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Tis the season to be merry, but even with the U.S. opening up international travel, and vaccines bringing back in-person gathering, your holidays still might look a little different this year. Unfortunately, those boring silent nights away from friends and family don’t bring joy to the world and might be actively making us more depressed.
Research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience last year 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 co-authored 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 when you find your old holiday routine shaken up, and the logistical nightmare of gathering vaccinated friends and family, traveling, and even dining under heat lamps at outdoor restaurants in 2021? 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, all reimagined and performed by incredible up and coming singer-songwriters. 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
The hectic holiday season, while a necessary evil, is taking its 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 on public transport, with an elegant advent calendar from Molton Brown. Designed to evoke Molton Brown’s original salon doors, it contains 25 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.
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, Flavier has curated an interstellar calendar that would make Starlord smile. Their “Whiskies of the Galaxy” tasting box set has 24 secret premium spirit samples for the “Whiskeynaut” in your life, with an award-winning Glencairn tasting glass, and access to exclusive on-demand tasting videos.
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 continued #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 limited-edition Atelier Cologne advent calendar. Its design is constellation-inspired, for an out-of-this-world gift box including 24 colognes, bath and body products, and wee candles in the brand’s signature lines, and scents like Clémentine California and Love Osmanthus.
Another scent-sational reminder that the world is still out there is the Acqua di Parma option in the golden yellow hat box. The hard-to-procure Italian circular box opens to reveal precious illustrations and is packed with petite presents pulled from the company’s beloved lines like Colonia, Blu Mediterraneo, Le Nobili, and Signature of the Sun.
For Friends Devotees
If your love for the hit sitcom is only overshadowed by its star-studded reunion special, run don’t walk to order the officially-licensed Friends Advent Calendar box. It has brand-new unique keepsakes and trinkets ranging from fun paper ornaments, to classic Friends-inspired recipe cards (the head turkey is not incuded). Set out Central Perk coasters for your holiday party, put a miniature yellow frame over your front door’s peephole, or stay cozy while re-watching all 10 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 11th 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.
Remember as a kid hating when Jolly Old St. Nick would bring you a fresh pair of socks? Well, this advent calendars lets you indulge in the true pleasure of slipping into some new socks daily daily. First, you’ll need them for any cozy holiday movie marathon, and this box gives you 24 pairs — enough for movie nights throughout the season.
Behind each door lies a festive mix of designs from “All I Want For Christmas” socks (Mariah Carey not included), and “Jumbo Snowmen” to show off your holiday spirit to whoever you pass on the street (or just in your own home). If you’re more of a DIY-er, and don’t have enough time to knit your own sock gifts this year, Happy Socks is also offering a homemade advent calendar you can easily assemble from ready-made elements. Just choose which socks to include, and you’re all set!
For Seasonal Bakers
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 long winter anyways.)
If eating is your reason for the season, there are calendars to satisfy just about every craving. Modern Gourmet Food International’s 24 Days of Hot Sauce will spice up any pepper popper’s palette. Each chamber contains a seven packet of slow-simmered condiments with hot names like Thai-riffic, Hawaiian Lava Flow, and My Outback Is Burning. The heat level on each is extreme across the board, so you won’t get a break no matter which day of the month you pile the sauce on.
Everyone’s been doing their fair share of binging lately, and with several summer blockbusters making their way onto Disney+ after a summer on the big screen, that isn’t likely to change. Level up screen-time snacks with a daily dose of Wabash Valley Farms’ gourmet popcorn in fun flavors, recipe cards, seasonings, and popcorn kernels to pop yourself.
Speaking of which, 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 Ilchester cheddar, with apple, onion, and sage, Applewood, and Red Leicester to start a party in your mouth. The box goes on sale November 16th on Target.com.
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 cut out sugar entirely, Sugarfina’s candy-filled calendar tempts with 24 different types of treats (96 pieces in total) including limited-run seasonal faves like Santas Donuts, Holiday Presents, and Merry Berries as well as brand cornerstones like Island Pineapples, Ice Cream Cones, Apple Frogs, and Peach Hearts. 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 2021 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 an all-new lineup of crystals and a set of portable mantra cards to give you a power boost wherever you are. It will pair nicely with the man bun and beard you’ve grown over the year.
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 Temptation 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. The finale is a vanilla-scented candle, so you can set the mood for seduction. 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
Identity theft might be a crime, but that hasn’t stopped Funko’s The Office calendar from bringing our favorite characters’ miniature likenesses to your home. The brand’s other two 2021 collections, Five Nights At Freddy’s and Pokemon, 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 awkward post-vaxx interactions. 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. Gimme Super Stars! 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 party as well as best-selling foundation items like pore filler, liquid illuminator, or lip scrub.
Once you step out onto the town, everyone will be asking how your glam looks can be created, and you’ll be able to answer — with Benefit Cosmetics 12-day collection featuring $140 worth of high-end cosmetics (four mascaras, two facial primers, two brow gels, bronzer, finishing powder, brow pencil and liquid liner).
For Four-legged Friends
Let Fido in on the festive fun with Bosco and Roxy’s Dog Days of Christmas Advent Treat calendar. The canine cooks combine applesauce and crushed peanuts to create treats your precious pup will find paws-itively delicious.