So the traditional start to the Christmas season, before retailers and advertisers became involved, was Advent, which of course starts on 1st December. The advent calendar, like many other Christmas traditions, originates from Germany and would originally depict a simple scene, with little windows to open on each day in the run-up until Christmas day itself.
Well times have surely changed! I remember when I first saw an advent calendar with chocolate in it – I thought it was the most amazing thing, but these days that is the absolute norm. All the major confectioners trot out a vast array, in huge volumes to boot. It is frightening!
And the variety of calendars has become quite alarming. Driven by the retail industry to give us yet another excuse to part with our pennies, you can now find an advent calendar containing almost anything from tiny bottles of gin, to cosmetics, to the one that really raised my eyebrows from Airwick, tiny scented candles! We even had one with pork scratchings in it in our house last year. Given the amount of waste and resource involved, I’m afraid I just can’t get comfortable with that!
It also seems to me that something that used to be aimed at the children of the family has also morphed into something for everyone! I am assuming the gin advent calendars are not targeted at children, and cosmetics and chilli sauce don’t seem like the obvious child-friendly products either. All of a sudden you can have as many as 4 or more advent calendars perched on your mantlepiece and it can have cost a small fortune!
So we wanted to zero in on the most resourceful options out there. Don’t worry – they aren’t all homemade! My daughter is such a chocoholic that the simplest shop-bought version will do for her as long as it is ethical and recyclable of course!
1. Go Reusable
In the resource stakes, first up it has to be the reusable advent calendar, and I have to say that I know loads of people that do this with varying degrees of imagination! There are some beautiful ones out there and it really can be a perfect opportunity to come up with your own special family traditions. You can fill the drawers or the pockets with all sorts of things including sweets, messages and experiences from watching Elf on the TV to ice skating in the park. And of course, you can fill it to suit your budget or other requirements. We love a little bit of Scandi style and www.hyggestyle.co.uk not only sells several versions of reusable advent calendars but all the bits and pieces to stock it too. John Lewis have a selection too to suit most budgets, and The Works has a nice plain wooden one that you can pimp to your own style.
2. Go Charitable
If you feel compelled to buy something for a grown-up – your husband or a loved one – this may be the sensible way to go, rather than fuel the consumerist fire created by some of the more luxurious options. We particularly like one from Unicef. It comes in at a luxury price at £25 and is all the more special for it, as behind each window is a life-changing gift for children funded by calendar. Providing blankets, school supplies and vaccines to the neediest children in the world has to be better for the soul than amassing 25 mini bottles of gin.
Your other charity option is the Advent of Change calendar which is a new idea coming at three different price levels. It supports a massive range of charities, which it donates a sum to every day. There is a children’s version and a premium version depending on how much you want to spend. It’s a novel idea with maximum feel-good factor. It also claims to be plastic-free, recyclable and sustainable.
3. Go Home Made
So for the crafty and innovative amongst you, there are some amazing DIY ideas out there from mini stockings to toilet roll inners, to book stacks – my favourite being a bibliophile! That said, I did try and do that one year and realised that 25 books are a lot of books! If you do want to have a go at making your own, then the obvious place to go is Pinterest of course! We’ve created a Pinterest board of our favourites! I must say I had always thought I didn’t have the patience to make my own, but there are some beautiful ideas here, and I’m thinking I might next year! I really love the photo one too! A perfect idea for dad!
4. Go Reverse
A new and novel idea being adopted by many, to collect 25 items together be it food, toys or clothing, to donate to a charity just before Christmas. It sounds like a lovely idea and could be something you do alongside your more traditional arrangement. Here’s a great article telling you how to get started!
5. Go to the Supermarket By All Means But Please Check the Labels
Whatever your budget or price range, whether you are spending a £1 on a supermarket version, or a lot more on a luxury brand, it is worth checking two really important things. Firstly, is the chocolate being used ethically and sustainably sourced. And secondly, is the packaging recyclable or minimal in terms of waste.
I had a look at the packaging on each of the ones in my local supermarket which thankfully has a relatively small selection, and discovered the following:
Thorntons – I was really surprised to see that a brand I consider to be on the premium side, actually doesn’t make a great deal of noise about it’s ethical sourcing practices. But then I also hadn’t realised they were owned by Ferrero which means that their ethical rating is pretty low. They do have clear recycling information pack, but it’s definitely not the cheapest or the most impressive, so I’m not sure why you would buy it!
Tesco’s Own Brand – Tesco’s have a nice picture of a logo with a tree frog on theirs, which is the Rainforest Alliance Logo – the implication here is that the chocolate is ethicially sourced, but when you read the small print it says that they purchase a volume of cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms equivalent to the volume of this product. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it’s not actually telling me the chocolate I am eating in this product is ethically sourced, of that I am pretty sure! Of course it retails at £1 so there you go! Recycling wise, contains cardboard and recyclable plastic depending on where you live!
Cadbury’s – I looked at a lovely Miniature Heroes advent calendar! Red flag number one – all of those lovely Heroes are going to be wrapped in non-recyclable plastic! Not cool! They do have a Cocoa Life Fairtrade Certification on the box, so I guess that is a tick! No recycling information at all on the box, however. If you are a Cadburys’ fan, however, I would probably suggest going for the old staple Dairy Milk advent calendar! less packaging, and a cheap and very cheerful £2.
Maltesers – so top of the class for recycling info was definitely this one! They have invested some thought in communicating the message with little reindeer pictures sorting the different elements of the calendar into 3 different boxes marked carton, plastic and foil. Bravo! There are, however, no logos indicating that the chocolate is in any way ethical and Maltesers are made by Mars whose environmental creds aren’t great!
If you want to be absolutely sure you are getting Fair Trade cocoa in your advent calendar, then the rule of thumb really is to go for one of the reputable brands like Divine, widely available in Oxfam shops, or Montezumas, who also do a dairy-free vegan version. But if I had a £1 in my pocket to buy an advent calendar in the supermarket, I would go for a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. The best sourcing policy of the major confectioners, and probably the most recyclable.
6. Go Traditional
The final option is, of course, to go back to the most basic version. I always look longingly at the huge display of simple paper advent calendars I always see displayed in Between the Lines at Christmas. They simply look beautiful, and without a doubt they are the most resourceful. If you want to go retro, then this is a great place to browse! Steer clear of glitter if you can though!
So there we have it – some thoughts on your advent options. Of course, we could all just dig out a couple of old coat hangers and some tinsel, and knock up a Blue Peter advent crown, but sadly I think times have changed!
Enjoy the experience whichever one you choose! We’ll be sharing our other guides on buying Christmas trees, Christmas cards, wrapping paper very soon!
We’d love to hear your ideas on making your advent traditions more sustainable.