s beauty calendar, I find a tube of Mermaid Shimmer Sorbet. I have absolutely no idea what this is. The directions instruct me to “Layer for a more intense mermaid look”. I have absolutely no idea what this means. What would a less intense mermaid look like?
But this is just one of 25 beauty products, beautifully boxed in recyclable packaging and selling at £55 – a steal compared to many other beauty advent calendars on the market. Its products range from make-up to hair masks to face washes and body lotions, each of which would be a delight to wake up to.
Some are extremely useful, and I am pleased to report I no longer need to buy a make-up sponge or a new moisturiser. Others, like the Mermaid Sorbet, are a total mystery to me. But that’s actually quite nice. It means that each morning will bring a surprise – a wide variety of products to test – which, as somebody who is not overly clued-up on beauty brands, is exactly what I’m looking for in an advent calendar.
My only criticism would be that some of the products from the more popular or expensive brands, such as the Clinique moisturiser, appeared to be smaller than the usual sample sizes. But then again, there are some decent-sized products included from lesser-known brands, which have the potential to provide value for money if they’re as good as the others. Indra Warnes
Laithwaites Beer Advent Calendar: Case of 24, £39.99
I remember a time when the only real beer snobbery was expressing a banal preference for Heineken and Kronenberg over Fosters or Carling when there was a lull in pub conversation. And maybe even letting the nectar of Peroni pass your lips once in a blue payday. Now it’s a minefield. There are a lot more words, for one thing. Pils. Hells. Other monosyllables that sound like nicknames at a minor all-girls west London independent school. Then there’s India pale ale, session ale, session pale… You get my point. Who really knows what they all mean? And who, truly, can taste the difference? Well, the people who this beer calendar is marketed to, that’s who. It has them all. And some of them are delicious. The Portobello London Pilsner is a favourite, and I also enjoyed the cute Wiper and True “Small Beer” (2.7 per cent, and illustrated with a little adorable, sober bird). Others – like the “Big Job” Double IPA (extra strength) and some of the stouts – didn’t tickle my fancy. The number of duplicates and tiny cans made some of the days slightly underwhelming as well. But all in all the variety would be great for the brewery tour enthusiast in your life (and let’s face it, everyone’s got one). Anoosh Chakelian
Beer for breakfast: discuss. At Spoons on a stag, sure. But on each of the 24 days before Christmas? Consuming an advent calendar that doesn’t lend itself to being scoffed before leaving the house was a new experience for me, though some of the beers definitely taste like the sort of thing that would set you up with enough carbs for a long day at work (looking at you, BrewDog Jet Black Heart Nitro Vanilla Milk Stout). What made things somewhat confusing was that most of these beers aren’t the sort of thing you’d chin solo, one at a time, at home, but order at the sort of hipster crypto-pub where they have Nintendo 64 controllers instead of bartenders. That’s not to say they aren’t delicious – and, as far as the price of the calendar goes, great value – but once you’ve had one Rapture Red Ale or Wild Beer Bibble, you want more, and the calendar can’t oblige you unless you disrespect the cardinal rule of its very existence or want to send your palate on a magical mystery tour. One of the few destinations I have no intention of returning to is the Australian outback – that most Christmassy vista – which Cooper’s Sparking Ale forcibly took me to. I can’t dissuade anyone who buys this calendar from drinking it enough – the fermentation process means the bottle comes complete with a “characteristic fine sediment” at its base. Mmm, dusty! It tasted like rusty water, which probably explains its popularity in Australia. That aside, though, the calendar is obscenely good value considering the quality of most of the beers therein – though I can’t quite work out whether this is because of the pretence that it should last you 24 days. The contents are so good that you’ll be lucky to keep it for two, at which point £39.99 stars to look a bit pricey. Patrick Maguire
Yankee Candle Fold Out Advent, £34.99
There is something pleasingly tacky about this Yankee Candle advent calendar, as all good festive products should be. At first glance, it’s one big squat box made from light, flimsy cardboard, decked out in a vaguely MS PowerPoint aesthetic: a dark gold to white gradient with ClipArt stars and a healthy dose of glitter. To open it, you turn the box on its side and stretch it out like a concertina to reveal a set of punch-out windows set into a pastel illustration of a festive winter grotto. Behind each door is either a scented tea light or a larger, but still miniature, “votive” candle (there are 24 candles in 12 flavours on offer here: six smells appear three times, six appear just once), plus one starry silver and gold candle holder.
You only need to open the box before the smell smacks you in the face. Unlike the more masculine or subtle smells that are currently trendy in the bougie scent market, Yankee Candles are the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans of the candle world, and they do what they say on the bloody tin. Snowflake Cookie is a sugary pink colour, and smells cloyingly sweet – like a Frozen princess cake with an added note of Bounty desiccated coconut. Icy Blue Spruce gives me all the delightful aromas of a frosty car on a winter’s morning: air freshener, anti-freeze, large pot of Wrigley’s Extra in the cup holder. Crackling Wood Fire smokes like a chimney, while Spiced White Cocoa smells like a base layer of nutmeg, some subtle mid-tones of nutmeg and a sparkling top note of Jesus Christ, more nutmeg! There are some more conceptual candles on offer too: Christmas Magic is woody and spicey, Christmas Eve smells like a new packet of Parma Violets, Winter Wonder is reminiscent of Gran’s creamy soaps.
