Why & how I appreciate Advent

(This post was originally published in 2013 and appears here with minor revisions.)

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 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.

AdventCharlie 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 ThanksgivingVeteran’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.

That would 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 good, but because if I am to celebrate the Incarnation, I want to do so with fresh reverence and joy each year. I can’t pick that up from someone else, although being amid fellow believers in Christ’s divinity during the season is a big help. Others 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 about that, or I can concentrate on living the Advent season.

Cultural subversion

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. Absolute bare-bones minimum, no matter how full the day, is five minutes morning and evening. On some December days, the calendar is so full that prayer tends to slide off the agenda. I keep handy The Essential Advent and Christmas Handbook from the Redemptorists. It includes Scripture readings, prayers, and suggestions for practical activities.
  • I look for 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.
  • I have a bracelet 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. At best, I learn something and I benefit from being amid my sisters and brothers in faith. At the very least, 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. It’s not an elegant display: the base is an old plate, a neglected wedding gift from decades ago. 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.

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

Advent – hold the Christmas carols

Advent 1st post 2015It’s Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year, penitential and contemplative in tone as befits preparation for a great feast. It’s a blessed relief from any number of things. I enter it this year sick at heart due to some recent events, ready for a time of prayer and quiet and humility and renewal.

Keep that elf doll away from me. Throw a curtain around that poinsettia display for a few more weeks. And in regretful (some will say regrettable) defiance of my bishop’s directive, I am fleeing my parish church for the duration in order to avoid Christmas carols at every Advent Sunday Mass.

Yes, carols. He used the plural and I assume that means more than one. It’s not as though Bishop Libasci is ordering the choirs to sing “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Nevertheless, I am not on board. I need Advent for the next not-quite-four weeks, not Christmas Lite. Carols at the kids’ concerts or at the store are one thing. Carols during an Advent liturgy are another.

The Mass is the Mass, and my feelings about the music are irrelevant to that. (We liturgical music critics can be insufferable.) My reaction to the bishop’s directive, though, isn’t a matter of mere distaste. I fear we’re diluting Advent and thereby losing something important.

I’ve worked retail, and I remember how we depended on November and December sales. Santa-shaped chocolates on the shelf and “The Little Drummer Boy” on the speakers put people into the shopping mood, so by golly we had the Santa chocolates on display and the music playing by Thanksgiving. We worked long hours. Our paychecks and material support for our families depended on that.

Wanna know what Christmas Eve is like for a retail worker after the store closes? There’s a lot of sleep involved – unless there are kids to be settled. Mass the next day, in all its glory and joy and beauty, is something to be gotten through.

I learned in those days to treasure and crave Advent. My attention to the Advent liturgies was renewed and sharpened. I hadn’t realized how much I had always taken the season for granted. The Old Testament prophecies, the old plainsong chant we now know as O Come O Come Emmanuel (however far from plainsong it’s been dragged by contemporary arrangements), John the Baptist’s blunt call to repentance: all became balm to my spirit when I realized I had to seek out and intentionally participate in Advent rather than just let it happen somewhere in the background. The beauty of the Incarnation, contra my bishop’s concern as expressed in his directive, wasn’t dulled by such preparation. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I mean no disrespect to Bishop Libasci, who has gone out on a limb as a Catholic leader in this very secular state of ours to advocate for refugees and defend religious liberty. The other aspects of his directive make sense to me, especially in view of the coming formal opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Christmas carols during Advent liturgies, though, affect me like physical blows. I’ve heard them before, albeit by the choice of music ministers rather than directives from the Diocese. However scriptural the lyrics, they don’t fit Advent any more than Easter songs would fit into Lent.  The carols’ ill timing evokes for me the malls and commercials and movies that hijack them before Thanksgiving.

I guess I’ll be crossing the state line for a few Sundays, although it’ll be odd not to be amid familiar faces. What’s going on at the altar will be familiar enough.

 

 

The mugs of Advent: plan for some fun

Cup Clipart Black And White | Clipart Panda - Free Clipart ImagesReaders who observe Advent, I have a little fun-and-games planned. Readers who don’t observe the season, please indulge me.

So the mermaid-coffee people have red cups for this month and next. The cups aren’t Christmas-specific. So what? Has anyone noticed that we haven’t even gotten to Thanksgiving yet? And poor Advent gets no respect at all.

Well, here on this little blog, it will. This year, Advent begins on November 29, a shade less than two weeks from now. On that day, I’m going to begin an Instagram project (@leaven4theloaf) that you can join. It requires an Advent mug. Seriously. Let the mermaid-coffee people use red cups. They’re only merchants. Those of us who observe Advent can fly our own colors.

The idea is to use the mug as a prop in photos during Advent. Are you lighting an Advent wreath? Take a picture, with the mug in the photo somewhere. Are you at your desk at work? Put the mug on the desk and take a picture. If you’re feeling particularly subversive, go to the mermaid-coffee shop, order a small coffee (I recommend Sumatra), pour it into your mug, and snap a photo, preferably with the store’s logo somewhere in the background. You get the idea. Selfies are optional; personally, I feel very awkward taking a picture of myself.

Post to Instagram or Twitter or Facebook or your own blog. Let’s get some purple and rose out there. Use the hashtags #Adventmug and #Advent. Add some class to your social media feed.

I had a dickens of a time tracking down a mug that even had Advent colors on it. I wound up getting a plain white one at the dollar store and then putting purple-and-rose stickers on it. I’ll unveil it on the first Sunday of Advent so you can snicker at my lack of design savvy. Don’t have Advent colors on any of your mugs? Tie a purple ribbon on the handle of your coffee cup, and get those photos.

Who’s with me?


Welcoming Advent, with arms wide open

(This post was originally published in 2013 and appears here with minor revisions.)

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 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.

AdventCharlie 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 ThanksgivingVeteran’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.

That would 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 good, but because if I am to celebrate the Incarnation, I want to do so with fresh reverence and joy each year. I can’t pick that up from someone else, although being amid fellow believers in Christ’s divinity during the season is a big help. Others 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 about that, or I can concentrate on living the Advent season.

Cultural subversion

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. Absolute bare-bones minimum, no matter how full the day, is five minutes morning and evening. On some December days, the calendar is so full that prayer tends to slide off the agenda. I keep handy The Essential Advent and Christmas Handbook from the Redemptorists. It includes Scripture readings, prayers, and suggestions for practical activities.
  • I look for 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.
  • I have a bracelet 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. At best, I learn something and I benefit from being amid my sisters and brothers in faith. At the very least, 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. It’s not an elegant display: the base is an old plate, a neglected wedding gift from decades ago. 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.

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

 

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.