[A faithful reader of this blog has asked me to devote some time to explaining how our family has observed Advent and Christmas in the past, and how we intend to do it this year. Luckily for him (or maybe unfortunately?) this is a subject I've been thinking about a lot lately and about which I find I have a lot to say. So rather than one blog, he's going to get an entire series, a first for this blog I think -- way more than he bargained for. I hope it's at least somewhat helpful.]
Last year, I wrote about my ambivalent feelings about Christmas in this blog. If you didn't read it then, (or even if you did) maybe you should read it now for context. Go ahead. I'll wait.
So. Last year, Advent and Christmas were particularly difficult for me and my family, what with just having moved across the country away from family and friends, and with my dad in the hospital, and all of us living under a cloud of uncertainty and anxiety. This year, things promise to be different. We are much more settled in our community, much more familiar with the place, and much more at peace as far as my dad is concerned, although we will miss and mourn him intensely during this holiday season. My feelings on Christmas itself, however, have not changed all that much. The ambivalence that I expressed a year or so ago seems to have stayed with me, my personal circumstances notwithstanding. I continue to find myself feeling a Grinchly urge welling up within me when I hear Christmas carols played on store loudspeakers (on November 1st!!!), and still kind of hanker after that magical river that will let me skate away from all of the cheap plastic and tinsel bestrewn nonsense. On the other hand, I also feel, perhaps more strongly this year, that need to celebrate, the need to encourage joy and peace, to revel in the beauty of evergreens and strings of white lights.
Like I said in my previous post on this subject, I know that a lot of this is attributable to my own particular neuroses, my own internal monologues, my own brokenness. I don't want to project all of that on the world at large. In fact, even though it's been a commonly-accepted fact that the holidays bring on depression, studies now show that this is in fact not true. I know many people who love nothing better than getting out the Christmas music early in November (or mid-July?) and listening until Valentines' Day. They find shopping for gifts one of their favorite things to do and get giddy over Christmas cookies and fudge the day after Thanksgiving. They don't get sick of it; they don't feel overwhelmed; they aren't in danger of getting jaded. We're different, and I'm glad for difference. I need people who love the whole season to jolt me out of my dread, to remind me of the joy that's coming.
Here's the thing though: I don't think it matters whether or not you love Christmas or you hate it, whether you look forward to it from July onward or you keep hoping it will stay away just a little bit longer. I have come to believe that an intentional observation of Advent is vital in the life of the believer. Paying attention to Advent keeps my cynicism at bay and encourages the enthusiast to practice the healthy discipline of waiting and delayed gratification. For this particular Grinch, planning on a purposeful observation of Advent has breathed new life into my anticipation of Christmas. For the first year in a great many years, I am actually looking forward to the whole season, Advent, Christmas and all. For all of us, observing Advent focuses our Christmas energies and weights them with a purpose and meaning that we simply cannot achieve if we start celebrating in early November, or if we turn up our noses and celebrate begrudgingly, or not at all.
Tomorrow: Advent 2: Wait for It, Wait for it