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Dog days?

Nativity scenes often feature Jesus born surrounded by animals, but according to the Meaningful Chocolate Company the animals are taking over.

Advent calendars are now more than twice as likely to feature pictures of pets than the Baby Jesus, according to the confectioner.

David Marshall, the founder of the company, estimates that only 400,000 advent calendars on sale in British shops this year will feature a Christian theme. Meanwhile, industry figures suggest that there will be more than a million specifically for pets.

One chain of pet shops sold 135,000 animal advent calendars last year. 'Stores are happy to cater for pet owners but don't think Christians want to give children a calendar which connects with the Christmas story - it's barking', says Marshall.

'Parents or grandparents looking for a calendar with religious or ethical content usually find nothing but superhero-themed calendars and £1 cheap chocolate versions on offer.

'Virtually no religious chocolate advent calendars are on the market.

'There is a demand for them but they are not stocked by most major stores.'

It is the season for Christian outrage (the Starbucks cups being the silliest, but some groups also complained about a Christmas advertisement for Mulberry featuring a handbag at the centre of a nativity scene instead of Jesus). But the Archbishop of York is attempting to restore the spirit of Christmas by bringing back the custom of hand-written Christmas cards instead of digital greetings.

A survey by Traidcraft found that 77 per cent of people preferred a handwritten Christmas card over any other kind of communication. Just three per cent said they would be happy with a Christmas message sent through a social media accounts.

'I love using social media but I think something has been lost in our reliance on it to connect with people,' said Dr Sentamu.

'A "like" on Facebook or a retweet will never satiate the most basic of human needs, to feel connected, loved and belonging to a tangible community. Showing someone that you've taken the time to think of them is priceless and will really show them that you care this festive season.'