Tis the season to be merry, but with the pandemic surging and new restrictions going into effect seemingly daily, it’s more likely we’re all in for another month of monotony. Unfortunately, those boring silent nights don’t bring joy to the world and might be actively making us more depressed.
Research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience in May linked enhanced happiness and other positive emotions with new, diverse experiences, and found that this connection is related to a greater correlation of brain activity in the hippocampus and the striatum (a.k.a. the brain zones associated with the processing of novelty and reward).
“Our results suggest that people feel happier when they have more variety in their daily routines, go to novel places, and have a wider array of experiences,” explains New York University assistant psychology professor Catherine Hartley, who coauthored the paper. “These results suggest a reciprocal link between novel and diverse experiences and our subjective sense of well-being.”
But how to go from bah humbug to fab la la la with most normal strategies for shaking up routines like traveling, gathering with friends and family, dating, and even dining in new restaurants either unavailable or unsafe logistical nightmares in 2020? Two words: Advent calendars.
No, our brains haven’t turned to figgy pudding. Hear us out. Although the research was conducted pre-corona, the authors have noted, “Even small changes that introduce greater variability into the physical or mental routine may yield similar beneficial effects.”
Small changes could include a daily surprise. Having a door to open every day before Christmas or Hanukkah gives you something to look forward to after a long winter’s nap, and not knowing what’s behind them certainly qualifies as introducing greater variability. Sometimes, as is the case with LEGO’s offerings, Lovehoney’s lingerie loot, or the holiday baking countdown from Uncommon Goods, the present opening is just the beginning of what festivities your night now has in store.
And we’re not talking about those flimsy cardboard numbers filled with cheap chocolate. These days, there’s an advent calendar for every personality, hobby, interest, budget, and relationship type from musical playlists and luxury fragrance collections to crates full of cocktails and collectible toys. And if anyone gives you grief for splurging on any of the following best advent calendars we’ve assembled, tell ‘em you’re simply following the science to a wonderful life.
For Aspiring DJs
Get the holiday party started with this advent-style playlist of 25 Tannenbaum tunes from Sound Sentiments. Each day reveals a QR code for one festive classic that can be played on any device including “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Feliz Navidad,” José Feliciano’s bilingual banger which celebrates its 50th birthday in 2020. Shaped like a vinyl record, it’ll also be music to eco-friendly and pro-economy ears to find out that it’s made in the USA of 50 percent recycled materials.
For Sufferers of Over-Sanitized Skin
Pandemic safety protocols, while absolutely necessary, are taking their toll on everybody (emphasis on body!) Wage war on dry skin, cracked lips, tired eyes, and maskne caused by constant hand washing, sanitizer usage, anxiety-riddled nights, and sweating in PPE, with an elegant advent calendar from Molton Brown. Designed to evoke a shimmering 1920s chandelier, it contains 24 unisex goodies—think hand creams, body oils, bath salts, Vitamin Lipsaver, anti-fatigue eye gel, and perfume—to indulge all your nooks and crannies in nine scents, including Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel, Muddled Plum, and Orange & Bergamot.
Beekman 1802’s awesome advent offering sold out before Thanksgiving, but the adorable urbanites-turned-goat farmers/Sharon Springs shopkeepers won’t leave customers high and dry-skinned. There’s a pint-sized set in a star-shaped box featuring seven days (almost enough to see you through Hanukkah) of their best-selling skincare superstars like Buttermilk Cleanser, Bloom Cream, Milk Mud, and Dewy Eyed Serum.
For Meat Lovers
This protein-packed exclusive from Man Crates will help any carnivore power through the holiday home stretch. Be warned: this isn’t your grandpa’s boring beef jerky either. Sure, there are basics like teriyaki, black pepper, and garlic among the 25 packs of jerky bits. But there are also root beer habanero, General Tso, sesame ginger, Thai satay, birch beer, and whiskey maple flavors in the mix.
For Anyone Who Needs a Stiff Drink
Know someone who needs a little liquid courage to go caroling, make their move under the mistletoe, or meet their partner’s family for the first time? Get them a bevy of adult beverages packaged conveniently for daily drinking. These also work for anyone who just wants to toast the end of this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day year.
Come on get hoppy with the 12 Beers of Christmas box from City Brew Tours with suds sourced from craft breweries across the country, detailed tasting notes, and surprise swag. The Hanukkah version fuels eight crazy nights.
If they’d rather wet their whistle with whiskey, The Spirit Co. has curated multiple calendars that would make Ron Swanson smile including an American bourbon box and a 24-dram Scotch set with everything from single malts to rare tipples from award-winning distilleries like Lagavulin and Glenfiddich.
