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The advent of the 2023 Advent calendar extravaganza

No longer content with a simple piece of decorated cardboard, today’s shoppers can count down the days with treats from perfume samples to pet food.

Mateusz Szymanski/Adobe

Dec. 1 marks the beginning of Advent, that stretch of 24 days in the liturgical calendar leading up to Christmas. Dating back to 5th-century Europe, Advent — after adventus, Latin for “arrival” — has largely lost its religious significance as a time of fasting and prayer. But the Advent calendar, produced around 1910 by the German printer Gerhard Lang, is still very much with us.

When I was a child I had a beloved Advent calendar depicting some kind of Nordic snow-covered town, with a house of many windows, studded with glitter. Hidden in the scene were numbered tabs to be opened one day at a time, revealing modest surprises like a drawing of a candle or a toy soldier, culminating in the Nativity scene on Dec. 24. The ritual of opening the little doors both eased and built anticipation during that long, dark month before Christmas. I brought out the calendar every year, along with the bubble lights and the tinsel; the little cardboard doors were bent back so many times that some remained permanently open.


Today, though, this charming tradition has been thoroughly captured by commerce. Not to get all Grinchy so early in the season, but have you seen the product extravaganza Advent calendars have become?

No longer content with a simple piece of decorated cardboard — just an oversized Christmas card, really — today’s shoppers can count down the days with treats from perfume samples to pet food. The little windows have been replaced by drawers, revealing gourmet chocolates or jams, which are at least glancingly in the spirit of the season, or pricey cosmetics or jewelry. Some offer different exotic teas each day or (now we’re talking!) canned wine.

There’s an advent calendar for every type of person: foodies, movie buffs, glamour gals, hobbyists of all kinds. There are daily offerings of flavored popcorn or hot sauce. There’s a beef jerky Advent calendar and one with scented candles. There are cat treat and dog toy Advent calendars and ones with holiday-themed socks. There are Legos and bath duckies and toys co-branded with Harry Potter or Pokémon. And of course, this year there is a Taylor Swift Advent calendar, featuring a “Fearless” necklace, friendship bracelets, keychains, and lots and lots of stickers.


The appeal of getting miniature daily gifts is undeniable; even I swooned a bit at the 24 mini-jigsaw puzzles of New Yorker magazine covers. But the charm of this tradition lies at least partly in its simplicity and lack of expense. So what are we to make of the Disney 100 Swarovski Advent calendar, marking the entertainment giant’s centennial, which contains 25 boxes with crystal necklaces and ornaments of Mickey and Minnie, among other treasures, and retails for $1,300? And honestly, can we draw the line at the $660 Hanky Panky Advent calendar, which dispenses a different thong each day? Isn’t that more appropriate for New Year’s Eve?

Bah! I say. It’s time to get back to the original meaning of Advent, which the ancient Christians celebrated on the four Sundays before Dec. 25. Each Sunday represented a different virtue to be reflected upon: love, joy, hope, and peace. No one said anything about lingerie.

These simple, profound delights cost nothing. All we have to do is practice them, not just for Advent but for all seasons. That would be something worth waiting for.


Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.