It is weird to me to think that people are already celebrating Christmas, and we haven’t even had the Feast of Christ the King (the last Sunday in the regular year) yet. It’s not even Advent. It won’t be for another week. But the decorations are going up and the trees are being bought, and – it’s just odd. I think at the heart of my reaction is a different way of marking time.
In some ways this is a way that I’ve deliberately chosen to be other than our mainstream culture. Years ago I started looking up and choosing a saint to mark each day of the year, partly because I was realizing just how many amazing foremothers & fathers in the faith we have (plus an endeavor to make a few friends in High Places). But then I realized that marking the days even a little by saint’s feasts changed how I thought about what time it was. Late August/early September wasn’t just about Back to School, it was about the Feast of the Annunciation, and the memorial feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who loved Mary so well, and then died in a concentration camp after taking the place of another man. June isn’t just the beginning of summer holidays, but the feast of St. John the Baptist (six months before Christmas), and the feast of one of St. Thomas More, one of my favorite saints of all time.
But I also have to admit that my reaction is also because of the way I was raised. My parents were always both very serious about their faith and raising their children in it, and saw very clearly a lot of the ways that even then our society was rapidly becoming post-Christian. One of the things they did was to specifically find ways to celebrate the liturgical year in our home with traditions and rituals. So while it was Advent, in our house it was Advent, not Christmas. You didn’t decorate for Christmas, you didn’t play Christmas music, you didn’t celebrate Christmas because it wasn’t Christmas. We were still waiting. So we celebrated the waiting.
Every night before dinner, we turned out all the lights, and one lucky child lit the Advent wreath. Then we joined hands and sang the first verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. And since all of my family can Sing, this quickly turned into a competition to find a new harmony. So our version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel is usually in maybe six or eight part harmony (assuming that anyone is singing the melody at all). After we sang, we each took the piece of yellow paper on our plate, kissed it saying “I love you Jesus, come Lord Jesus” and put it in the basket that would become Baby Jesus’s manger on Christmas Eve. It is something I will never forget, my family joined in that circle of candlelight, singing with all their hearts.
In some ways I’m still trying to find my own ways of celebrating this season. I like the waiting and expectation of Advent. I especially like the way celebrating Advent gives you a great excuse for entirely side-stepping some of the more crazy-making ways our culture tries to celebrate the season. If I had my way, I wouldn’t decorate the office until the last minute, wouldn’t play Christmas songs until Christmas Eve, wouldn’t have holiday parties until Epiphany. But I know that for 99% of people, if they don’t celebrate Christmas before it’s actually Christmas, they don’t celebrate it at all. For myself, if I wait until Christmas Eve to put up decorations, I’ll be so busy doing things with my family that I won’t decorate my house at all. And that would be sad. So I’m still figuring things out. Maybe I’ll pick one thing to put up every Sunday during Advent, as part of my preparation, and then by the time Christmas gets here, it won’t be such a rush. Or maybe not. We’ll see.
In the meantime, I’m still celebrating Thanksgiving. Our family feast at Sae & Mr. T’s house was very nice. It had a certain similarity to the miracle of the loaves & fishes – it felt like everyone went home with more leftovers than the food they brought. I spent yesterday staying home, making things, and doing my best not to spend a dime. I wasn’t completely successful – I got a notification that one of my automatic bill pays went through. But on the whole it was pretty good. Today in a little while I’m heading over to a friend’s for lunch, and then this evening I’m going down to the swing dance in Cincinnati. It’s been a long, long time since I danced outside of Dayton, so I’m pretty excited.
I’ll even tell you about it tomorrow. 🙂