Sunday, November 15, 2020

Sam's Weekly Quarantine Digest #34: Gift Guide Edition, Part II

 Hi all,

Today brings you Part II of my Gift Guide.  So let's talk about gifts.  There are many different kinds, and they all serve different functions.  There are the stocking stuffers - often a category of throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks gifts, and which often end up including some of the most appreciated and useful items of the season.  There are the edible gifts, which last a short while but bring such joy and can really cement our memories and traditions.  There are the big-ticket items - perhaps something coveted for weeks or months leading up the holidays, and hinted at many times to potential gift-givers in the family.  But one of my favorite types of gifts are advent calendars.

Now, this may be a bit strange, since advent calendars are traditionally a religious item, and I happen to be Jewish.  According to Wikipedia, they are used to count down the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas, and represent a time of waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ at the Second Coming.  But whether you view it as a religious tradition or not, there's something truly delightful about an advent calendar.  Whether Christmas is a religious holiday for your family or just a time to gather with loved ones and exchange gifts, or even if you celebrate other holidays instead (like, for my family, Hanukkah), I think many of us look forward to the holiday season with anticipation.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the radio stations play cheerful, celebratory tunes; houses across the world get decorated with bright lights and smiling characters; kids start behaving really well in the hopes of tricking Santa into thinking they've been good children all year; the retail industry booms; and school and work both start winding down toward a winter break of some sort (perhaps crescendoing first with an accelerated workload or exams, but then often settling down a bit, if only for a few days).

My first advent calendar arrived when I discovered one on a very deep discount at Godiva a few days after Christmas one year; at the time, it simply seemed like an efficient way to order 25 pieces of chocolate for a greatly reduced price.  But then something strange happened - I actually felt a little guilty opening more than one door per day.  And even though my countdown was leading nowhere (a few days after the Super Bowl), it was still kind of fun to know that there was a piece of chocolate waiting for me each day.  Then came a year when Luke and I were flying to Alaska pretty close to the holidays; that year, the advent calendar felt like a countdown to the day when we would all be together, and to a time when I could finally let go of my schoolwork and my to-do list for a few days.  And then there was a year when I got all four of us (me, Luke, and my in-laws) an advent calendar of our own, each featuring a different beloved item (chocolate, jigsaw puzzles, coffee, and chili peppers).  That year was fun because it felt like we were doing something together each day even if we didn't talk at all - when I took out my piece of chocolate, I imagined my in-laws opening their own cardboard doors and taking out their next item, too.

Perhaps that's why I'm so drawn to the idea of advent calendars this year - the countdown feels so real, so necessary, maybe so structured in a year when we all feel so adrift.  And it's something we can all do together, even when we're apart.  Just don't forget to enjoy the countdown just as much as what we're counting down to!

As always, previous digests can be found on my blog at  If you have suggestions or would like to stop receiving these emails, just let me know.

All the best,

Advent Calendars

Calendar Fillers:

  • Looking for candy to fill a reusable advent calendar?  Try this “Santa Snax” saltwater taffy assortment.  The Taffy Shop is great - I ordered a choose-your-own-flavors bag this summer, and I still dream about the cotton candy taffies.  This festive batch includes Candy Cane, Creamy Eggnog, Pumpkin Spice Cake, Frozen Hot Chocolate, and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

  • No Chewing Allowed burst onto the NYC holiday scene last year at the Bryant Park Winter Village holiday market.  These delectable bite-sized truffles are made to be sucked on until they dissolve into a heavenly mouthful of fudgy delight (hence, no chewing allowed).  Fortunately for us during the Great Quarantine of 2020, they also ship their chocolates through their website.  I highly recommend ordering the very largest size - trust me, they won't go to waste.

  • Lego figures: Many refillable calendars have very tiny boxes for each day, but Lego figures are probably a great size for most of them. You can pick a theme and order a pack of figures to match, such as superheroes, Minecraft, or Harry Potter, or even personalized ones (try here or here)

Delicious treats:
  • Chocolate: This is a pretty classic theme, and there are literally thousands of them, but here are some of my favorites:
    • Godiva and Lindt both have beautiful calendars each year.
    • Maggie Louise chocolates: These chocolates are truly edible works of art, and they're actually delicious to boot.
    • Madeleine chocolates: Each one is solid milk chocolate - nice and simple - but the wrapping on each is really beautiful and really feels like you're unwrapping a gift each day.
  • Hot Chocolate: Try here or here for fun assortments.

  • Coffee

  • Tea

  • Sugarfina candies: Each day contains four candies - a lovely little dose of sweetness to brighten the dark days of December.
  • Lady M: This one is filled with a combination of gummies and chocolates.
  • Beef jerky


Self-Care and Beauty:
  • Lush bath bombs: Apparently, in the UK only, Lush makes an advent calendar with 24 of their bath bombs - what an incredible treat! I can't find an obvious way to get this shipped to the US, but if you live overseas, consider this for someone in your life who really needs to learn to relax!

  • Other bath bombs: Try this one or this one.

  • Beauty: There are SO MANY! I'll let some of the experts speak for me on this one: check out these recommendations from NYMag, Oprah, Cosmo, and Elle.

  • Nail polish: OPI or Essie

Fun and Games:

  • Lego: You can go for this year's calendar, last year's calendar, or go themed with Star Wars or Harry Potter.
  • Hot Wheels

  • Know someone who's a big fan of the Hungry Caterpillar?  They'll love this Eric Carle advent calendar!

  • Hatchimals Colleggtibles: (I have Alexandra in mind!)

  • Crayola activities countdown

  • Play-Doh: When your own world betrays you, build a new one!  Fun for all ages!

  • Science for Kids: This might be made for kids, I would be pumped if this advent calendar showed up on my doorstep - there's a different science experiment in each box!  Caveat: I'm sure you'll all be (not at all) shocked to hear this, but I was a total nerd as a kid and I never outgrew it.  Whether your kid is a future physicist or you're just looking to keep them occupied for a while so you can take a Zoom call in peace for that deal that needs to get done before the holidays, this should be an extremely entertaining advent calendar.

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