We are Advent people at our house. That means that we believe the season leading up to Christmas is for preparation. Advent is for watchful waiting. This means we don't decorate right at Thanksgiving. Every year we make our own Advent calendar, and it contains, not candy, but fun family activities to do, and a verse to contemplate or discuss. We light the candles of the Advent wreath.
Year after year we have gone upstream against the flow of popular culture. Margo hates being the last person she knows to get a Christmas tree. We try to fill our watchful waiting with special activities: we get out the box of Christmas books, make cookies to give, go see Symphony of Lights. But as the years have passed, one seemingly insurmountable obstacle remains.
Advent preparation is supposed to lead to a joyous celebration of Christmas--all twelve days of Christmas. You know, all the holiday parties you have been attending since Thanksgiving? Technically that is when they should be. The concept is that you watch, wait, prepare...and then Christmas: party!!! Twelve days of festival celebration, culminating with Epiphany. But very, very few people celebrate like this any more. So for those of us who hold out, it's pretty lonely on December 26th.
In addition, with both parents working, putting off so much of the tree-getting, decorating, and present-wrapping truly leads to anxiety and stress. There just isn't enough time, and everything in the last week before Christmas feels crazy and rushed. We start out great, in peaceful contemplation, and hit December 17th or thereabouts by shifting into frenzied overdrive.
So this year, I am trying something new. Along with out usual Advent traditions, we are going to begin decorating, shopping and wrapping presents, planning menus, and even getting the tree earlier. Why? So that we can take our time with each activity and arrive at Christmas in the spirit of travelers who have journeyed to be the witnesses to a great event. So many years we have fallen into the holiday like bedraggled survivors of a bad rush hour.
I can't make American popular culture different. But I can find a way to create the kind of Christmas I believe in without being at war with everything around me. Whether you observe a religious Christmas, a secular Christmas, or any other religious or secular winter celebration, I hope you find ways to bring light into the darkness and warmth into these cold days at the end of the year.