Behind Closed Doors: The Liberty Advent Calendar

A crinkle… A rustling… Wide-eyed joy… Excited bustling…

I’ve already begun my countdown, eagerly crossing off the sleeps until the big day is here! No, not December 25th, my Christmas will be coming early… on December the 1st. By the time Santa swings by you might find me somewhat apathetic; my big treat is set to show up much sooner. The item in question? My Liberty Beauty Advent Calendar.

I’ve joined the growing ranks of adults in the UK for whom the countdown to Christmas Day is not marked by a bit of cardboard with some chocolates, but by an altogether more indulgent early present. The Liberty Beauty Advent Calendar is a curated set of 24 products from the famous Liberty Department Store beauty hall. From well-known classics such as Diptyque candles and Eve Lom cleanser to newcomers such as nail varnish by Jin Soon, you can be sure they’ve picked the prettiest presents for you! Some products are full size, others trial size, but all carry the feeling of being an opulent gift from Liberty itself; especially since the calendar retails at £165 while the publicity claims its value is in excess of £500. This tactic works. As in previous years, the Liberty Beauty Advent Calendar sold out almost as soon as it was launched in late October.

In the great circus that is Christmas, the cheap and cheerful traditional advent calendar was a minor gimmick. Adult advent calendars as a trend have become particularly significant for manufacturers and retailers, because even in the already busy festive market they represent an area of growth. Rarely do they replace more traditional Christmas gift-giving. Instead, these calendars are overwhelming part of new spending categories such as the ‘pre gift’ or ‘self-gifting’. Consumers in the UK as well as the US do not buy adult advent calendars instead of other purchases; they buy them on top: spending extra.

Naturally these calendars benefit the cosmetics companies involved, as well as the retailer. Free gifts and samples (albeit indirectly paid for in this case) are a tried-and-tested way to attract new fans and future brand loyalty. However Liberty and its concessions are not the first to recognise the sales potential of adult advent calendars. Since Ciaté nail polishes and Drinks by the Dram launched their offerings in 2012, the market has increased hugely. The trend grew in 2013, and by 2014 was well established. Now, new variations are released every year.

Food and drink themed calendars are popular, as are those with other easily miniaturised items such as candles and cosmetics. The latter are particularly common, with brands from across the spectrum creating their own versions. In 2016 these range from The Technic Cube’s set of make-up (£10) to Boots No7 Bright Lights Big City collection (£39) to Jo Malone London’s combination of votives and beauty products (£280). All three have already sold out, a testimony to the buoyancy of this field.

So apparently we love them… and so do the media. During November newspapers and magazines are bursting full of features about the year’s offerings. From the Sun to The Financial Times, Cosmopolitan to Vogue, publications raucously blare the options out to us, each geared to their audience demographics. Reports satisfy reader demands, and fuel them. They stimulate our desires, and, in presenting this fresh take on calendars as a new tradition in the build up to Christmas, they encourage those who weren’t considering buying one to go out and do so. So if you’re still stuck on boring old chocolate one, we can tell because you’re the gal without the cute travel-sized candles at your mince-pie party!

There are, however, some dissenting voices that disrupt this cosy triumvirate of selling, advertising and consuming. Writing 2 years ago in the Independent, Gillian Orr portrayed adult advent calendars as symbolising the move towards excessive Christmas gifting. Furthermore, in her view, these goods are part of “the depressing infantilisation of Christmas”, alongside festive jumpers and sentimental television ads. Orr is undoubtedly right that adult advent calendars are a hugely commercialised venture. It is easy to view them cynically. Wouldn’t we be better off, as she asks, spending the money on something that we knew we already loved (say our favourite bottle of wine or perfume) rather than splashing out on the curated packages, much of which we could end up throwing away?

Yet this purely financial analysis neglects the multifaceted attraction of the adult advent calendar. Their frivolity is integral to their attraction, just as coloured pictures and chocolates would have been when earlier incarnations of the advent calendar emerged. Whether a gift from oneself or another, they represent a moment of indulgence that we can experience not just once, but continuously. Long after we’ve finished opening all the doors, we’ll still be consuming the gifts.

Moreover, while adult advent calendars are a new development, they also take us back to our childhood. The allure of the contents and even calculations of value may be part of our reckoning when choosing which one to buy, but nostalgia plays a big role in our decision to acquire one at all. These calendars, often beautifully designed and sumptuously decorated evoke the kind of festive atmosphere we remember experiencing when we were young. In an uncertain and often hostile world, don’t we all need some of this comfort? Don’t we all want a touch of magic tucked behind 24 miniature doors?

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