I’m 31 years old. I live in a rented, one-bedroom flat. I’m a freelance writer and journalist, a job title which is code for “I have constant cash-flow issues and was once so scared by a voicemail from the bank that I threw my phone into a wastepaper basket.” I’m hoping to get a fourth winter out of my 2015 winter coat. Yet, as an adult, I estimate that I have spent upwards of £500 on advent calendars. For myself.
I am an idiot, but I’m not a lone idiot. The source of my advent-calendar obsession, the Liberty Beauty calendar, went on sale today (Wednesday 24 October). Priced at £195, it's due to sell like hot cakes and end up on eBay priced at 3 times the price (like it has in years gone by). There's already a queue of over 400 people around the block. The Boots No7 calendar, £42, racked up a waiting list of almost 90,000 people before it went on sale on Friday and both are set to sell out before November.
What is going on? Why are so many adult women losing their shit over an item that is traditionally filled with chocolate, given to children and used to cost £1.99 from Sainsbury's? When my sisters and I were little, my Catholic parents would complain despairingly about the fact that an Advent calendar is supposed to mark a very significant period of time in the religious calendar. Some years, we wore them down by clamouring for tiny Mars Bars; others would be spent miserably complaining that our friends started the day by feasting on an elf-shaped chocolate while we just got a picture of a donkey. Usually, not even a cute donkey. Now there’s a generation of grown-up kids who know that sweeties have nothing to do with the “true meaning” of Christmas, but we’re pretty sure it has something to do with small bottles of moisturiser.
I’m still slightly religious, in that I pray my parents never find out about my new Advent habit – but when I talk about my beauty-advent-calendar addiction, I feel like I’ve joined a cult. When I tweeted about it, I expected to hear from a couple of hardcore beauty-fiend friends, but it turns out that lots of us were waiting for the "drop" with the sort of breathless anticipation that we used to feel for Christmas itself. We are Beliebers for Beauty Advent.
Most of the items are "sample size"; I’m still using last year’s Byredo Tulipe handcream, Escentric Molecule perfume, Trish McEvoy eye base and C.O. Bigelow rose salve. Also, when flying, I can now fill a small bag with miniature luxury toiletries and pretend to myself that I’m the sort of girl who turns left on the regular, even though Ryanair’s range of 10 Euro meal deals could be my specialist subject on Mastermind. (You might say, “Why do you need to buy the calendar again?” and my only answer is, “Shut up!”)
Beauty has become a very serious, expensive business and I love these advent calendars because they force me to reconnect with my urge to experiment and play. I might not go out of my way to buy a microfoliant face wash or a browbone highlighter, but if I wake up and discover that the universe has presented me with one, I’m going to have a bash and see what happens. Usually, I love it; sometimes, I look ridiculous, but I make discoveries that make me excited about messing about with my face and disrupting my routine. It’s a bit like dating for make-up and you can have a series of intense flings while fluttering with hope because you might be on the brink of meeting The One. Cosmetics are expensive and usually finances force us to buy what works and stay in our safety zone. The Liberty calendar is a comparatively affordable way for me to live out my lottery-win fantasy, in which I turn up in the beauty hall and buy one of everything I see.
The Liberty calendar was one of the earlier offerings, but this year there are few brands that haven’t got in on the act – Kiehl’s, Benefit, Rituals, Molton Brown, Jo Malone, Bare Minerals, Charlotte Tilbury, Ciate, Decléor and ASOS have their own versions, ranging in price from under £15 to £280. They’re all entirely unnecessary but, as the days get shorter, the weather gets colder, the US election gets more alarming and Brexit becomes extra Brexit-y, I think it’s especially important to invest in daily, tiny treats. A little bit of cheering frivolity is a very effective way of getting through winter. This Christmas, let love be the gift you give yourself. Personally, I can think of no better way of expressing my own self-love than with tiny Eve Lom hot-cloth cleansers and miniature vials of Terry De Gunzburg perfume. Just remember that if you do invest in a fancy beauty calendar, there’s no rule that says you can’t buy a chocolate one, too.