Nothing about this calendar is deluxe, but as someone who is baffled and vaguely enraged by brands’ attempts to normalise spending almost an entire month’s rent on a glossy version of a cardboard box with tiny products of varying quality inside, that’s precisely what’s so charming about it. It’s a glorious box of brightly coloured little treats. And at £34.99, it’s better value for money than most individual luxury candles. Lighting a new candle each night and loudly guessing what overly sweet mid-notes are seeping through your living room seems like the perfect advent pastime. Anna Leszkiewicz
Asda Ilchester Cheese advent calendar, £8
I wasn’t raised in the church so I’m not sure how saints are chosen. But if there’s one person who deserves to be canonised for services to Christmas it’s the food blogger Annem Hobson, inventor of the cheese advent calendar. One thing I didn’t anticipate about this product is how difficult it would be to only open one door per day – in past years I have happily trundled through December with chocolate calendars, having no problem sticking to my allotted 10g portion of Dairy Milk. But faced with seven varieties of mini cheese, I was powerless. By day three I had opened seven doors; by halfway through the month I had started ignoring the dates as I searched like a crack addict for one last hit of Applewood smoked cheddar. The only thing that stopped me eating the entire thing 15 days early was leaving the calendar at home during a trip to Amsterdam, which has its very own cheese museum with unlimited samples. This advent calendar is well worth £8, despite the inclusion of Wensleydale with cranberry, a cheese no one likes and that I am convinced was invented by marketing teams attempting to sell two quite underwhelming products by packaging them as one. The less said about the Wensleydale with gingerbread, the better. The calendar did have to be kept in the fridge, which wasn’t too much of a problem – it was surprisingly compact and you could tear off half when it was empty to save on space, something I had to do about seven days in. If you need me, I’ll be in rehab. Lizzie Palmer
BeanBoozled Naughty Or Nice Advent Calendar, £16
When originally handed this BeanBoozled box, I was excited at the roulette that I thought was about to unfold: perhaps, foolishly, I thought that opening an advent calendar posing the dichotomy “naughty or nice?” would mean that, behind each door, there would simply be one or the other. This is where my first disappointment arrived. Unfortunately, every window actually holds a little bag with several different jelly beans in them; while giving you more bang for your buck, and more daily variety, this did immediately spoil some of the fun the calendar seemed to promise.
But the real disappointment – or, frankly, outrage – came when tasting these jelly beans. Jelly Belly, the maker of this calendar, has for years done the “gross” flavoured beans, creating a franchise off the back of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans featured in the Harry Potter series.
In the Jelly Belly early days, the bad beans were bad enough to be not good, but not bad enough that you wanted to pull your tongue straight from your own mouth and slice it off and burn it, relieved at never having to taste again. However, the “naughty” beans in this advent calendar did create the latter effect. No jelly bean in this calendar, or even in the world, is good enough to outweigh the genuine taste of spoilt milk, mouldy cheese, and worst of all, dead fish, that these calendar beans hold. Buy this advent calendar from someone you truly, unabashedly hate, and absolutely no one else. Sarah Manavis
L’Occitane Luxury Advent Calendar, £89
Ma Reve! Mon Tresor! My L’Occitance calendar de Christmas! Perhaps it is the Chagall-esque pictures of birds and roses, the whimsical French expressions draped across its clever rubik’s-cube design, or the selection of sweet-smelling lotions and potions nestled inside – but the combined effect makes me want to toss my hair back over my shoulder, and exclaim in my best attempt at French: “Europe, Je vous adore!” Or maybe that’s just Brexit. Either way, I cannot think of a better beauty-calendar to help you escape the ravages of the political time and tide this Christmas season. The small bottle of Terre de Lumiere perfume, with scents of lavender and bergamot, is particularly good at transporting you away to the sun-kissed fields of Provence (and so also makes me want to cry a little inside). India Bourke
Edinburgh Gin advent calendar, £120
I do not understand who is buying this calendar. It costs £120. For that price, I could jet off for a weekend break in a European city. I could pay almost a week’s worth of my rent. I could, should I have a very sudden and unexpected personality change, afford a five-month gym membership. I could get a round in, in London, for me and 23 of my closest friends. Completely inexplicably, Skyscanner suggests I could buy a return flight from the UK to Bangladesh, and still have a tenner left over. What I’m trying to say is this: this is, in my opinion, a quite frankly ridiculous amount of money to be spending on a calendar.
That said, it is a very enjoyable calendar. It is, in fact, the best calendar I have ever had. It contains 12 mini bottles of gin and 13 mini bottles of fruity gin liqueurs, which have a lower alcohol content. Each of the bottles is 5cl, a double shot by UK measures, and they range in flavours from classic Edinburgh gin to raspberry to rhubarb and ginger. Each of them is undeniably delicious and refreshing, a perfect light drink to sip in front of the telly on a cold December eve.
