This Christ­mas the Ad­vent sur­prise is ... I made it my­self

Craft cal­en­dars soar in pop­u­lar­ity as an­ti­dote to hi-tech life­styles

The Observer - - News - Zoe Wood

In sim­pler times, the thrill of Ad­vent cal­en­dars in­volved find­ing a pic­ture of a Christ­mas tree or holly sprig hid­den be­hind the card­board door. But then the tra­di­tion was hi­jacked by up­mar­ket retailers, and you came to ex­pect a craft gin minia­ture, ar­ti­san cheese or mind­ful­ness tips. This year, though, tra­di­tion­al­ists are fight­ing back.

Craft store Hob­by­craft re­ports bumper sales of cal­en­dar-mak­ing kit, while Scan­di­na­vian re­tailer Fly­ing Tiger Copen­hagen is en­joy­ing a run on its pakkekalen­ders – the Dan­ish take on Ad­vent, which in­volves wrap­ping and dis­play­ing 24 in­di­vid­ual presents.

“It is cost-ef­fec­tive if you make the Ad­vent cal­en­dar your­self,” says Kather­ine Pater­son, cus­tomer de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor at Hob­by­craft. “That’s one rea­son, but it’s not the main rea­son: per­son­al­i­sa­tion is the driv­ing force be­hind this trend.”

Hob­by­craft has seen a 6% in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple at­tend­ing its cal­en­dar-mak­ing work­shops this year with sales of its starter kits, which range from card­board boxes cost­ing £4 to £15 for a pre-primed wooden house, up 53%. Cus­tomers are fine­tun­ing their makes to fam­ily mem­bers’ tastes, Pat­ter­son ex­plains, giv­ing the ex­am­ple of Ne­spresso cof­fee pods and even lot­tery tick­ets be­ing used.

There is lit­tle sales data avail­able on the size of the UK craft mar­ket, but it is es­ti­mated that a broad church of hob­by­ists, which in­cludes knit­ters, em­broi­der­ers and model-mak­ers, spend close to £3bn a year on pro­jects.

DIY Ad­vent cal­en­dars are an ex­ten­sion of a Christ­mas cot­tage in­dus­try that in­cludes cards, crack­ers and even per­son­alised tree baubles this year. More than 12,000 peo­ple have at­tended work­shops in Hob­by­craft’s stores this win­ter as they pre­pare to tackle pro­jects rang­ing from crack­ers to a pa­pier-mâché stag’s head.

“Peo­ple get into craft­ing be­cause it is a good an­ti­dote to tech,” says Pater­son. “It’s like the whole hygge thing. Peo­ple are mak­ing time to do some­thing they en­joy, like hold­ing a wreath-mak­ing evening with friends as a so­cial thing.”

Over the past decade the no­tion of what con­sti­tutes an Ad­vent cal­en­dar has changed dra­mat­i­cally. The most pre­vi­ous generations could hope for was cheap cho­co­late. Up­mar­ket brands such as Sel­fridges and Space NK opened the flood­gates at the start of this decade by creat­ing lux­ury it­er­a­tions that cost more than the aver­age per­son’s en­tire Christ­mas shop­ping bud­get.

Cal­en­dar in­fla­tion means that this year you can spend any­where be­tween £1 – on a Cadbury Dairy Milk-filled cal­en­dar in Tesco – and £349 for a porce­lain Villeroy & Boch ad­vent cal­en­dar tree in Har­rods. Other vari­ants are aimed at the UK’s grow­ing num­ber of ve­g­ans and even at pets.

Fly­ing Tiger Copen­hagen says it had or­dered four times as many of its ready-made pakkekalen­dars this year as it had an­tic­i­pated that the trend would catch on in the UK. It has also ex­panded the range of in­ex­pen­sive gifts, such as £1 pens and toys, that can be used to fill them by 30%.

“Our or­der quan­ti­ties for the tra­di­tional Dan­ish Ad­vent cal­en­dar were in­creased by 300% ver­sus 2017,” said Fly­ing Tiger Copen­hagen’s head of com­mer­cial Darryl Nash.

“We have al­ready seen a surge in sales, which in­di­cates that th­ese pre­dic­tions were cor­rect.”

Some of Fly­ing Tiger Copen­hagen’s pakkekalen­der prod­ucts: it has or­dered four times as many this year.

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