For kids who celebrate Christmas, there's something irresistible about an advent calendar. In households where treats are doled out sparingly, knowing that you'll be getting one chocolate a day for twenty-four days in a row feels like a kind of miracle.
But eventually those kids grow into adults who can buy their own candy whenever they want and the traditional advent calendar loses its childhood appeal.
So, food and beverage companies are trying to tempt more adults into buying advent calendars, by making modern, grown-up versions that contain everything from Pringles and chocolate covered Brussel sprouts to samplers of vodka and gin.
"It's got that nostalgia factor," says Chase Ishii, creative lead at Man Crates, who makes a calendar filled with beef jerky and other treats. When they debuted their calendar in 2016, Ishii says, they loved the idea of putting a spin on such an old tradition. And unlike most gifts which get opened within a few minutes, people with advent calendars display them for nearly a full month and often open them as a family. This year's model even contained a story that could be read in parts each night since many customers said they wanted to share the experience with their kids.
These grown-up advents are popular enough that many users post regularly on social media with videos or photos that show the big reveal. For people gifting the calendars from afar, watching the receiver's excitement unfold in photo and video — learning which whiskey was the favorite or whether someone dropped their coffee-flavored vodka into a glass of eggnog — is a way to connect.
Though the advent season has existed since the fourth century, it wasn't until the 1800s that German Protestants started using it as a way to count down to Christmas. The original advent calendars might have been little more than ticking off chalk marks on a door or lighting candles. But in the early 1900s, someone had the brilliant idea to sell paper advent calendars and added doors in the 1920s.
"Advent calendars are super trendy and popular right now," says Hannah Hanley, the chief marketing officer at Heritage Distilling. Their Washington distillery opened in Washington in 2012 and came up with the idea of bottling airplane-size shots of their booze and tucking them into a calendar two years later.
They had to specially make and design boxes and packing each bottle into the right day is a feat of logistics. Yet it's worth it, says Hanley. "Our goal is to turn any customer into a repeat customer for us," he says. This year, Heritage made 10,000 calendars, which required bottling a quarter of a million tasters to fill up the 24-days of the calendar.
Alcohol seems to be particularly popular for these calendars. Companies like Vinebox or Drinks by the Dram, whose businesses are based around selling sample-sizes of wine and spirits, respectively, are no-brainers for advent calendars. Vinebox started selling theirs in 2016, the same year they opened for business. Drinks by the Dram, which was founded in 2010 took a few years before they added advent calendars to their line.
Today they have 25 versions which include everything from a $100 vodka sampler to an $11,000 calendar of "very old and rare" whiskeys. According to their global brand manager, Adam Wyatt, they have a lot of repeat customers who might buy the gin version one year and then the tequila one the next.
So far, these calendars seem to be good for business, says TK. It's a way to give a customer just enough of a taste of a jerky or gin to make them want to buy even more of it. And brands like Bonne Maman jams and preserves or David's Tea are now making their own advent calendars. And it's likely that the trend will only continue grow, giving us a wider variety of snacks and drinks to choose from in the coming years.