Dancing ladies, leaping lords, milking maids, pipers, or drummers would all be thrilled if their true love gave to them Vintage Wine Estates’ 12-bottle California wine calendar featuring crisp Chardonnay, sweet Moscato, bold Cabernet Sauvignon, and more.
For Fragrance Fanatics
After months of staying in and #WFH-ing, you and your home office are probably both on the stale side. Freshen up with help from the fragrance industry’s finest. The height of olfactory luxury is the sixth annual limited-edition Jo Malone London advent calendar. Its design was inspired by the Art Deco aesthetic of the Roaring ‘20a and it includes 24 colognes, bath and body products, and wee candles in the brand’s signature lines including its newest, Vetiver & Golden Vanilla, which was introduced just last January.
Another scent-sational reminder that the world is still out there is the Acqua di Parma option in the golden yellow hatbox. The hard-to-procure Italian job accordions open to reveal precious illustrations by Chinese artist Oamul and is packed with petite presents pulled from the company’s beloved lines like Colonia, Blu Mediterraneo, Le Nobili, and Signature of the Sun. It even boasts an extra special surprise for the 25th.
For Dwight Schrute Devotees
If your love for the hit workplace mockumentary is only overshadowed by Billie Eilish’s, run don’t walk to order The Office-ally licensed 12 Days of Socks box. It has eight ankle pairs and four crew ones. All 12 feature title and Dunder Mifflin logos, show quotes, and recurring jokes and come in men’s size 6-12. Wear them while you prank your coworker, do The Scarn, go beet-picking, take glamour shots with your cats, go to a Cornell a capella group’s concert, interview for the assistant to the regional manager gig, or to stay cozy while re-watching all nine seasons for the umpteenth time.
For Brick Masters
If you build it, Christmas will come. Of LEGO’s four toy-a-day offerings this year, two draw from the pop culture pantheon and are sure to entertain brick players of all ages. The 10th iteration of the future collector’s item, the 311-piece LEGO Star Wars advent calendar, has six mini figures, including Darth Vader in an ugly Christmas sweater, six figures including a Tauntaun doing a Rudolph impression, and 12 mini-build ships and locations including a droid control ship and Anakin’s Podracer.
Prefer the wizarding world to a galaxy far, far away? The Harry Potter Advent Calendar will cast a spell on Potterheads as every day brings them farther into the realm of the boy who lived and his magical friends. Besides six mini figures, the set also includes models of enchanted objects and places including items from the Yule Ball to put together.
Jolly Old St. Nick meets Jolly old England when you combine the following pair of advent calendars to stage mini high tea daily. First, you need something to drink, which can be found in a collaboration between The Republic Of Tea and The Hallmark Channel, home to the holiday hits about blind bakery owners finding love during snowstorms with single Santas after reading long-buried love notes written by someone who turns out to be a long-lost relative. Each of the 12 slots contains two black or green tea bags to promote shared sipping.
And because no tea time is complete without pastries and no English muffins, scones, or crumpets are complete without fruity spreads, also invest in Bonne Maman’s advent house. Behind each door lies a mini jar of yummy French-made preserves, jellies, and honey. (Extra gift for your digestive tract? All are free of artificial colors, preservatives, and high-fructose corn syrup.)
For Pandemic Bakers
Tired of sourdough starter maintenance, banana bread, or Dalgona coffee whipping? Welcome cookie season with the help of this interactive advent calendar, which, like Joe Biden, was made in Pennsylvania. Each day’s compartment holds a specialty ingredient like crushed peppermint, candied orange peel, and holiday nonpareils, a kitchen tool, or a recipe card. By Christmas, you’ll have six kinds of swappable cookies in your repertoire. (Warning: it doesn’t include standard baking necessities like all-purpose flour or eggs. But you probably already stocked up in preparation for the president elect’s “dark winter” anyway.)
If eating is your reason for the season, there are calendars to satisfy just about every craving. BYOBHotSauce’s 25 Sauces of Christmas Countdown will spice up any pepper popper’s palette. Each chamber contains a two-ounce bottle of slow-simmered Louisiana-style condiments created using a hit list of hotties like Carolina Reapers, Trinidad Scorpions, Scotch Bonnets, and Habaneros. Christmas day is capped off with a bigger bottle of the Clausse Family’s super-duper secret sauce.
Everyone’s been doing their fair share of binging lately and with lockdowns making a comeback in many cities and The Mandalorian season two in full swing on Disney+, that isn’t likely to change. Level up screen-time snacks with a daily dose of Joe & Seph’s gourmet popcorn in fun flavors like salted caramel, banoffee pie, strawberries and cream, and Speculoos.
