Advent calendars

In a previous blog post/rant about the busyness of Christmas (, I said this:

“Most bought Advent calendars are a consumerist tacky nightmare, but that is a completely different rant.”

Today I’ve decided to write that rant. This may offend…


What is an Advent calendar? Basically, it’s surely a fun way to count down to Christmas, traditionally pictorial but increasingly chocolate-orientated.

In the shops, one mainly finds two types:

  1. A fairly basic picture, or even just a company logo, on cardboard, with little perforated windows, which open to reveal 24 pieces of cheap chocolate and an even more basic picture;
  2. A prettier picture, usually exceptionally twee but sometimes attractive, glittery, Christian etc with little perforated windows, which open to reveal other pictures.

I don’t want to be mean about anyone’s taste in interior decoration (those who live in glass houses…), and I am as fond of chocolate as most, but why does anyone give these ghastly things house-room?

The basic objection to the first is: Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas, in theory a time of contemplation and fasting. In our modern world the contemplation is replaced by frantic busyness (see previous rant) but is there any good reason to prepare for a day of self-indulgence and gluttony by three weeks of… self-indulgence and gluttony? Well, maybe it has a twisted logic.

And a basic objection to both kinds, but especially the second, is that they give you a pretty picture… and then spoil it. Opening the windows and revealing what’s inside messes up the image you’ve already got. Shouldn’t the point be that the picture gets better the more you add (like the people who add figures to a Nativity scene during December)? Surely it’s not beyond the ingenuity of calendar makers to devise such a thing?

Of course you do get virtuous calendars, where the chocolate is Fair Trade and the box tells you the Christmas story. I’m sorry, but I don’t like these much better.

And maybe you can still buy expensive cloth or wooden ornaments to hang up, with little pockets in which you can place a sweet (“or small gift”) for each day of Advent. Words fail me. They actually do.

My animosity, which some may find extreme, and my preference for the homemade Advent calendar, go far back to childhood. One year my mother, much more artistically gifted than me, drew a picture of a fairly bare house in a garden, I think with the front taken off like a dolls’ house.  There were numbered square shapes for each day of Advent. Each day a square was cut out to reveal a new and appropriate item on the page behind, a snowman on the lawn, a stocking at a window. The last day was a picture on the living-room wall – showing the Nativity.

Not only has this always been the Ideal Advent Calendar in my head, it also started off an annual  activity of calendar-making for me and my brothers: the first stage in preparing for Christmas, sometimes as early as September. Two sheets of paper, scissors, ruler and crayons… and voila.

I’m not gifted with pencil and crayon, so I’ve experimented over the years with homemade Advent calendars for the artistically-challenged.

The simplest types I’ve found/invented are as follows:

Draw, paint, cut from a magazine or download from the internet a pleasing festive picture.

Then (version A) take a second sheet of paper the same size.  Divide it up into 24 pieces, square, jigsaw-shaped or however you want, number them, and fasten on top of your picture with blu-tak. Each day cut off the relevant piece. (It is true you have to use some common sense in number arranging, or a lot more blu-tak, to prevent this falling apart around about 6th December.)

Or (version B) cut out 24 small pieces of paper. Write a number on one side, and on the other a simple Advent activity (“count how many cards we’ve received”, “read John 1:1-14”, “write a card for an elderly neighbour”, or whatever). Stick the papers on the picture, and turn over on the appropriate days.

And if you want to eat a chocolate each day of December, buy a box.

Love from the PPI and grumpy Blogger

















  • Penelope Wallace

    20th November 2016 at 12:09 pm Reply

    I think in science there are supposed to be two types of researcher: 1) those who like to break the world down into smaller and smaller pieces in the hope that they can gain greater understanding of how things work and 2) those who try to gather together information from lots of different sources to get a glimpse of a big picture and greater understanding. Your (and your mother’s) outlook seems to be more of the latter type – you want to build up a big picture rather than get small chocolatey rewards by looking at something in more detail. However from the chocolate manufacturer’s perspective you can see that they want you to eat chocolate on the 24 days of advent as well as the 12 days afterwards. Despite the opulent gifts of the Magi the nativity scene is actually a story of marginalisation with an unmarried mother who is being shunned by conventional society and forced to give birth in a filthy cowshed presumably without the help of a midwife or even of much hot water. Part of the miracle of Christmas is that both mother and child survived despite the unhygenic conditions and risk of complications. The shepherds presumably new a bit about breach births and what to do with the umbilical cord but they weren’t there at the time and the assumption seems to be that Joseph had never been present at a birth before. It’s not really part of a carpenter’s training.

    • Penelope Wallace

      21st November 2016 at 12:16 pm Reply

      Malachi, I assume that’s you? Stop using my name!

Post a Comment