There was a time, long before the 1980s, when advent calendars comprised detailed such snowy scenes as children throwing snowballs with charming little paper windows that opened to show a picture of a little robin or hibernating hedgehog – or even one of Santa’s elves.
Then along came chocolate and changed everything. The whole experience of opening an advent calendar window became less important than the treat behind it. It melded into the overindulgent month-long blur that is Christmas.
But in the last few years, there’s been a welcome trend away from this. True, you can still begin seasonal overeating via your advent calendar, whether that’s chocolate, gin or pork scratchings – in the run-up to the 25th. But thanks to a national shift towards sustainability, and the lasting trend for home-made gifting and decorations, there are more options now than ever for meaningful, fun and unusual advent calendars in the UK.
Perhaps you don’t have a sweet tooth, or are trying to stave it off. Or perhaps you just fancy something different this year. Whatever your reason, here’s our pick of the best non-chocolate advent calendars for 2021.
Our colleagues over on Gathered have a range of great step-by-step guides for making your own DIY advent calendar kits and ideas, while BBC Science Focus has this excellent guide to 10 cool Advent calendars, while BBC Wildlife has the low-down on this year’s most gorgeous wildlife and nature-themed advent calendars.
Best non-chocolate advent calendars 2021
White Wooden LED Light Up Christmas Xmas Advent Calendar Scene
Bring an extra touch of class to your mantelpiece or tabletop this December with this hand-painted set of advent drawers, topped with a wooden cut-out of a festive village scene. The LED lights bring a magical feel to the church and carol singers, while the unimposing little white drawers can be filled with your choice of treat – perhaps a wildlife-themed pin, a miniature hand cream, or a cheeky chocolate after all? It’s reusable of course, so you can feel good about refilling it year after year, and surprising the recipients anew.
Moonlit Magic Advent Calendar
You’ll love looking at this charming traditional advent picture calendar from Woodmansterne, which reminds us that a good amount of wildlife outside is anything but sleeping. Foxes, barn owls, pheasants and hares leap about the snowy fields among the rosehips and ivy, while Father Christmas does his traditional turn across the full moon. You almost don’t want to open the windows and spoil the view.
- Buy now from Paper Tiger (RRP from £10)
Pork Crackling Advent Calendar 2021
By Snaffling Pig
Pork crackling used to be divisive: there was only one flavour, and it was salt. But things have changed now, as gastropubs and independent butchers have turned pork crackling into the delicacy it should be. Hence Snaffling Pig’s hugely popular pork crackling advent calendar. There are six flavours in here to choose from, including Marvellous Maple, Low & Slow BBQ and Black Pepper.
The calendars contain RSPCA-approved pork, and are made in Britain. There’s also a version with beer pairings.
The Tea Advent Calendar
This beautiful reusable Tea Advent Calendar from Whittards not only looks lovely, but also contains 94 bags of excellent quality tea in each drawer to ease you through the hectic month of December. It comprises classics such as Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Chelsea garden and organic peppermint, along with some lesser known blends such as mango and bergamot (green), raspberry and rose and a Christmas tea to get you in the spirit. There’s chamomile too, of course, to help your digestion after the main event. It’s an investment buy, yes, but next year you can refill it yourself.
- Buy now from Whittards (RRP from £60)
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Craftvent Calendar 2021
By The Make Arcade
This craft-advent (‘craftvent’) calendar is made by a small Salisbury studio and is made up of 24 individual felting craft projects for your Christmas tree, each in its own colourful box. The Make Arcade doesn’t list all the final designs, to retain the element of surprise throughout the month. Of course, if you don’t fancy adding a craft marathon to your daily December commitments, why not save up a few decorations to make over a festive drink with friends?
- Buy now from The Make Arcade (RRP from £70)
Best of British Beer Advent Calendar
By Not on the High Street
Celebrate the great British brewing tradition with this selection of 24 x 330ml craft beers from independent UK breweries. Beautifully presented in a simple box, it includes beverages from Glamorgan Brewery, Stonehouse, Harviestoun, Redcastle Brewing in Angus, and Windsor & Eton Brewery among many other excellent beer producers. And let’s face it, there’s so much to deal with in the run up to Christmas that we all deserve to reward ourselves a little early.
- Buy now from Not on the High Street (RRP £79.50)
Santa’s workshop – advent calendar puzzle
By Wentworth Puzzles
Wentworth puzzles are known for their exquisite laser-cut wooden jigsaw puzzles for adults, so it’s wonderful to see them create this jigsaw puzzle/3D advent calendar for children. Kids will love piecing together the jigsaw, with its irregular pieces and lovely seasonal shapes, before adding the stand-up characters on each day of the month. The result is a jolly scene from Santa’s workshop, which any child (and adult) will enjoy completing.
- Buy now from Wentworth Puzzles (RRP £25)
Northern Lights Pop & Slot 3D Advent Calendar
By Roger la Borde
This utterly charming pop-and-slot advent calendar brings beautiful artwork by designer Katie Vernon into 3D glory. The pieces come separately, so children and young-at-heart grown-ups can enjoy slowly building the display over the month of December. There are a number of other calendars to choose from in the online shop, and for each Pop & Slot advent calendar sold, Roger la Borde will donate £1 to Tree Aid.
For more wildlife-themed advent calendars, see this online article by our sister title BBC Wildlife Magazine.
Personalised colouring canvas advent calendar
By James Ellis
This lovely decorative hanging colour-it-in advent calendar will pretty up any corner of a room and provide a mindful creative challenge for children and adults throughout December. It comes personalised with the recipient’s name at the top, is printed on canvas and has wooden bars at the top and the bottom to allow the calendar to hang elegantly down. The ribbon at the top is designed to hang on a hook or nail, so there’s no need to ruin the walls with sticky tape or blue-tack. It comes presented in an organic cotton drawstring bag.
James Ellis gives 1% turnover to environmental causes, particularly tree planting, through the organisation ‘1% for the Planet’. So you can feel good about your purchase, too.
- Buy now from James Ellis (RRP from £32)