Buyers of the 2020 Cadbury’s Advent Calendar have taken to social media in the last few days to protest at a less than appropriate message featured behind the 4th door in this year’s calendar.
In a year when physical proximity to pretty much everyone outside of your immediate household has – of necessity – been discouraged or forbidden, it’s hardly surprising that exhorting people to “Give hugs at Christmas” seems a little insensitive.
It got me thinking about Advent and the huge seasonal business that has developed around the count-down to Christmas.
Advent is the Christian season beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas which involves the annual preparation for the birth of Christ. There are quite a few traditions that mark the Advent season but the one that is simplest and most popular is the Advent Calendar, typically beginning on December 1st and counting down to Christmas Day.
The tradition began when Protestant German families in the mid-19th century started chalking their doors and walls to count the days down to Christmas. Homemade calendars began to appear and by the early 20th century, a few publishing companies produced simple printed calendars.
A German printer named Gerhard Lang then decided to introduce the now very familiar design element of little cut-out doors that could be opened each day to reveal a devotional picture or bible verse. By the 1950s many calendars had started to include simple gifts such as chocolate or a small toy.
Now though, the Advent Calendar tradition has segued into modern consumerism in a powerful way. For children it’s all about the sweets (with children it’s always about the sweets), for adults it’s a way of self-gifting in the run up to Christmas. And who doesn’t enjoy the indulgence? For many people, it’s been an increasingly weary struggle as this year has worn on and the prospect of a few extra treats in the last lap is a welcome diversion.
We were a little late to the party this year and by the time I got to buying our calendars in the local supermarket, there wasn’t much choice left. I took to the internet to do some research on what might be ordinarily available (as I’m sure I’ll be more organised next year) and discovered that the selection of calendars and brands that offer them is actually quite mind-boggling.
Essentially any product that can be packaged and inserted into a neat-ish sized box is fair game. Beauty and skincare, cheese, gin, wine, chocolate, perfume, nail polish, clothing, even pet treats. Exclusive department stores such as Liberty, Harrods and Fortnum and Mason all have their own versions. Online forums debate the merits and demerits of the various offerings, and offer comparisons with previous years.
The attraction for both buyer and seller is clear. The seller has the chance to introduce a wide range of products (some of which might stick) to a receptive audience; while the buyer gets to try out lots of variety from a favourite brand, without committing huge sums of money.
In an increasingly secular society, the religious side of all of this can feel somewhat sidelined. We try to broaden things out in our own household, encouraging a moment of contemplation or reflection before the race to open each day’s door. Invariably this is greeted with a groan or two, but it assuages my guilt a little about the extra confectionery being brought into the house and it does allow for extra chat about the meaning of Christmas and the spirit of giving, as well as receiving.
And this year, in particular, that can only be a good thing.