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Advent calendars: From simple Germanic tradition to marketing extravaganza

Advent calendars trace their roots to Germanic traditions and have become a powerful marketing tool over the last century, with just about anything and everything finding success in this mini-serial format

Published: Nov 24, 2022 05:40:38 PM IST
Updated: Nov 24, 2022 05:49:26 PM IST

Advent calendars: From simple Germanic tradition to marketing extravaganzaAdvent calendars have become so popular that it's no longer a question of asking someone if they have one, but of knowing how many will be çn display in one's living room in December. Image: Shutterstock

Tick tock, tick tock... Just a few more days of waiting before people will get to open the first window of their advent calendar. The tradition has become a must for counting down to the festive holidays in late December. This practice, which traces its roots to Germanic traditions, has become a powerful marketing tool over the last century, with just about anything and everything finding success in this mini serial format—which often flies in the face of the eco-responsible direction many brands have been taking in recent years.

Advent calendars have become so popular that it's no longer a question of asking someone if they have one, but of knowing how many will be çn display in one's living room in December. Beauty, fashion, gardening, gastronomy, automotive, jewelry, crafts, culture, toys, design... The advent calendar craze has spread to every market sector—or just about. Instead of running out of steam, the phenomenon seems to grow from year to year, inspiring extravagant projects and versions, as well as some exorbitant prices. All this has led to a growing interest in these little boxes with a whimsical design, which were initially intended to help children wait patiently until December 25.

Religious images and chocolates

The time of children receiving an Advent calendar with religious images to help them await Christmas seems to be part of a long-gone past. Early in the 20th century, the Germanic tradition gave way to the first retail versions, still in the form of pictures but more playful than pious, inviting children to express their creativity with colorful drawings. Then the pictures gave way to the ubiquitous chocolates, which we continue to devour every day as we wait for Santa Claus to come our way.

The story could have stopped there, with something sweet behind each window in the aim of teaching children patience. But the growing craze for a series of little gifts took hold of consumers of all ages, fueled by ever-increasing ingenuity from brands tapping into the phenomenon, and progressively rolling them out in versions that encompass every possible product category and format, with some utterly extreme versions being the ultimate result.

Anything (and everything)

When faced with the mountain of chocolate advent calendars in the supermarket, it was already hard enough to choose the one that would make our children happy. Now, these boxes overflowing with presents accommodate a host of diverse and sundry objects. Everything under the sun can be found in the form of an Advent calendar. Chocolates and toys may dominate the offering, reminding us that these boxes of multiple goodies are first and foremost intended for children, but there are also calendars with jewelry, cosmetics, perfumes, beers, wine, tea, coffee, festive foods, hot sauces, cold cuts—no joke—miniature cars, candles, books, treats and toys for pets, stones and amulets, and even more unusual products such as,sex toys and even ... cannabis products and accessories—depending on the country you are in, of course.

No need to name any brands in particular, nearly all of them have at least one calendar in their range and many offer several, since they create specific versions in line with the various tastes, desires, and budgets of their customers. Some of them even offer personalized or customizable versions, while others sell DIY kits to make them yourself and fill them with treats, toys, messages, and other objects of all kinds. From ultra accessible to ultra luxurious, when it comes to advent calendars, anything goes. In fact these small-sized gifts packed into a countdown format inspire such enthusiasm that beauty retailer Beauty Pie recently created a contest wherein one lucky Advent calendar fan could get paid in exchange for reviewing several of them.

Also read: From tomato tossing to playing piggy: Europe's weirder summer festivals

Prices soar, criticism pours in

Not content to simply respond to a growing demand—certain Advent calendars are often 'sold out' a few days after they go on sale, despite the quantity of versions offered—brands see these colorful boxes as a genuine money-making opportunity. Not only do they sell like hotcakes, but they also—perhaps above all—give the brand a privileged moment to introduce itself to consumers, inviting them to explore and try several of its products. A privileged opportunity to potentially spark curiosity, desire, and even passion for one or more products, among a public that ultimately wants to get a good deal.

Because a key element of Advent calendars—and one that can't be ignored—is that the overwhelming majority of them—depending on the brand—retail at prices well below what their contents would fetch. A sales argument widely promoted by the brands. And while this may indeed be true for brands that offer products similar or even identical to what's regularly found on their shelves, making calculations  easy, it's not always the case, especially when it comes to samples or special edition goodies that don't exist at retail. As a result, prices can easily soar—US$300 euros, US$500, even up to several thousand dollars for the extreme luxury versions -- making the disappointment even greater when the contents don't meet expectations.

Something that a major luxury house experienced fallout from last year, when it became the subject of a controversy on social networks. The cause? Its Advent calendar, retailing for US$825, was criticized by an influencer who did not appreciate the contents. If it contained miniature versions of collector perfumes, lipsticks, and creams, the luxury-priced box also contained, according to the young woman, pins, stickers, pouches, and decorative tree baubles that the label would generally offer free of charge to its customers upon the purchase of a product. A bit disappointing considering the amount of money spent. Fortunately, it's always possible to know the contents of an advent calendar before going to the checkout, allowing consumers to make perfectly informed choices.

A packaging nightmare?

From the packaging to the content of the products, can Advent calendars be environmentally friendly? That's a major question these days, given the popularity of these products. The answer inevitably lies in the commitments made by the brand; an ethical, sustainably-oriented company will offer products in line with its commitments, as a latter of logic and consistency.

That said, even if the products are organic, natural, vegan, cruelty-free, and manufactured locally, the question of packaging for Advent calendars inevitably arises. It's always better to choose Advent calendars made of sustainable materials, or recycled materials, without samples, or with very few, because of the waste generated by these—even if they aren't made of plastic. Regular or travel-size calendars are less harmful to the planet, as are products that don't require packaging.

To go even further in terms of eco responsibility, you can also choose to make a calendar yourself, either completely on your own, or with the help of kits provided by many companies. It is better to use recycled—and recyclable—cardboard or paper, reusable linen bags, or small wooden boxes that will be used for future Christmases.

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