Advent starts on Sunday, which means every store in America that has ever sold a candy cane has been fully decked out in holiday merch since Labor Day. I walked into my local Trader Joe’s the other night and saw an Advent calendar printed with little dogs — cute, right? Upon closer examination, it wasn’t just a dog-themed Advent calendar but an actual Advent calendar for dogs, with 25 salmon and sweet potato dog biscuits behind the little paper flaps, yours for $7.49.
For people, the Advent calendar market ranges from little chocolate-filled cardboard receptacles (some of which are cheaper than the dog ones!) to designer calendars that cost hundreds of dollars. Louboutin and Dior offer countdowns for $600 and $750 respectively, filled with baubles like lipsticks and mini perfumes. If you recall, Chanel’s $825 Advent calendar sparked incredulity for its meager offerings two years ago, delivering cheap items like a flip book and temporary tattoos.
Listen, I’m not above indulging in a daily piece of chocolate from a cardstock box with pretty Christmas-themed images on the cover. I’ll be the first to tell you that chocolate, along with every other good food, is created by God for humanity to enjoy, with thankful hearts and acknowledgment of blessing. So is art, and many Advent calendars are adorned with thoughtful art that duly reflects the joyful spirit of Christmastime. Like any other Christmas gift, Advent calendars with goodies inside can be a sweet way to show kindness to a friend (I’ve been the delighted recipient of several!).
But when women shell out $800 for a box full of junky samples slapped with an envy-inducing name, or when overpriced treats for dogs that have no concept of what Christmas celebrates are advertised as for “Advent,” it’s obvious the Advent calendars have gotten a bit out of control.
The concept of an “Advent calendar” was introduced by German Lutherans hundreds of years ago to celebrate the literal “advent,” or arrival, of Christ. They are lovely, and some are art in their own right. Traditional Advent calendars used to be filled with tiny treasures like poems, intricate paintings, or readings describing the Christmas story.
Advent calendars, like any other Christmas ritual, are susceptible to being distorted by man’s ever-present self-absorption. In the same way that we turn the gift of giving into an opportunity to have someone buy things for us, we distort the expectant season of Advent into a goodie-fest. Advent calendars should point our hearts toward the greater Gift that we anticipate celebrating on the day the calendar’s goodies run out.
If Dior lipsticks do that for you, more power to you — but I’d wager the majority of women putting designer Advent calendars in their shopping carts aren’t thinking about a humble newborn in a barn as they open their trinkets.
As a kid, my mother handmade a beautiful felt Advent calendar with designs, from an evergreen to a lamb to the virgin Mary, that represented the reading for each day and which we could add to the felt calendar once we finished the reading. It’s a fun craft to do with kids (the template was from Ann Hibbard’s Family Celebrations), but if you don’t have time to take on a DIY project, pairing a more trivial Advent calendar with an Advent devotional can be a good approach too, especially for families. Or find a calendar like this one that opens the door to conversations with young children about the Christmas story.
For women looking for an Advent calendar that’s just as beautiful as a designer box but more on-topic, check out this beautifully illustrated “Names of Jesus” calendar.
I don’t mind if you treat yourself to an overpriced box full of trinkets for the joy of opening the tempting packaging. But I just wish the manufacturers would quit calling them Advent calendars.