But therein lies my other gripe with this calendar: who is sitting in every December eve? Between office parties and festive nights out, it’s arguably the busiest month of the year. Your standard chocolate calendar is easy to fit into your day; a little treat in the morning before you brush your teeth. You can’t be having a little gin every morning; your boss will think you have a problem. Are you supposed to schedule your plans around the calendar? Skip your friends’ Secret Santa because you have to open your special tiny gin door?
Of course I am being obtuse, and there is a very simple solution in that you skip the gin some days, and have extra gin on others. But if you’re going to do that, then why not just buy literally seven (seven! For less than this calendar costs!) one-litre bottles of Gordon’s from Tesco and just have a gin whenever you feel like it? I simply do not understand. Indra Warnes
Drinks by the Dram Tequila Advent Calendar, £149.95
When you think about our modern ritual of consuming some item from behind a little cardboard window on each of the 24 days before Christmas, tequila is not the first consumable that comes to mind. Tequila is for shots, preferably downed after five pints which dull the bite of the liquid poured from a bottle with a little plastic sombrero on top. What tequila is not for is a small daily treat to perk you up over three weeks of cold.
And yet while the above may be true, the Drinks by the Dram Tequila Advent Calendar is actually the perfect boozy accompaniment to the yuletide countdown.
I should stress I am not suggesting you actually drink a double shot of tequila each morning. That way lies a misconduct warning from work. Instead, the best approach is one of deferred gratification. Each day, open one window and extract another pleasingly packaged glass bottle sealed with a wax top. The key here is to not immediately drink it, but instead line it up on a nearby surface. And then wait for the weekend.
When Friday rolls around you have six or seven different tequilas, all conveniently individually packaged. You can thus turn up to any small gathering, and (with the addition of a lime or orange, of course) offer guests a small alcoholic present to brighten up the evening.
Two things make the advent calendar format preferable to simply turning up with the aforementioned sombrero-topped bottle of gut rot. First, the different tequilas are both noticeably different from each other, and for the most part extremely drinkable. Second, handing out individual shots in pleasing packages does actually feel festive.
Not the most obvious choice of advent calendar filling, but a weirdly perfect one. Jasper Jackson
Wax Lyrical Festive Friends advent calendar, £23.99
As I approach my thirties, I have got into candles in a big way. Dinner party? Candles. Satanic ritual? Candles. Can’t be bothered to tidy the living room? Light every candle you own to divert guests’ attention away from all the crap on the floor. This advent calendar does what it says on the tin – the first door contains a tasteful glass holder, while every subsequent door reveals a tea light in one of three different scents – “Frosty Night”, “Merry & Bright” and “Festive Joy”. No, it’s not going to set the world on fire (unless you leave the candles unattended of course) but absolutely no one is buying a candle advent calendar for the shock value. It’s maybe a tad overpriced given that Ikea sells 30 scented tea lights for £1.50 (you can have that tip for free, candle fans) but is overall a pleasant experience. Lizzie Palmer
Wainwright’s Christmas Advent Calendar for Dogs, £6
A lot of people think us dogs will jump for anything, and for the most part, we will. I’ve been known to chomp on an old banana peel, aluminium foil, socks, and leaves, and I will admit, I largely enjoyed every single lick of them. However, us pups won’t really lose it for any old dog treat; no, we must be wooed by something tastier, something better. We may sit after a few commands, lie down after a firm suggestion, but depending on the treat, we may take more or less time to do so. Which is why I can only recommend Wainwright’s Christmas Advent Calendar for the dog in your life. Other than cooked chicken itself, never have I ever had a treat so delicious that I would give my humans my undivided attention at the mere sight of it. If you want your pup happy, and maybe more importantly, under control at the drop of a biscuit, this is the calendar to keep your beast occupied all through the festive season. Martha (as told to Sarah Manavis)
Chococo Advent Selection Box, £23.50
In your run-of-the-mill advent calendar, you get what, 24 thin little squares of chocolate, each imprinted with a generic mould of Rudolph? Perhaps a slightly bigger thin square of chocolate on Christmas Day, if you’re lucky? No, no, don’t get me wrong, I used to think that was quite good too.
The Chococo calendar has, however, made me see the light. It has raised doubts over all the other chocolate I have ever eaten.
Every chocolate in this box is handmade, with an intricate design. One is iced to resemble a perfect tiny Christmas pudding, another is splattered with a bright blue marble effect, and others sparkle. But these chocolates don’t just look good, they’re delicious too. Of the 25 chocolates, which range in flavours from fruity to alcoholic to nutty to exotic, 14 are award-winning. Since each is freshly made, an order is chosen to ensure you eat those with fresh cream in first.
While at £23.50 these chocolates aren’t exactly cheap, they do look and taste expensive despite actually costing less than many of the calendars from other luxury chocolatiers. I think I’d feel very extravagant buying these for myself, but they’d definitely make a really nice gift (and then maybe you’d also be off the hook if you couldn’t think of a good Christmas present). Indra Warnes