Chocolate in an advent calendar? Pah! How uncool are you? Nah mate, daily chocolate on the run up to Christmas is so 2016. It's all about the gin now. Or the beer. Or the candles. Or the pens. Or the Lego.
Fancy advent calendars are absolutely everywhere now. Stuff your Cadbury's or your Poundland Kinnerton with a picture of Homer Simpson on it. We've evolved way past those tiny pieces of plastic-moulded chocolate. Here's our pick of the best non-chocolate advent calendars to celebrate the festive season with.
Harry Potter Funko Pops
24 tiny Harry Potter-themed Funko Pops that you can create your own Wizarding World scene with? Oh hell yes. I'd imagine this will be quite hard to get hold of though – Forbidden Planet stores will be selling them in the UK if you happen to live near one, and it looks like a small selection of online retailers will have them too. Just how teeny-tiny the little figures are hasn't been disclosed, but we'd imagine only a few centimetres tall. BUT STILL. Forget the chocolate, I want to celebrate advent with Ron and Dumbledore. [£55, Magic Madhouse]
Deck the halls with bottles of beer... fa la la la la la la
65 quid for an advent calendar might sound like a lot. But this one includes a selection of 24 full-sized craft beers. Full 330ml cans or bottles for just about £2.70 a pop? Okay, it might not be that cheap compared to buying them individually at your local Tesco but it's practically stealing if you consider the price of one of these in a London pub.
There are several different craft beer advent calendars available, but this one's from Beer Hawk and includes a variety of beers from Pilsner, Amber Ale, Session IPA and lots of other beer companies I've never heard of. But they have fancy bottle/tin designs so I'm sold. [£65, Amazon]
I'm super disappointed to find out that M&S Cocktails advent calendar isn't actually cocktails. Instead, it's bloody alcoholic truffles. Super misleading, Marks. I mean, this whole list is meant to be about avoiding chocolate. Anyway, this one just about makes the cut since it treats you to a little bottle of sloe gin on Christmas Day. Seems a bit pointless really, because if you really like sloe gin you probably could have just asked for a full bottle from Santa anyway. But I suppose if it's in an advent calendar nobody can complain when you're chugging it at 10am. [£25, Marks & Spencer]
If you really like Jack Daniels... you could just pour yourself a glass of it every night. But if you really like Jack Daniels and want the thrill of opening a little cardboard window for 24 days before Christmas, then this is the calendar for you! There's 23 wee bottles of the Tennessee whiskey in there, with window 24 containing a teeny-tiny 5cl keyring hipflask. It'll be available later this month from Asda or the JD website. [£60, Jack Daniels]
Lego advent calendars might be old news by now but c'mon – I had to include it. This is Gizlego (Legomodo?) after all. Available in Star Wars, City or Friends flavours, you'll get a few festive-themed minifigs (usually exclusive to the calendar) and a variety of teeny builds to put together every day. By this point we don't need an excuse to play with Lego every day but we'll take it anyway. [£25, The Lego Shop]
So it's not really tech, nor is it geeky or made out of Lego or emblazoned with Marvel stuff but this is my list so I'm including it anyway. One of my few weaknesses in life is stationery – pens and notebooks excite me way more than is normal – so when I saw this gorgeous 24 Days of Stationery advent calendar I audibly gasped with glee. That gasp was soon retracted when I saw the price tag (£95!), but I can still admire it. Looks like every day has its own little folder filled with notebooks, pens, paperclips and other desk ephemera – and some of it is even personalised with your name. I'm weak at the knees here. [£95, Not on the High Street]
25 tea bags for a tenner? Now that is a rip-off. But this calendar from English Tea Shop promises that each brew in this "premium collection" made from the "finest, tastiest ingredients". I should hope so. The bonus is that it includes a tea bag for Christmas day, where most other advent calendars stop at 24. So that's something. I remember once as a kid I had an advent calendar that went all the way up to New Year's Eve. That was special alright. Anyway. If you want to make your morning cuppa a little more festive, this one's for you. [£10.86, Amazon]
Build Your Own Retro Camera
Haynes has a whole range of these 'build your own' thingies. This one lets you make your own retro camera, and there's also build your own retro radio and electronic game sets. Every day you get a new component, so by the 24th you'll have a fully-working camera - presuming you've been putting it all together correctly, anyway. It's a nice idea, but surely somewhat flawed in that by the time you've finished it, Christmas is here anyway, and you'll have been gifted things more interesting than some camera you've put together yourself. And there's probably not a great deal of excitement involved until the very last day – how exciting can opening a window to find a lone plastic cog be? It doesn't even include film - so if you plan to use it to capture the magic of Christmas Day, make sure you buy your own film first. [Debenhams, £22]
24 days of festive crispy pork fat? We're sold. [£19, Amazon]
Build Your Own Millennium Falcon
So like the Haynes calendars, this one from Revell provides 24 days' worth of stuff to build a finished item by Christmas Eve. The difference is this one is a freakin' Millennium Falcon. Again, opening every day's window to find a random chunk of plastic might not be the most exciting thing but we'd wager the payoff will be more than worth it. [£25, Amazon]
If you hate yourself too much to give yourself actual Lego, how about some Mega Bloks? This one is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed, and, just like the Lego ones, comes with minifigu— sorry, micro action figures – along with a number of tiny builds to put together every day. The upside? It's less than half the price of a Lego one. The downside? It's Mega Bloks. Nobody deserves that, especially at Christmas. [£12, Amazon]
A BISCUIT ADVENT CALENDAR? THIS REALLY IS THE FUTURE! Okay, technically it's cheating because these look like chocolate biscuits to me and the whole idea of this list is to avoid chocolate but surely this glorious thing deserve an exception? Looks like you'll get either a Penguin, a Gold, a mint Club or an orange Club every day. The last window promises a "special treat" but looking at the box it looks like said "special treat" is a bag of Iced Gems. Yuck. Why? Why punish us so cruelly, at Christmas as well? I'm also disappointed by the lack of Trios. [£10, B&M]