When I was a child, an advent calendar was one of the most exciting parts of the countdown to Christmas. A single piece of cheap milk chocolate behind each door of my Spice Girls advent calendar first thing in the morning felt more special than a fresh mince pie, the smell of tinsel or even sitting on the knee of the man himself. Fast forward 25 years and this simple idea has developed into an actual phenomenon, with everything from makeup, cheeses and gin waiting behind the 24 doors each day. And just to prove that there really is an advent calendar for absolutely everyone, I opened a few doors a bit early, to give you my pick of the best advent calendars of 2021.
The first comes from a brand I have recommended before who have enabled all children to enjoy that delicious chocolatey treat each morning. Happi Free From‘s chocolate is gluten and dairy free, fair trade and contains 35% less sugar than other leading brands. The packaging of their advent calendar is from fully sustainable sources and uses vegetable based inks, the tray is made from a minimum of 75% recycled plastic material and is 100% recyclable. With 24 rich and creamy pieces of chocolate behind each door this is the perfect gift for small children or those who want a guilt free chocolate fix this Christmas.
Another fantastic brand for children is Play in Choc whose diary, nut, gluten and plastic free Advent calendar is one of the most lovely things for children I’ve seen this year. Behind each of the 24 windows you’ll find a super-cute festive toy plus a creamy chocolate and fun facts card. Each planet-friendly collectable doubles up as a decoration and the outer sleeve of the box can also be opened up into a landscape to play with all 24 toys. I absolutely loved this perfect mix of chocolate and fun facts each day and it is the exact kind of thing I would have adored as a child.
However now as a grown woman a chocolate advent calendar can seem rather childish and so if one is to enjoy such a treat it is only proper to seek out a suitably mature and elegant version. Thankfully I was given one to try by Niederegger. Their beautiful Santa illustration calendar is one of John Lewis’s best sellers, and comes jam packed with marzipan, truffles and pralines. In a lovely variety of intricately decorated and Christmassy coloured foils, there is more often than not has more than one treat per window, which delighted my other half who got to share in my joy. The pralines in particular are deliciously smooth and delicious and the adorable marzipan teddy bears are enough to melt anyone’s heart.
Another ‘suitable for adults only’ calendar comes from the very luxurious Whittard of Chelsea who sent me a stunning Coffee Advent Calendar for two. From their best selling Guatemala Elephant through to their festive blend, each of the 24 draws contains 2 easy-to-use coffee bags to brew each day. Featuring six single origins and six blends from all corners of the world at various strengths, you are treated to a tantalising, aromatic cup of coffee each day right up until Christmas. This was one of the most beautiful calendars of the lot and would make a fabulous gift for someone, and if coffee isn’t to their taste then they also offer a hot chocolate and tea variety as well.
One for all ages has to be Bonne Maman’s 2021 Advent calendar which sent customers into a frenzy when it was released for pre-order many months ago! Concealed behind each door are 23 adorable glass mini jars of jam or marmalade. Each day reveals a different exclusive fruit variety or unique flavour combination not usually available in the UK. Some of my favourites were Raspberry with Rose Spread, Orange with Cinnamon Marmalade and Apricot with Lavender Spread which were just sensational piled on top of hot toast, crumpets and croissants. This year the Advent Calendar also offers two special surprise gifts, one of which is revealed on Christmas eve, just in time for the big day.
If sweet really isn’t your thing and you prefer some-kind of savoury treat each day of advent, then the Cheesies Advent calendar is one you simply must try. Cheesies turn a block of cheese into an outrageously tasty, crunchy snack just by baking it. Made from 100% cheese with nothing else added at all, Cheesies are naturally high in protein, have no carbs, no sugar and are only around 120 calories per serving. Suitable for vegetarian, diabetic and gluten-free snackers too, this a great choice for children too. Their fridge free offering (leaving you plenty of room for copious amounts of Christmas treats) has 24 bags of full size cheesies in 6 different flavours from Gouda to Goat’s Cheese that are perfect for nibbling while at the office or as a tasty snack on the go.
Another great chocolate-free version comes from the Popcorn Shed a family business who have been operating out of their garden shed since 2016! Whether you’re looking for something luxury and gourmet, or you want a vegan and low calorie option, they have a variety of calendars to choose from. But of course here at Black Book we love a bit of luxury so I tried their Gourmet Popcorn Advent Calendar, with a bag of gourmet popcorn in six indulgent and deliciously unique flavours behind each door. The flavours are absolutely sensational, Salted Butterscotch Caramel Popcorn, Caramel Popcorn with Roasted Pecan Pieces and Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Popcorn were what really stood out to me but to be honest I enjoyed every single variety. This would certainly please almost everyone.
Now if you’ve read my articles before you know that I like to be inclusive of everyone so I’ve even included one unrelated to Advent, not containing sugary treats or other indulgences and that can be enjoyed by all ages…
The Twelve Games of Christmas is a set of games that you play each day in the run up to Christmas. Suitable for ages 6 and up, and perfect for 2-16 players, this classy, all-in-one compendium of hilarious and easy to learn games guarantees big belly laughs this Christmas. Games include: ‘Reindeer Hoopla’, ‘Santa’s Sports Day’ and ‘Merry Quizmas’ to name just a few. Play it with kids, teens or adults – there’s something for everyone. The box contains all the props, questions and apparatus you need to play each game and is a great way to bring a bit of Christmas cheer into each day in the run up to the main event. Special mention also has to go to Seven Brothers, whose Countdown to Christmas Eve Advent calendar contains a surprise mix of 24 beers from the Seven Brothers range. I was partial to the Talking Rhubarb, Chocolate Honeycomb Stout and my personal favourite, the Peanut Butter on a Jaffa Cake Stout. With a name like that what’s not to love? The calendar is available to pre-order and is the perfect gift for someone who’d rather crack open a few can’s than indulge in sweet snacks.
Whether you’re a sweet toothed chocolate lover who can’t wait for the excuse of having a pre 8am indulgence, or can’t contain your excitement to count down the days with a savoury snack each evening, make sure you open the door to a special treat each day from December 1, after all, it’s Christmas!