Boom is back - shops accused of 'cashing in' with €360 Advent calendars
It's a tradition many of us recall fondly from childhood - racing downstairs on chilly mornings to tear open a little cardboard door to reveal a snowy Christmas scene or, if you were lucky, a tiny chocolate treat.
But this year, stores have been accused of "cashing in" on the countdown to Christmas with an unprecedented boom in the sale of luxury and novelty Advent calendars. Customers are paying up to €360 for top-end offerings, and, while children can expect to find a toy behind each door, mum might score a miniature bottle of gin or some craft beer, and even the dog can look forward to a daily December treat.
But not everyone is happy to see the festive fun extended to cover the Advent period as well.
Terry Prone, Chair of the Communications Clinic, said: "In my time, Advent was a time of deprivation like Lent; then Christmas would come, and the bells would ring and the lights go on. Now the whole concept has been cheapened. It's tawdry. These calendars are a way of selling anything and everything. The cashing-in has gone into overdrive. There is no postponement of pleasure any more. This is just teaching children to expect instant gratification."
Advent, which this year begins on Sunday, December 2, is the period of preparation leading up to Christmas Day and marks the beginning of the Catholic New Year. But while some may spend this time in quiet reflection and prayer, others prefer to splash out and gift themselves a daily surprise.
Aldi's Wine Advent Calendar, with a mini bottle a day for €69.99, sold out as soon as it hit the shelves and the discount giants have plans now to launch a Disney calendar with 24 mini-books for €12.99, a fashion calendar with jewellery, make-up and glitter treats for €9.99, and a reusable wooden calendar with drawers you can fill with your own choice of festive favourites for €14.99.
Elsewhere, €200 will get you a fresh pair of socks every day from the Happy Socks calendar, and who wouldn't swoon to receive the €360 Jo Malone calendar packed with luxury perfumes and candles?
Arnotts have reduced their nostalgic Christmas tree-shaped Villeroy & Boch Memory Advent Calendar - containing 24 Christmas baubles - from €409 to €245.50. Or you could enjoy a different Irish craft beer every day until Christmas for €110, with the unique Madvent Beer Calendar delivered nationwide from Martin's Off Licence in Fairview, Dublin.
A more modest €2.99 will buy Lidl's tea Advent calendar with 24 different flavoured teabags, while Maxi Zoo say their €4.99 pet calendar is one of their annual top sellers.
A Maxi Zoo spokesman said: "It is one of our biggest sellers of the year and always figures in the Top 10 presents Irish pet owners buy their pets. Buying it has become something of a Christmas tradition for pet owners, with demand starting in early November."
Brand consultant Pat Kinsley, founder of Neworld, explained the psychology behind the massive growth in popularity of Advent calendars.
He said: "It is about extending that Christmas feeling and building excitement and anticipation. It is an opportunity for brands to break out of their normal relationship with customers and do something different.
"Once you buy an Advent calendar you have to interact with it, so you are getting a subliminal message and engaging with that brand every day for 24 days."