I love this season. As a kid and even a young mother October 1 marked the beginning of t
he build up to Halloween followed by the build up to Thanksgiving and then we could finally start talking about Christmas. I wrote about my love for Fall in a recent blog. What I have noticed, and anyone who doesn’t live in a cave has noticed, is that the Advent season, the pre-Christmas season, has become a lot different than it was when our parents, grandparents and great grandparents lived. My mom, her mom and her mom’s mom did not put Christmas trees or Christmas decorations up early because it was Advent. I believe my past bias against Christmas decorations going up after Halloween at retail stores relates to my early teaching about keeping Advent and Christmas separate.
Yet, I love the build up to Christmas as much if not more than the actual day itself. I am just a little sad to see the season end. The decorations are so festive in what is an otherwise somewhat dreary time of year. The crackling fire in the fireplace, the twinkling lights in the trees and on houses around town, the festive red, gold and silver and the strong Christmas spicy scents of cinnamon and ginger in the air is such a stark contrast to the empty cold spaces left once all the decorations come down. It is colder outside. Night comes so early that it is dark by the time I get home from the office. The grass has turned brown and the trees have begun shedding their leaves.
In the Western church, Advent actually begins the 4th Sunday before Christmas so this year it started on November 27, despite what the December 1st start on the Advent Calendar shows. It is a time to prayerfully prepare for the Feast of the Nativity and to anticipate Christ’s second coming. Christmas time was always busy for me when the kids were small, so taking that time to reflect can be hard. As we all know Advent is often marked by the number of “shopping days to Christmas’ with little reflection on the spiritual reason for the season. I know I spent many hours during Advent searching for Power Rangers, Tickle Me Elmos and other hard to find “hot” items when there were no where to be had. I spent hours preparing the main meal for Christmas plus breakfast, cleaning the house for the influx of relatives and friends, setting the table, wrapping the gifts and all that goes into Christmas and feeding hordes of people for multiple meals over a two day period. Many times before my church started offering options for earlier services I was too tired to attend midnight Christmas mass. It is easy to see how the season can get caught up the commercialism of it all, but the Advent of today is certainly a lot tamer than the Advent of the middle of ages.
During the Middle Ages Christmas and Christ’s Birth were first linked to Advent. The ccelebration of Christmas that we know today is a far cry from the one they had back then, which was more of an offshoot of the pagan Yuletide, a real Baucus good time. By the time Oliver Cromwell came into power in England in the 17th century it was a pretty rowdy celebration and one of which the Puritan leader did not approve so for more than two decades under his reign it was banned in England including in the English Puritan colonies in America. The Christmas that we celebrate today was really a product of the famous ruling couple, Queen Victoria and her German husband Prince Albert. Albert brought many of his German Christmas traditions like the Christmas tree to their marriage and family. Upon seeing the way the royal couple celebrate Christmas within just a few years every English family had a Christmas tree and celebrated in a similar fashion.
Christmas like most everything we do has morphed over the years. In my grandparents’ day the tree did not arrive in one’s home until Christmas morning. My grandparents and their friends would talk about the delight of waking up as children to see what Santa had delivered, and it usually included the family’s tree. I have this awesome video of my great Aunt and her sister, my maternal grandmother, as they describe to us the story of how each Christmas morning my great grandfather would light all the candles on the tree while my great grandmother would stand by with a pan of water in case something caught on fire. They would all stand and admire the tree for about a minute before the candles were quickly extinguished. In my mother’s day they would decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. She and her brother and their cousins would help carefully lay the strings of “icicles” on the tree and add the other ornaments. My mother would laugh as she talked about how her brother would just throw the icicles up on the tree and watch as they landed in a big heap. Their tree would remain up until Epiphany.
When my brother and I were growing up we would decorate our tree sometime around December 21, and it would remain up until Epiphany when my parents would take it down then load the tree into the car and take it down to the church for a big bonfire with all the church parishioners followed by a potluck supper. When my parents divorced my mom became a lot more lax about when we could put up a Christmas tree so the day after Thanksgiving became our new tradition.
Stores have been putting up Christmas decorations earlier and earlier each year too.Christmas carols are now played starting in late October in some stores now, and Thanksgiving decorations are mostly nonexistent. For years I have railed against this, but this year I have finally caved to peer pressure. We put our tree up a week before Thanksgiving. We decided we would squeeze out everything the season has to offer and savor each moment.
As we get closer to Christmas I plan to write about some of my Christmas memories. I hope you will share your memories with me as I do. I look forward to sharing this season with you. If you enjoy my blog please subscribe to it. Thanks so much!