Advent calendars started out in the 1900s as a chocolate countdown for children but have evolved into extravagant festive splurges for adults, with many joining waitlists to get their hands on the most sought-after brands
There was a time when Advent calendars contained 24 perfectly proportioned chocolate squares to count down the days until Christmas. They were playful, affordable and, ultimately, child-focused.
Such Advent calendars still exist but, in recent years, our attention has turned to unashamedly extravagant — and occasionally ridiculous — grown-up versions. These Christmas coffrets are brimming with little luxuries, and they’re priced accordingly.
What do you buy for the woman who has everything? Charlotte Tilbury’s limited edition Dreams & Secrets Advent Calendar (€185) of course. What do you buy for the dad who insists he doesn’t want anything? The 24 Days of Holiday Socks by Happy Socks (€199.95) should do the trick.
Liberty London was one of the first brands to launch a luxury Advent calendar. In 2014, they introduced a Christmas collection of cult beauty products, valued at €491 but selling for €174, which promptly sold out. In later years, shoppers would queue outside the Carnaby Street store from 6.15am on the day of its launch.
The luxury department store is known for its iconic paisley fabrics but the Advent calendar is the most successful and fastest-selling product in its 145-year history.
The Liberty Advent Calendar remains a festive institution but the department store now has stiff competition. Makeup and skincare fanatics look forward to the launches of beauty Advent calendars each year, as brands vie to outdo each other with value deals and bumper packages.
Cult Beauty and Space NK’s popular beauty Advent calendars have already sold out (the latter in mere minutes) but, at the time of writing, shoppers can still get their hands on the offerings from MAC, Rituals and Marks & Spencer (in store only).
Those who want to push the boat out could try Net-A-Porter’s edit of luxury skincare brands. It costs €298 but the contents are worth more than €1,519. Those who want to nab a bargain should wait until the first week of December, when many beauty Advent calendars are heavily discounted.
The luxury Advent calendar trend isn’t reserved to the beauty sector. From whiskey to jewellery to succulents, there are now seasonal sets for every type of person.
The most ostentatious offerings are clearly aimed at the one percent club. Tiffany’s Advent calendar, of which there are only 34 available globally, is made of white oak, emblazoned with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Equals Pi painting and designed to be filled with 24 glittering pieces from the luxury jewellery house. The starting price is a cool €151,000.
Comparatively speaking, the C W Sellors Chatsworth Winnats Advent calendar, which includes an 18-karat white gold pendant by Fabergé, seems like good value.
Those hoping to spend less than €1m on their Christmas gifts could try Fever Tree’s Gin & Tonic Advent Calendar (€70), Hotel Chocolat’s The Grand (€80) or Fortnum & Mason’s Tea Lovers set (€31).
Passive-aggressive gift buyers will like the look of Spotlight Oral Care’s 12 Days of Christmas Holiday Calendar, which promises “your best smile ever”. Ambitious types will enjoy the challenge presented by Lovehoney’s 24-piece festive sex toy collection.
Advent calendars have come a long way since they were first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries to count down the days until Christmas. The earliest Advent calendar featuring windows is attributed to German-born manufacturer Gerhard Lang, who was inspired by the confectionary-laden Advent calendars his mother made for him when he was a child.
The first chocolate Advent calendar appeared in 1958 and, for the next half century, there was very little variation on the theme.
“Advent calendars used to almost be a bit kitsch — they weren’t luxury at all,” says Dee Bowman, co-founder of Lux-BE, a Dublin-based marketing and communications firm that works with brands in the luxury sector. “Even 15 years ago, it wasn’t a thing, but now there are people going on waitlists to get their hands on these calendars.”
Bowman used to head up London gift shopping service Quintessentially Gifts, so she understands the lure of the luxury Advent calendar. “It was what people selected when they didn’t know what else to get, and it usually accompanied other gifts. The Liberty and La Mer calendars were extremely popular.”
Adult Advent calendars are extravagant gifts, says Bowman, but they can be practical purchases too. “One of the reasons they sell out is because the product value is often superior to the retail price. Plus, it’s a fantastic gift for a sister-in-law or mother-in-law — somebody who you don’t know very well but you know they love little self-indulgences. It’s a really nice talking point as well and it keeps you in someone’s mind for a longer time.”
Some brands use Advent calendars as marketing tools, adds Bowman. “It allows them to get samples out there in a very elegant way.” But they’re also harnessing the power of packaging, and the psychology of unboxing, to trigger intrigue and excitement, notes Professor of Psychology at NUI Galway Brian Hughes.
“When we watch or take part in an unboxing, we are driven to see it through to the end, and we experience a strong emotional pay-off when we discover what the box contains,” he explains. “The unboxing experience is highly rewarding, and is often experienced as being more valuable than the actual contents of the box.
“Boxing something is an artificial way to create mystery and deliberately build that sense of curiosity,” he adds. “The ‘reveal’ at the end of an unboxing resolves our curiosity instinct with maximum emotional effect.”
Not knowing what you’re going to find in the drawers of a luxury Advent calendar is exciting, agrees Bowman. But it can also be an opportunity to channel your inner child and enjoy some festive nostalgia. “Throughout the month of December, you’re opening a window or a drawer or a beautiful display, and you’re getting a surprise every single day. It’s quite magical,” she notes.
“I don’t know where we can recapture that excitement of the Christmas build-up and writing your letters to Santa. Perhaps the nearest thing we get is not knowing what treat is behind that little door.”
Italian jewellery designer Carolina Bucci has turned her cult beaded bracelets into a 24-day do-it-yourself experience. There are two Forte beads, made from precious gemstones, behind each door, plus an 18-karat gold bead on day 24. It costs €993 — roughly the same price as a week in Sardinia.
The Old & Rare Advent Calendar features 24 (30ml) whiskies from famous distilleries, including Fiona Macleod 33-Year-Old and Glenfarclas 25-Year-Old. It’s the ultimate gift for whiskey connoisseurs but you’ll need a stiff drink when you discover the price tag of €1,111.
A gift of Crème de la Mer always brings the wow factor. Those on the hunt for extra brownie points will be splashing out on The World of La Mer Advent Calendar (€470), which includes 12 products in a limited-edition keepsake box.
The Charbonnel et Walker Advent Calendar (€87) takes the traditional route with an “enviable array” of chocolates and truffles. Mere mortals could try Cadbury.
Paris fragrance house Diptyque has launched a Cabinet of Curiosities Advent Calendar, which includes 25 “scented treasures”. Your home will smell incredible for the month of December but your wallet will be €350 lighter.