I love Advent. I think I like it more than Christmas itself. No, I’m not one of those Christmas-phobes who throws his Fairy-Liquid-soft, nicotine-free hands in the air over all the gorging on food and splurging on presents that the excitable masses partake in every Crimbo. I love all that.
But there’s something special about Advent. It’s in the word itself, which of course comes from the Latin ad (to) and venire (come).
To come. That sense of expectation, when all the leaves have fallen, work winds down, the year yawns and folds and gets ready for its long sleep in the history books, and we all sense that something’s coming.
I know that to many people that something is the baby Jesus. And that’s cool. Happy birthday, JC! But to the godless and heathen and fallen Catholics (like me), that something is the very human, corporeal —some might say Bacchanalian — end-of-year food-and-booze shebang that is Christmas, post-Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the joy of discovering you’re still alive on 1 January. Still Alive Day, they should call it.
For us, the start of Advent isn’t a countdown to the arrival of the messiah (sorry, mum); it’s the starting pistol to indulgence. It’s society’s subtle nod that you may now calm down on the calorie-counting and sensible boozing and start prepping yourself for the feasts ahead.
To come: debauchery.
From the booze perspective in particular, Advent plays a crucial role. It’s the three-week window in which you can gird your liver for Christmas. It’s a 24-day opportunity to prep your body for the culinary, sensual assault of Christmas and its aftermath. Think of it as the partying equivalent of boosting your immune system.
This is why it’s more important to ignore the fun-dodging dispensers of health advice at Advent than at any other time of the year. We should always take with a cellar of salt the tut-tutting of these people who make their living from churning out fact-lite bilge about how wine increases your risk of cancer, margarine can be ‘deadly’ (I thought that was the healthy one) and eating red meat hurts both your body and the planet. But at Advent their advice is just potty. Health bores are forever fretting over Advent alcoholism, by which they mean people going out more than normal.
‘Thousands of Britons drink too much during the run-up to Christmas,’ said a disapproving Express article last year. (Just thousands? Yeah, right.) It quoted experts saying increased drinking in December can ‘disrupt your sleep schedule’ (yes, because we’re out late) and cause ‘weight gain’. Steer clear, they say. As they always say. About everything.
Nope. Advent is the gentle waltz into revelry. The staggered, responsible jettisoning of the normal rules around grub and drink. It’s us saying: ‘Liver, I love you, so let’s do this right.’ Drinking during Advent is the definition of personal and social responsibility.
So I was delighted to discover there are Advent calendars full of booze. This is what civilisation looks like. There’s the Ginvent calendar: a gin and Advent mash-up! God will be disappointed, but He always is. Every door opens up to a pretty bottle of eccentrically flavoured gin. Tell me a better way to start your day on these brisk, black mornings.
The Beer Hawk calendar offers a knowingly artisan, weirdly flavoured tinnie every day, perfect for hipsters for whom everything is ironic, especially religious festivals. For budget-watchers — we’re legion in December — Aldi is here to help. It has released a wine calendar for £49.99, with 24 200ml bottles of various whites, reds and fizzies. And you thought you couldn’t love Aldi more.
On top of popping open Advent alcohol every morning, you must also say yes to all the booze dos you get invited to in December. It’s your social duty. You’re making a pact with the nation — to increase its gaiety — and with your physical self. You’re doing right by the people and right by your poor body, which likely has little inkling of the fattening, bruising excess to come.
Self-care and getting sozzled at the same time: this is the true meaning of Advent. Again, sorry mum.