Speaking of Mando, this So Wrong It’s Nom cheese calendar is the whey. Twenty-four discs of Ilchester dairy goodness have journeyed from across the pond including Wensleydale with cranberries, cheddar, Jarlsberg, Applewood, and Red Leicester to start a party in your mouth.
But the cream of the crop in culinary calendars comes fresh from the fields, beehives, orchards, and goat pastures of Alabama’s Stone Hollow Farmstead and Food52. Every nook of the wooden crate—sturdy and pretty enough to be refilled and reused—holds an edible delight in awesome flavors like drunken pear, tomatillo, ramp, and turmeric.
By Christmas Eve, gourmands will be lousy with artisanal jams, syrups, dulce de leche, relishes, pickles, spices, pates, oils, and vinegar. (Who even knew nasturtium vinegar was a thing?)
For The Sweet Tooth
A worthy last indulgence before you make a New Year’s resolution to lose the Quarantine 19 you’ve packed on over the last eight months, Sugarfina’s candy-filled calendar tempts with 24 different types of treats (96 pieces in total) including limited-run seasonal faves like Candy Cane Caramels, Snowman Gummies, and Merry Berries as well as brand cornerstones like Parisian Pineapples, Ice Cream Cones, Apple Frogs, and Sparkle Pops. Sadly, this mouthwatering menagerie is family-friendly so it doesn’t include any of the spiked snacks like Champagne Bears or the Aviation American Gin Gimlet Gummies the high-end confectioner built its reputation on.
In the interest of inclusivity, Sugarfina also created a Hanukkah collection, 8 Nights of Light, which features eight Kosher-certified noshes including Robin’s Egg Caramels, sugar cookies, Heavenly Sours, and dark chocolate sea salt caramels. Each night once the snack is pulled from its compartment, flip the drawer to light a candle in the cardboard menorah.
For Big Crystal Energy
If there was ever a year to start seriously practicing self-care and spiritual wellness, it’s 2020 and Smudge’s 10-day calendar can help add magic, meditation, and mojo to the lives of anyone who needs them. It’s drawers are bursting with simple rituals and the aura-rebalancing, stress-relieving, cosmic-cleaning tools like a pyrite cluster, rose quartz sphere, essential oil towelettes, labradorite palm stone, and Goldmine Adaptogen Powder you’ll need to perform them. It will pair nicely with the man bun and beard you’ve grown while haircuts were in short supply.
For Someone On The Naughty List
It’s hard to know who benefits most from this sexy set—the giver or the receiver. One thing’s for sure though, one look at what’s behind closed drawers in 7 Nights Of Seduction and it won’t be visions of sugarplums dancing in either’s head. All they’ll want for Christmas is you when you slip into each day’s wine-colored pieces of lingerie or matching accessories including a peek-a-boo bra, lace handcuffs, and sheer stockings. The finale is a full basque set perfect for necking in the halls or the bedroom. Fits size 4-12. But extra servings of syrup and candy canes to the Lovehoney elves for making a plus-size option for curvy queens (14-20).
For Kids At Heart
This isn’t Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, but that hasn’t stopped Funko’s Nightmare Before Christmas calendar from flying off the virtual shelves. The brand’s other two 2020 collections, Harry Potter and Dragonball Z, have also found healthy followings. Maybe the prospect of welcoming 24 big-headed Pocket Pop! vinyl figures into their homes is comforting after months of quarantining and socially distancing. Who can resist those big black eyes?
For Makeover Moments
Whether you need a gift for an aspiring contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, a partner who needs more help than filters can provide during online meetings, or a teen who spends every waking hour watching YouTube makeup tutorials, advents chock full of cosmetics are the answer and there are lots of them to choose from.
NYX Professional Makeup’s makes one that’s nice nice baby. Diamonds & Ice, Please! mixes 24 mini and full-size versions of lipstick, mascara, and eye shadows in wintery and metallic shades perfect for their New Year’s Eve Zoom as well as best-selling foundation items like pore filler, liquid illuminator, or lip scrub.
Them chicks will be jackin’ your style and tryin’ to copy your swagger after seeing the glam looks that can be created with M·A·C’s 12-day Boom Boom Wow collection featuring $163 worth of high-end cosmetics (three lipsticks, three Lipglasses, three pots of eye shadow, Strobe Cream, and In Extreme Dimension Mascara).
For Four-legged Friends
Let Fido in on the festive fun with Bosco and Roxy’s Bark The Halls 24 Days of Dog Cookies calendar. The canine cooks combine applesauce and crushed peanuts to create treats your precious pup will find paws-itively delicious.