Alternative Advent Calendars: All You Need To Know

Posted by Micaela de Freitas on

Alternative Advent Calendars: All You Need To Know

Advent calendars are now a classic festive tradition, helping us to count down the days until Saint Nick shimmies down our chimney. Traditionally, they were a box with a picture of a Christmas scene, such as ones from the Nativity, on the front, with 24 windows featuring chocolate or small gifts behind them. They often go on sale in early autumn, so that consumers can purchase them in time for the 1st December.

However, in recent years shops have seen a whole variety of alternative advent calendars, from makeup and skincare to booze and candles. Once a staple of your childhood, the advent tradition has been rebranded so that we can carry it on well into adulthood. 

But where did advent calendars come from and when did they start?


Wait, why do we even have advent calendars?

Advent is the period of time leading up to Christmas day, when the birth of Christ is celebrated. According to Christian tradition this is technically the four Sundays before Christmas day, which means advent can begin anywhere between the 27th of November and 3rd of December. As a result of this, most advent calendars you’ll see on the shelves today usually count down from the 1st December, until Christmas Eve on the 24th December. 

The first iteration of the advent calendar tradition dates back to German protestants in the 1900s, who began counting down the days by using paper advent calendars. They would mark 24 chalk lines on a door and rub one off every day until Christmas. Another tradition involved lighting candles in anticipation of Christmas day. 

Modern advent calendars

Soon enough, commercial advent calendars were produced and sold in Germany, dating from the 1st until the 24th of December, so that they could be reused. Gerhard Lang is widely credited with creating the first printed advent calendar with coloured pictures, which later became small doors. 

This eventually developed into the practice we know and love today - but did you know we didn’t actually see advent calendars in the UK until the mid 1950s! The first chocolate advent calendar in the UK was sold in 1958, but it wasn’t until 1971 that chocolate giant Cadburys joined in. 

Even more surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1993 that Cadbury’s actually began to consistently produce chocolate advent calendars. Despite this, they quickly became the quintessential countdown to Christmas activity for households across the country. 

Some more religious advent calendars will still feature a portion of the Nativity story, or a Bible verse behind each day’s window. However, Advent has since then also become associated with the beginning of the holiday season and is now celebrated by many, religious or not. 

Enter the even more recent phenomena, the ‘alternative advent calendar’. 

So what is an alternative advent calendar?

An alternative advent calendar is a non-chocolate advent calendar, with 24 (sometimes 25, if you’re lucky) windows, each with a gift behind it. Many major brands have started offering advent calendars around the festive season, with smaller versions of their best-selling products. 

They often also include promotional, limited edition products in, as well as being sold for a fraction of the combined retail value of all of the products inside. 

With just a quick search, you can easily find advent calendars for adults and teenagers, for him and for her, for pets - the list is endless! 

If you’re stuck for the best alternative advent calendar, there are plenty of buyer’s guides out there to help you choose the perfect one for you, filled with gifts you know you’ll enjoy. 

Why should you buy an alternative advent calendar?

For most of us, advent calendars are probably extremely reminiscent of our childhoods. Rushing downstairs each morning before school to grab a piece of chocolate (because at Christmas, all you eat is chocolate) and maybe read a funny festive joke. There’s no denying that there’s a lot of nostalgia wrapped around this holiday tradition.

Anyway, who said advent calendars are only for kids!? They’re a great way to get into the Christmas spirit and treat yourself at the end of the year. Let’s be honest, not even the Grinch could say no to a mini gift everyday until the big day itself. 

What types of alternative advent calendars are there? 

Stationery advent calendars

For those who like their desks to look stylish and organised.

Beauty advent calendars

Including skin-care products, makeup, self-care gifts.

Food advent calendars - from cheese and chocolate to different types of tea, there’s an advent calendar for any taste!

Candle advent calendars, because you can never have too many candles, right? 

Pet advent calendars, so your furry friends can enjoy a treat each morning right alongside you!

Perfume advent calendars, to keep you smelling good all year long. 

Alcohol advent calendars, so you can find your new favourite tipple this December.  

But with all of these options, is the tradition really that sustainable? 

Are advent calendars wasteful?

These days, as the conversation around sustainability continues to grow, we have to ask ourselves if this is a sustainable habit. With individually wrapped products, the chance that you might not even get round to using them all and plastic-heavy packaging, not all of these Christmas countdowns are that great for the environment.

Some have even discussed how the growth of alternative advent calendars is simply contributing to the commercialisation of Christmas. Seen as a lucrative way for big brands to make more money and promote themselves even further over the festive season, are these advent calendars just another way for us to buy products that maybe… we don’t really need?

On the bright side, we are now starting to see plastic-free and low-waste options, as well as a return to the concept of reusable advent calendars. 

Whether you make your own from scratch, keep the packaging or buy an empty calendar that you can fill with gifts and goodies yourself, there are definitely more eco-friendly options out there, so that you can keep this well-loved tradition alive in your household!

Introducing the 24 Days of Gifting Advent Calendar from That Counts

This is where we come in! Our very own 24 Days of Gifting advent calendar is definitely in keeping with the spirit of giving and doing good at Christmas. 

Behind each of our plastic-free, numbered gift boxes, you’ll find a gift from a small or purpose-led business. These may be small gifts but don’t be fooled - their impact is big. Every purchase is supporting companies like Vent For Change, who donate money to children’s education projects across the country and Arthouse Unlimited, an incredible company who employ adults with learning and physical disabilities.


That Counts 24 Days of Gifting Advent Calendar. A few products including Nursem hand cream, a candle and a Coco chocolate bar are positioned in front of the advent calendar box itself.


Seriously, this is the only advent calendar you’ll need this year. It’s a creative way to celebrate Christmas in the office, or toast to the holidays with housemates. This Christmas, get together and gift together, with a variety of gifts, ranging from stationery to snacks and self-care. There’s something for everyone inside! 

We’d even love to see you reusing this calendar! Each beautifully designed gift box can be easily reused by simply peeling off the stickers and saving them for a later date. The box designs also aren’t Christmas themed, so they can be used at any time of the year, for any gifting occasion. And - if you don’t like one of the gifts you receive, we won’t be upset if you regift it… 

So there it is, your ultimate guide to alternative advent calendars. The only question is, are you ready to start counting down to the big day with us?

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