Holiday Advent Calendar 2011 is a simple and sweet universal Advent calendar application which counts down the days to Christmas starting December 1st.

I was excited to hear that Tizio Publishing – the developers behind apps such as Fierce Grey Mouse and Finn’s Paper Hat – has teamed up with writer and illustrator Jon Higham from the wonderful Elly Series of storybook apps. Together they make up a super cute Christmas-themed app that my son really enjoys.

For those who do not know, Advent calendars have been traditionally used to count the days starting from December 1st to Christmas and include windows that can be opened to reveal items such as a poem, passage from a story, small toy or piece of chocolate. Some modern calendars, as well as this app count to New years as well.

Given that classically, the Advent calendar is opened daily for a moment to see what is inside each window, I could imagine how this could be adapted to an application, but my concern was if a child’s attention would be held more than a short time each day.

These fears have been put to rest as here, one has the choice of opening one gift per day or all at once, making this app super-cute and surprisingly engrossing for my almost four year old son.

This app opens up with a lovely Christmas tree and in one gift per day mode, a few gifts that equal the days leading up to Christmas starting from December 1. For example, two presents will be offered on December 2nd and ten presents will be displayed on December 10th.

These gifts are found off to the side, individually tap to move a gift under the tree and tap again to open the box to see what is inside, allowing one to decorate the tree and this Christmas scene in general with their new present. When all the gifts are offered at once, they are all found under the tree ready to be opened.

It is cute that both classic Christmas things are included which one can decorate – the Christmas tree with stars, decorative balls, angels or snowmen, as well as modern presents such as a digital camera or an iPad. My son, a great fan of Elly, very much enjoyed Elly herself popping up as a gift and then moving her all around the screen and sharing his holiday loot with his favorite reindeer, talking to her the entire time.

Shake the device to see the snow flurries stop, and do tap individual snowflakes falling from the sky which shrink in size and fade away – a nice effect.

A radio right of the screen is also available to hear a selection of three instrumental Christmas carols with a nice selection of energy, from the upbeat Jingle Bells, Twelve Days of Christmas and the slower, calming Silent Night – my favorite song selection here.

Santa and his reindeer can be seen flying through the night in the distance, and it is also fun and interesting to see how one can open these presents at night or during the day as one can position the sun high in the sky or drag with a finger below the horizon or anywhere in between, with the amount of sunlight or lack thereof nicely corresponding and even opening up to show day or night time, depending on the time of day one is exploring this application.

Also note that the New Year’s calendar countdown top right of the page can be tapped to see a firecracker shoot into the sky and explode, and tapping the Christmas countdown calendar page triggers some fun caroling by children.

My boy has really enjoyed opening all the packages at once, using what is inside to decorate his Christmas tree as well as the page in general, and it is nice that he is able to spend a good amount of time carefully unwrapping and placing these holiday items just where he wants them.

One can move around all the decorations, even placing them back into a box for re-wrapping – fun for those who really enjoy opening presents. It would have been nice, however, to tap a candle to light it – an idea maybe for a possible update.

I am surprised how complete the attention my boy gives to this app, not wanting to be bothered as he quietly works on his decorations with the plan of re-setting these gifts the next night to open these gifts again. My son calls this his “Christmas tree game,” and this is an app he has shown off to others – high praise from my four year old, to be sure.

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