There are all sorts of ways to count down to Christmas. You can lower your stress and you cross things off your huge to-do list; you could even find an app for your phone. But for a much more interesting countdown, try an Advent calendar.
Advent calendars were first created in the 19th century to count down the days of Advent — the period of waiting leading up to Christmas. The idea sprang from a popular tradition in which German Protestants would light candles or make chalk marks on doors to mark the days leading up to Christmas, reports Mental Floss.
Early calendars featured nativity scenes with little doors that opened — one for each day — to reveal a Bible verse, religious image or a piece of chocolate. While these traditional, religious calendars are still easy to find, the Advent calendar business has certainly broadened its appeal.
Here's a look at some of the more interesting options available if you want to count the days until Dec. 25.
These crafts don't require a glue gun. Honest Brew's craft beer Advent calendar is popular this year, but it's only available in the U.K. If you're shopping elsewhere, you still have great options for a craft beer creation. Craft Advent Box sells an empty, decorated box above that you fill with your (or the recipient's) favorite beers ... but it's already sold out. But really, how hard would it be to make your own DIY beer box? At the bottom of the page, the company also links to small breweries that sell beer-filled Advent boxes, like WhichCraft in Austin, Texas. (Prices vary.)
It might not be fly fishing season everywhere around Christmastime, but that doesn't mean fly fishers can't unwrap some fun gifts in December. Billed as the first Fly Fishing Advent Calendar, this waterproof box features 24 doors, each of which opens to reveal a hand-tied freshwater fly. (Price: $57.01)
Say it with spirits
When chocolate and toys just won't do, surprise the alcohol connoisseur on your list with a gift from Drinks by the Dram. The company's popular Whisky Advent Calendar features "24 of the most thrilling whiskies known to humankind" including a 50-year-old Scotch, as well as Irish and American beverages. If you prefer other spirits, choose from bourbon, rum, tequila, cognac and more. (Price: $149.95 pounds or roughly $200 U.S.)
Traditional Advent calendars come with nondescript squares of chocolate that are pretty unremarkable. If you want to up your confectionery game, head to Neiman Marcus for Mrs. Prindable's Christmas Advent Calendar. The 24 boxes are stacked to resemble a Christmas tree, but the drawers are filled with decidedly non-pedestrian treats. Sweets include Tahitian vanilla and Hawaiian red sea salt-wrapped caramels, chocolate-covered Oreos, chocolate-covered pretzel bites and chocolate-covered banana walnut caramels. (Price: $55)
The kid classic
Lego Advent calendars are so popular they're often hard to find as it gets closer to the first of December each year. The traditional calendars used to feature everything from trees and reindeer to Santa on the last day, but now there are several variations including Lego Friends and Lego Star Wars. (Price: $29.99 and up)
Don't leave out your furry friends this holiday season. Etsy has several handcrafted calendars for pets; some come filled with treats and others are reusable, where you insert your own favorites year after year. This Dog Treat Advent Calendar by FalvaiCreative features beef, salmon and peanut butter treats. (Price: $32.56)
With the stress of the holidays, imagine the relaxation-inducing pleasures of a calendar filled with snowman-shaped bath bombs, Santa shower gel and Christingle menthol lotion. OK, the Lush goodie box is only 12 Day of Christmas, so you'll have to cheat and open one only every other day if you want this to be a quasi-Advent calendar. (Price: $114.95)
Every day starts with a different cup of tea with this Fortnum & Mason Tea Lover's Advent Calendar from Williams Sonoma. Behind each of the 24 doors there's a different tea sourced from India and the Far East, "from delicate Kotada Silver Tips to intense Menghai Dayi Royal Puer." Refill the box next year with your own favorites. (Price: $56.95; only available online)
For the person who has everything except maybe lots of expensive socks, how about a very high-end box of fancy stockings? Made by Welsh knitwear designer Corgi and sold at MrPorter.com, this pricey box of socks features 23 pairs of cotton blends in festive and Fair Isle patterns and one luxurious cashmere blend for Christmas Eve, of course. (Price: $495)
If the ideas above seem a bit excessive and expensive, here's an alternative: go online and print out a Kindness Calendar. Instead of opening up chocolate, bath bombs or beer every day, you can do something nice instead. These random acts of holiday kindness "embrace the true season of Christmas," says Helen C. Green, whose calendar was downloaded more than 500,000 times last year. This year she has a version for adults and kids available on her website. (Price: Free, of course)