Hello, Advent. I’ve missed you.

I look forward to Advent every year. I actually look forward to rummaging through the candle drawer for the little purple votives (and I know there’s a pink in there somewhere). I like putting a purple-beribboned wreath on the front door, even when it’s a premade bow from the craft store tacked on to artificial greens. I like the Magnificat app that puts daily Advent readings onto my tablet.  Lest you think I’m burnishing a haloI hasten to assure you that I don’t have one. I’m just a very plain human being who knows a good thing when she sees one. And Advent is decidedly a Good Thing.

Charlie Brown never worked retail

I was a kid when A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted on TV way back when.  In the show, Charlie Brown bemoans what he knows is an over-commercialized season. I still love that show after all these years, even though I know that the kid obviously never had to work retail to support his family.

Have you ever worked in retail? You know, one of those businesses that depend on the last two months of the year for a third of the year’s revenue? The kind that makes you listen to Christmas holiday music on every shift beginning right after Thanksgiving Veteran’s Day Halloween? The kind where you work until close of business on December 24, whereupon you collapse and want to sleep for a week?

I have. It was hardly involuntary servitude. I had great bosses and coworkers and customers. It was a new small business, featuring chocolate and coffee, and we all had the exhilarating and well-founded feeling that each thing we did could mean the difference between staying open and going under. December had to be huge for us. We all pitched in and pitched hard. Thank you, December shoppers. You made sure my bosses could pay me. That job was a blessing.

And it absolutely drained me. When I locked the shop door at 3 p.m. on my first Christmas Eve there, I was ready to keel over. I hadn’t had time to shop for my husband and kids. I hadn’t done any advance prep for the extended-family dinner I was supposed to have ready by 6. I wanted to go to Midnight Mass but had no idea how I’d be awake for it. (In fact, I can’t remember if I got there.)

I wasn’t ready for Christmas. I had dropped Advent.

Don’t blame the cash register

Here’s where I could blame Commercialized Holidays or Secular Christmas for my post-retail letdown. I would love to point a finger at outside forces whenever December gets overwhelming. I could blame the customers!  …except that would all be nonsense.

No one can “do” Advent for me. No one owes me four weeks off from real life so I can be bright-eyed & chirpy at Midnight Mass. I’ve learned to treasure Advent not because it makes me feel better or helps me enjoy Christmas more (which it does), but because if I am to celebrate the Incarnation, I need to do so with fresh reverence and joy each time. I can’t pick that up from anyone else, although being amid fellow believers in Christ’s divinity is a big help. They can influence me, but they can’t choose for me. I choose to observe Advent.

Frankly, I have to make the choice, or else it ain’t happening. There’s work (by the way, have you hugged your local retail worker today?). There’s parenthood. I spent many years with my December calendar full of school concerts and projects. There are all the cultural gems that would be lovely the week after Christmas, except that everything seems to be jammed into the first three weeks of the month. Seriously – wouldn’t it be nice to see the local dance school put on excerpts from the Nutcracker after December 25? Why does the community Messiah singalong have to be over before December 10?

We live in a country and a culture where Christmas ends on December 25 instead of beginning there. I can whine or I can do something about it. (Hey! Let’s do both! No, on second thought …)

Cultural subversion

C’mon. Undermine American Christmas culture. You know you want to. Wouldn’t be the first time you stood against the tide – not if you spend any time defending the value of human life from its beginning to its end. Compared to that, celebrating Advent is a piece of cake.

I just got off the phone with a friend who apologized for being unable to join me at a political event tomorrow. Her reason? She’s leading an Advent prayer group at her church. There’s a countercultural woman in action. God bless her. The political event will be poorer for her choice, while the community as a whole will be richer. That’s a net gain.

I will do all I can to affirm this unique and irreplaceable season. I’m preparing to celebrate the Nativity of Christ, for crying out loud. The Incarnation! Taking the time to let that sink in is perhaps Advent’s greatest imperative. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. If that fact doesn’t rock my world every time I contemplate it, I’m a spiritual orphan.

The blogosphere is full of Advent material, most of it provided by people far wiser than I. I’ll simply list a few things I do during the season. Whether they make you think, laugh, or just roll your eyes, I offer them for what they’re worth.

