Advent calendars should only contain pictures – anything edible is sacrilegious


There is plenty about modern life to cause celebration and aggravation in equal measure...but it is never safe to make an assumption about how the different generations feel about anything, from vegans to scented candles.

This week Christopher Howse and Guy Kelly present firm views on Advent calendars.

My grandparents were married on Boxing Day. That was very game of my grandmother, Violet, who had only just become a Catholic in order to marry my grandfather, Ted. Not that they knew at the time they were my grandparents; one thing led to another.

Among things Violet had to pick up quickly were the precepts of the Church. These were few but satisfyingly arbitrary. One was not to eat flesh meat on a Friday. Another was not to contract matrimony during forbidden seasons, notably Lent or Advent. So they had to wait till after Christmas.

If a reason was sought, these two precepts were somehow connected. No meat stood for self-denial on the day Jesus died. Advent, with purple vestments at church, was a preparatory penitential four weeks before Christmas. It wasn’t as penitential as Lent, when you gave something up, for children generally sweets.

The silly old English bishops got it into their heads that it would be easier to be a Catholic if you didn’t have to do without meat on Fridays, and in 1985 they abolished that precept.

In fact, it became more difficult to stay a Catholic because a defining boundary had been removed – so why not others, such as not coveting your neighbour’s wife? In 2011, they brought back Friday abstinence from meat, but fewer people were listening.

Anyway, I always try my best not to marry during Advent. Nor is gorging on confectionery part of my Advent. It has not escaped my notice that most Advent calendars have chocolate behind the doors. Someone in the office has just given me a lump of milk-chocolate covered Rice Crispies from Day 15 of their Advent calendar, though today is only Day 7. It wasn’t very nice, but I said thank you.

At the luxury end of the market, each Advent door reveals a Lamborghini or something. I bet the luxuriators open doors early and roar off in their sports cars. But Advent calendars should eschew chocolates or Lamborghinis – and be more like marks scratched on prison walls, counting down till the end of the term.

There was some talk online the other day about ‘boomer complaints’. The vague idea was that all young people – or just all not very old people – have certain pet peeves about modern life that make them sound like what-has-the-world-come-to, honestly-kids-these-days-know-the-price-of-everything-but-the-value-of-nothing bores.

‘I think car headlights are too bright,’ mithered one.

‘I hate that I need four different streaming services,’ whinged another. ‘TV shows are all SO DARK and WHAT ARE THEY SAYING,’ groused a third.

‘I think ppl should still dress up at the airport,’ opined a fourth. Incidentally, I agree with all of these sentiments. But we’ll save those for future columns (how exciting).

I thought of ‘boomer complaints’ when I bought my Advent calendar. I am a fundamentalist when it comes to them, you see: to me, an Advent calendar must only contain pictures. It must tell the traditional Christmas story in 24 painful and poorly illustrated steps; and be so austere that on some days you get nothing but a sack of straw or a donkey.

Anything more, especially anything edible, is sacrilegious and spoilt.

I made this stirring speech in the office, preaching from the moral high ground while colleagues (Christopher included) tore open 18 of 24 doors on the M&S ‘choco corn’ calendar someone had been sent.

‘But this is not what the Virgin Mary would want…’ I muttered, livid that I now couldn’t have a choco corn thing without facing accusations of rank hypocrisy. In that instant, I understood why people commit atrocities in the name of religion.

Somebody then said my Advent calendar stance was my ‘most Telegraph opinion’. This offended me more, as surely my most Telegraph opinion is my thing about how they don’t make urinal cakes like they used to. Another column to look forward to in 2024.

But I now have my Advent calendar. The Nativity scene is halfway emerged, and I do not wish to be presumptuous, but I think it might be the baby Jesus behind number 24. He is always such a little angel. Unlike kids these days…

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