Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Badvent
Simon Jenkins introduces the “Badvent” calendar
Standing in the queue at Tesco a few weeks ago, I was eyeing up the impulse buys at the till and wondering whether to go for a two-for-the-price-of-one pouch of Maltesers, when my eyes fell on something that looked strangely familiar. Bang in the middle of the National Lottery scratchcard display, between the Lucky Dog and Win Pig cards, was a £5 offering called, “Christmas Advent Calendar”.
Forgetting the Maltesers for a moment, I leaned in for a closer look. It was an Advent scratchcard. There was Santa, standing in the middle of a snow-covered village, complete with a little church and sleepy houses. Each house could be scratched away to reveal instant cash prizes of up to £250,000! I must confess, my mouth fell open. The last time I paid this much attention to an Advent calendar was when I was a kid, and the only thing the calendars of those days coughed up was a piece of cheap chocolate that instantly stuck to the roof of your mouth.
At the risk of confusing the feasts of the Church, it was an Epiphany for me. Surely, I thought, the three kings didn’t trudge all the way from “Orient are” to Bethlehem so that Camelot could flog £25 million worth of scratchcards?
This little revelation at the Tesco till was one of the things that prompted a few of us on ShipofFools.com, the satirical website I edit, to launch a search for the year’s worst “Badvent” calendar – the calendar furthest away from the original Christmas story. Our readers enthusiastically nominated the ghastliest specimens they’d seen; we selected a shortlist, and then put them all to an online vote.
The list included a Lego Star Wars Advent calendar, complete with Darth Vader dressed as Santa – the Nativity story of the Gospel according to Luke Skywalker. I actually liked another entry – the Advent Calendar for Dogs – which has doggie-safe chocolate treats so your pooch can prepare for Christmas too. And then there was the Whisky Advent Calendar, with a different dram of hooch every day at a price which suggests the manufacturer has confused Herod with Harrods: £150.
Advent Calendars have a surprisingly short history, and they’ve always been a commercial product, so no one can really complain that they’ve been wrecked by greedy supermarkets in their ceaseless quest to squeeze every last drop of goodness out of Christmas. It was only in the 19th Century that people in rural Germany started counting the days of Advent by adding a chalk mark on a door each day, putting up little religious pictures or burning a candle – all the while humming “These Are A Few of My Favourite Things”.
The first printed calendar, produced in Munich in 1908, was the opposite of a scratchcard. Not only could you not win a fortune, but you stuck pictures on, rather than scratching them off. Its inventor, Gerhard Lang, said that when he was a boy, his mum stuck 24 candies on a piece of cardboard for a calendar. He was from rural southern Germany, where religion tends to be kitschy and traditional. It looks like Advent calendars were always a mixture of sweets, surprises and stories, with the early calendars picturing elves, toy soldiers and fir trees among the Christmas angels.
You could say that today’s calendars have just swopped the sweets for brands like Star Wars and Dr Who, and tell stories that children really want to hear. But it’s depressing that no Advent calendar on the UK market tells the Christmas story or gives anything to charity. They all seem to operate entirely outside the spirit of Christmas. Except for one: The Real Advent Calendar.
Meanwhile, back at our Badvent calendar poll, we finally announced the calendar most likely to make the Baby Jesus cry. Scooping over 50% of the vote, and knocking the dependably vacuous Barbie calendar into third place, was the Ann Summers Advent Calendar. It features a young chap relaxing against a Christmas tree having gift wrapped the only thing he could think of. The only thing he could ever think of, in fact. And behind each window? The gold, frankincense and myrrh of Christmas has been replaced by chocolate willies, boobs and bums. Trust Ann Summers to remind us that reproductive organs were part and parcel of the original Christmas story.
This article was published in the December 2014/January 2015 edition of Reform.