Advent is upon us, did you know?
And who can count down without a calendar? Even though the religious legacy of Christmas has increasingly given way to Santa, Slade and the annual John Lewis advert, there remains, at least across the commercial West, a hallowed tradition of opening little numbered doors ahead of December 25.
While chocolate is commonly featured, a new wave of novelty calendars has opened up new interpretations for the festive season. Have Christians anything to learn from the Christmas cash-in? Here's a list to help you find out.
1. The sausage roll Jesus one
Greggs made headlines this year after apologising for its Advent effort that included the image of a Nativity scene surrounding not the baby Jesus, but a sausage roll. Quite probably a PR-manufactured controversy, it has for better or worse left many Britons bizarrely craving a cheap meat-based pastry.
Christian Today's own Martin Saunders suggested the re-imagined Christ figure could even be celebrated, not condemned.
In his words: 'There is nothing more humble and down-to-earth than the Greggs sausage roll – it's inexpensive, unglamorous and the guilty pleasure of a million people who would deny their love of it in front of friends. If you're going to reach for a metaphor, Jesus was far more sausage roll than fillet steak – even though that's what the people waiting for him had ordered.'
Its Advent calendar features a tear-off token that can be redeemed at Greggs' shops during Advent for a pastry.
2. The alcoholic one
'The Son of Man came eating and drinking', so we read in Luke 7:34, and if Jesus did it, why can't we? A slightly worrying number of calendars now headline the inclusion of alcohol behind each daily portal. There's a whisky option for the most refined/pretentious among us, while millennials can indulge in craft beer Advent selections, complete with connoisseurs' 'tasting notes' to study while they knock back a Pale Ale for breakfast.
For some, this will just be an attempt to drown memories from the depressing year that was 2017, which seems fair. And Ecclesiastes does say that there's 'no better thing under the sun than to eat, drink and be merry' (8:15). So that's settled. Cheers.
3. The beardy one
We live in the Age of the Hipster, as we well know, but perhaps nothing documents this better than the existence of the beard oil calendar, courtesy of the Bearded Man Company. What you do with 24 bottles of beard oil I do not know, unless you want facial hair that's positively drenched with moisture, for that edgy 'I'm a walking lubricant' look.
Anyway, we all know beards are highly biblical, so if you want to model yourself after the patriarchs, now you can do so with flair. A finely fashioned, Abrahamic beard may also be the only way to reach out and be 'relevant' to the ever-elusive millennial generation. Better fuzz up then.
4. The Cadvent one
Again, clearly determined not to stir up any upset at all, Cadbury's this year announced #Cadvent, an ad campaign apparently surrounding the super-sizing of its usual calendars, as well as the handing out of some benevolent Christmas wishes to some lucky prize-winners. It's a season of abundance after all: like the ever-expanding Brexit divorce bill, some unexpecting revellers are going to get far more than they bargained for.
Its slightly arrogant on Cadbury's part – not only nabbing the name of the spiritual season but in promising to 'make wishes come true', supposedly taking the role of Santa, or God, depending on your theology.
Meanwhile, some are just wishing the chocolatier would pay its taxes. Woah, political Christmas.
5. The LEGO Star Wars one
We all know Star Wars is essentially about Christianity, depending on how much you stretch it (even if it's really more line with Eastern traditions). Luke Skywalker has to trust in the Force, which he can't see, and that's a bit like Jesus. Good, now you can feel spiritually justified in purchasing the LEGO Star Wars calendar, which unsurprisingly features the franchise heroes in their iconic minifigure form. This is the gift you get 'for your kids' but completely accidentally keep to yourself.
It's especially prescient because Advent this year aligns with the also hotly-anticipated Star Wars Episode VIII which releases mid-December, another coming freighted with Messianic burden. There is also a little BB-8 figure with a Christmas hat which is fun, if not spiritually profound.
6. The Hot Wheels one
This effort is from my childhood heroes Hot Wheels, which makes small but thrilling toy cars to play with. Here it's peppered its calendar with the vehicles and some other festive paraphernalia, but what's most exciting is the cheery Santa emblazoned on the front cover. He appears to have ditched his antique sleigh for a high-performance snowmobile/tank as he whizzes, with one hand on the wheel, through the Arctic Circle.
My take here is that this petrol-powered Santa is so enamoured by the real reason for the season that he can't wait to go and tell all his mates – he is a model of evangelical fervour to be applauded, the artwork seems to say.
His vehicular upgrade signals the importance of not clinging onto tradition at the expense of sharing good news, probably.
Other possible entries for this list include an Advent calendar that revolves around computer coding (what?), pet food, and one with 'naughty' sex toys. As a special Christmas gift to readers, I haven't written about this one.
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