The psychology of advent calendars

First, a brief history

What’s an Advent anyway?

Despite decades of eating little chocolates from behind cardboard doors, we’ve probably never asked ourselves this question before. So it seems like a good place to begin. The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”.

There you go – That’s a little nugget you can use to make you sound sophisticated at the dinner table this Christmas.

Originally ‘Advent’ had nothing to do with Christmas at all

The advent period started as something to do with Baptism. Then the coming of Christ (but the second coming, not the birth), then the first (aka stable, baby, wise men…), then a bunch of Sundays. Word has it that some Protestant Germans started drawing chalk lines on doors to count down the days til Christmas. Somewhere along the line, clever marketers felt that 24 days of chocolate (25 if you’re lucky!) was the winning combination and BOOM here we are.

If you’re thinking ‘Thanks for the history lesson but what’s this got to do with my business?’ then keep reading.


There are 5 things at work here making advent calendars enjoyable. Possibly 6 if you enjoy searching for the number. Can’t say we ever liked that bit.

#1 Expectation

Not everyone likes surprises. Depends on the surprise. In our hunter gatherer days, surprises often meant danger. Like, lion. ‘SURPRISE!’ More often than not, people will choose to shop or eat somewhere because they’ve been before, and they know exactly what to expect.

#2 Intrigue

That being said, we are also naturally curious creatures that love to explore. From 6 months old, we’re keen to see what’s behind, or underneath. Our modern brains enjoy being entertained by a little intrigue. And there’s nothing like a little mystery to focus our attention on.

#3 Excitement

Counting down the days builds excitement. Anticipation is huge. ITS CHRISSSTMAAASS! But how can we contain all this excitement? How can we possibly focus on anything else? As strange as it sounds, Advent calendars also help us feel in control. Organised fun. It keeps excitement in check because we know where we are.

#4 Completion

Opening each little door as you go along completes a stage. It’s like a little milestone or task being checked off. We even get a little treat and earn a new badge (Admittedly, today’s badge could be a lame candle). But It feels like progress. Our brains feed us feel-good chemicals when we make progress.

#5 Reward

Perhaps the most obvious one. Small mammals will continuously push the button if it dispenses food. Only a few hundred years ago, food was scarce for the majority of the world’s population. Our brains haven’t caught up yet. Maybe it’s food. Maybe it’s gin. Maybe it’s lipstick. But I’m still a happy squirrel.


The moral of the story

Bet you thought we were gonna show you how to add a digital advent calendar to your website. Well, no, but from a business perspective, the lesson we can all learn from advent calendars is this:

Encourage your customers to return.

But how? you cry

  • By delivering on expectation. Managing expectation is the key to customer satisfaction.
  • By surprising and delighting (But good surprises only, please).
  • By helping them feel excited about the process (or at least in control)
  • By creating and completing regular milestones, and helping your clients to feel involved.
  • And finally by rewarding them. Either with the value you offer, or better still, a little extra treat. Just like the 25th window.