  • I look for good reading and good praying, which are inseparable as far as I’m concerned. Absolutely bare-bones minimum, no matter how full the day, is five minutes morning and evening. I’ve already mentioned the Magnificat app, which is new each year and which keeps daily Advent readings at my fingertips. (For good or ill, I live with my Android tablet within reach all day.) I also recommend The Essential Advent and Christmas Handbook from the Redemptorists. It includes Scripture readings, prayers, and activities that are actually practical.
  • I try to find a decent Advent calendar. I refuse to get one that’s Santa-themed, unless Santa is depicted kneeling in prayer in the snow. I think St. Nicholas might be with me on that one.
  • Last year, I found one of those survival bracelets made of braided parachute cord, in shades of purple and rose. I wear it to remind myself of the season, even in the midst of everyday activities. This will probably prevent me from getting any offers to model in Vogue, but I’ll cope.
  • When my parish offers an Advent program, I try to attend. The quality of the speakers can be uneven, but no matter. Best case, I learn something and I benefit from being amid my sisters and brothers in faith. Worst case, I devote an evening to a public observance of Advent, thus poking in the eye all the forces that made Charlie Brown sad.
  • We put Advent candles on my family’s dining table. Martha Stewart was unavailable. The plate is a wedding gift from 33 years ago that doesn’t get much use. The candles are from the grocery store, and the holders are from the dollar store. It’s the Advent-candle equivalent of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. All the more reason to love it, IMHO.

So hello, Advent. Make yourself at home. I’ve missed you.

Back to Concord; Komen/PP webcast; Happy Advent

The 2013-14 New Hampshire legislature was sworn in this morning, with House Speaker Terie Norelli (D-Portsmouth) urging an end to “harshness.”  Regular business starts in January. Reps and senators have until this Friday, December 7, to submit proposed bills (LSRs, or legislative service requests). Yes, I’m watching.

No surprises in either House or Senate leadership. Dems run the House, Republicans run the Senate, no quarrels about who gets to wield the gavels (Norelli in the House, Sen. Peter Bragdon of Milford in the Senate).

Yesterday, the House Republican Alliance elected Reps. Pam Tucker of Greenland, Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, and Carol McGuire of Epsom as co-chairs. This conservative & decidedly unofficial group was extremely effective in the minority two sessions ago. I look forward to their weekly “pink sheets” again.

I chatted at length this morning with Pastor Garrett Lear, who (so I hear) gave a remarkable opening prayer at this morning’s Executive Council meeting. I should have been there instead of fruitlessly searching for a seat in the packed House gallery.  Pastor Lear and I have been in NH’s pro-life trenches for years now numbering in the decades. We spoke of loyal opposition and about being in the minority – hardly a new place for either of us! Minorities, like majorities, are temporary. Pro-life work, as with other development of our culture, goes on no matter who’s in charge.

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Which brings me to the news that I have returned to Cornerstone, or rather Cornerstone has returned to me as a client. I’m very happy to be back at the State House & the LOB to lobby, track bills, listen to hearings, and suchlike. Cornerstone is on the verge of announcing a new Executive Director, and I won’t spill the beans here except to say I’m looking forward to working for her.

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The Family Research Council is having a webcast on the 13th with Karen Handel, the former Komen for the Cure executive who has gone public on the messy and outrageous details behind Planned Parenthood’s arm-twisting of Komen. Find & read Handel’s book Planned Bullyhood, if you haven’t already done so. Terrible (though accurate) title, compelling story.

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From the Diocese of Manchester web site:

Join over 300 people from NH traveling to Washington, DC for the March for Life and Pilgrimage of Faith from January 24-25, 2013. Limited spaces for packages with transportation and hotel are available. For more information, e-mail Valerie_lynn_somers@comcast.net or visit www.catholicnh.org/life.

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Observing Advent is an annual act of cultural defiance for me. Working retail for a few years made me appreciate how terrible is the  rhythm of a two-month “Christmas” season that begins with Halloween and stops with a dead thud on December 26. Ste. Marie’s in Manchester NH had a wonderful Lessons and Carols service the other day. If a church in your area has such a program, check it out. Now if only I could find something like that the week after Christmas, which is after all during the real Christmas season. In the meantime, happy Advent!