Advent Calendars: love ’em or hate ’em?

Every year my children receive chocolate advent calendars from their generous grandparents. However this year I was able to buy paper calendars for the girls from Oxfam – which received a mixed response 😦
I personally believe that traditional paper calendars are better than chocolate ones – but am I being mean, and a little old fashioned?
These are my thoughts on why they are better:
1. A paper advent calendar gets better day by day: each door reveals a new picture and by the end of advent you have a joyous Christmas scene.
2. However by 24 December chocolate calendars are a mess of torn cardboard, ripped foil and plastic packaging: hardly festive!
3. Why do multi national confectionary companies (such as Kraft) get to tell us how to celebrate advent? And don’t get me started on the £95 L’Oréal advent calendar, or the heavily criticised £50 one created by Zoella.
4. At the end of the day, traditional calendars can be recycled. However the mess that is left behind by the chocolate ones makes them difficult to recycle, only adding to the 736,571 tonnes of rubbish that is created each Christmas.
5. There is enough over consumption and debt generated at this time of year anyway. Why not buy a simple charity calendar and enjoy the mindful task of opening a door each day to reveal a picture, rather than wolfing down chocolate (which doesn’t even taste that great!)
What are your thoughts on advent calendars?
Paper or chocolate?
Or do you own a perpetual calendar: one that can be used again and again? Some families also take part in ‘reverse advent calendars’: donating an item a day to a local foodbank.
I really enjoy reading the ideas and projects from New Dream, a not for profit organisation which is working to challenge American perceptions of consumption and consumerism. They produce an online advent calendar here, filled with ways you can step off the consumption conveyor belt at this time of year.
I really recommend reading their website and looking at some of the ideas they have to ‘Simplify the Holidays’.

Alternatives to Christmas shopping


Last month I wrote about the buying frenzies of Christmas Markets and Black Friday. It got me thinking about gentler and simpler ways of shopping and giving at this time of year.

I know lots of people who make – and even grow – their own Christmas gifts. In our house we will be having a go at creating some small presents for teachers and friends.

But if you’re not crafty, or don’t have the time to create, what are the alternatives to queuing in busy department stores, or joining the masses online on Cyber Monday?

Charity Gift Vouchers

Most people are aware of the Oxfam Unwrapped presents. You ‘buy’ a schoolbook, or a goat, but instead of it going to the gift recipient Oxfam funds projects that provide these items to people in need. Many other charities operate similar vouchers. In the past I have also sent Unicef and Shelter gifts to friends and family.

WHERE TO FIND: You may have to venture onto the High Street for this one or go online to locate those charities that don’t have a shop.

TIME TAKEN: A few minutes to process your online order, or just a quick queue in your local charity shop (there is sometimes a little form filling for the Unwrapped vouchers).

Homemade Gift Vouchers

There are some great ideas on the web for creating and printing your own gift vouchers for loved ones. These can range from providing a couple of hours’ babysitting to offering to cook a meal. Of course you can use your own imagination, and skills, to create these vouchers. If you’re good at sewing how about offering to alter a dress, or the loan of your machine – and expertise. One of the best vouchers I’ve discovered, though, is this one from Miss Minimalist. It promises the recipient that they do not need to buy a gift for the giver, but instead spend time doing something meaningful together.`

WHERE TO FIND: You could have a browse through Pinterest for some online inspiration or create your own on the computer – or hand drawn and illustrated is even nicer!

TIME TAKEN: Depends on how inspired and artistic you are feeling!

Second-hand Giving

I have written here about second-hand gifts and am still not sure if I could buy pre-loved gifts for everyone on my list. I believe it depends on the recipient and also the state of the item you are buying (ie could it be passed off as brand new?). I will be posting soon about the charity shop presents I have bought for this Christmas. Another option is re-gifting those items that have been previously given to you. Just make sure the new recipient wasn’t the original gift giver!

WHERE TO FIND: High Street Charity Shops, or you may have a ‘re-gifting’ cupboard already at home

TIME TAKEN: It may take longer to find items you specifically want in a second-hand shop as their collections will depend on donations. It is probably better to go with an open mind about what you need to get, or start shopping a few months before the festive madness. If you strike up a relationship with the volunteers you could even ask them to let you know if a certain item comes into the shop. When it comes to buying there should be less frantic queuing.

or for something completely different…. Alternative Gift Fairs

I’ve recently come across Center for a New American Dream, a non-profit organisation that aims to promote a more sustainable, less consumerist way of life. One of their programmes is encouraging people to slow down at Christmas and Simplify the Holidays. They have an online calendar which suggests things to do every day that do not involve purchasing and consuming more. For example on December 9th they have ideas for reducing seasonal waste from cards and wrapping paper to decorations and advent calendars. They also have some ideas for printable gift vouchers.

One of their best ideas, though, is running Alternative Gift Fairs. Organisers invite local, national and international charities to run stalls where people can ‘purchase’ gifts for loved ones in the form of donations to these causes and particular projects.

WHERE TO FIND: Unfortunately Alternative Gift Fairs only seem to be located in the US. Maybe it’s time to import one….