Until this year, I had never had an advent calendar in my life. They seemed like fun, but they just weren’t something we did. We were neither religious nor, frankly, a typical family and we simply didn’t observe the tradition. Which is a pity, because those small traditions are the things that people truly look forward to and enjoy the most. Ultimately, these are things people remember, maybe even passing them along to their own children.
From what I saw, there were a number of ways in which they were presented. Most common, in my limited experience, was a flat cardboard box made to resemble the page of a calendar, with perforated cardboard windows for you to open each day, revealing some small chocolate or other treat within. Some people had their ‘legacy’ calendars, either inherited from or gifted by elderly relatives when they were infants. They may take the form of a pocketed woollen blanket, or a wooden structure like a flattened dollhouse with little drawers styled as windows. These would come out at the start of December, filled with treats for the wee bairns, and go away again at the end of December, along with the stockings and ornaments, and all the other Christmas decorations. Of course now they are available in so many different styles it’s impossible to sum them up – they come in all shapes, styles and themes, plastered with any popular franchise’s characters and design themes. There are mini games and activities depicted on the paper doors, and the windows can be all out of order to add an element of fun to even finding the day’s offering.
Being unfamiliar with them, I was always intrigued. I recently saw a tweet from Julia Moser that described them as a way for children to “microdose Christmas”. And what kid wouldn’t want a little treat every day? A little biscuit, or a small toy, or a chocolate or whaveyou? No kid, that’s who. I remember seeing so many odd ones that were intended as gifts, such as a selection of small pots of various jams, or mustards, or other condiments, for example. So this year, as a grown-ass man, I decided to treat myself to my first.
This came in the form of Carwyn Cellar’s Canvent Calendar. And it was everything I hoped it would be as a kid. The premise is simple, and, to a beer enthusiast’s inner-child, joyful. 24 breweries have each come up with a unique, Christmas-themed brew, with new and often very striking can art, just waiting to be discovered every day. This was joined, soon after, by my second ever advent calendar, gifted to me by my lovely partner in the form of a Santa’s Workshop tower of tiny chocolates to enjoy with my evening tea.
There is a ritual to enjoy every day, of punching out the cardboard flap, and exploring a mystery as you withdraw the can or little chocolate to see what awaits you today. The enjoyment I’ve gotten from this is considerably beyond what I’d expected. I love the anticipation. I love the exploration. I love the conversations I can have around the whole thing.
And of course, I’m loving the beers. Obviously they aren’t all winners – how could they be, with such a wide selection of breweries and styles, and expressions thereof? But nonetheless, the whole process is just so enjoyable, and what’s more, it does exactly what I keep exhorting people to do. It’s putting a number of new things in front of you and inviting you to try them. Maybe you don’t like imperial stouts. Maybe you don’t like IPA’s. Maybe you don’t like a helles, or a saison, maybe you avoid lagers. But this neat little package does such a tremendous job of curating the experience for you that you have a good chance of turning around old prejudices just by being presented with the options you may never choose for yourself.
Of course, there are people who will point out the obvious – this is a complete bastardization of the meaning and purpose of advent calendars. Truth be known, I didn’t even know what that was myself until I looked it up earlier this month. The original calendars would reveal bible verses and pictures, and were a celebration of the anticipation of the true meaning of Christmas – at least, in the Christian sense rather than the various co-opted pagan midwinter festivals it supplanted.
But like I said – this is not the tradition in which I was raised. So I’ll go now and crack my last can, and I will take this little beacon of joy, these microdoses of happiness that anticipation and enjoyment of good beer can bring, and I will begin my own tradition. I know I’ll be getting another next year.
Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays 🙂