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.

 

NH life-issue bills take shape: Pick of the web, 12/27/13

Reps Hall (800x600) (640x480)I hope your Christmas Day was the beginning of a season of blessings!

WMUR’s Political Scoop for December 20 took note of Rep. Leon Rideout’s fetal homicide bill, HB 1503. The text is here. Rideout has been joined by five co-sponsors for this effort.

Rep. Kathleen Souza and nine co-sponsors are introducing HB 1501, the Women’s Health Protection Act, calling for licensing of outpatient abortion facilities. As the bill’s Findings and Purposes state, “Based on the fact that New Hampshire provides safeguards for women’s health through the licensing of hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, walk-in care centers, birthing clinics, and other facilities providing medical services, it is the purpose of this act to further protect women’s health by the licensing of abortion clinics.” (I’ll have more on these bills next week.)

Some of this links I share are strictly for informational purposes. Others are pure delight and inspiration. This is one of the latter. I’m a fan of jazz and Christmas and the musings of Elizabeth Scalia (a pro-life powerhouse, among her other gifts), and they all come together in Duke Ellington and the Great Christmas Secret

State Rep. Al Baldasaro (R-Londonderry), tweeting at @Al_Baldasaro, announced on December 19 that he is considering stepping into the U.S. Senate race. Former U.S. Senator Bob Smith has already announced his intention to enter the GOP primary for the seat. Both have pro-life voting records.

Keep up with Leaven for the Loaf updates by subscribing to the blog, following on Facebook, and following @leaven4theloaf on Twitter.

 

How I learned the truth about Santa (& wasn’t traumatized for life)

Christmas: sparse tree, rich memories.
Christmas: sparse tree, rich memories.

I’ve heard of parents who have trouble explaining Santa Claus to their kids. My parents called on the United States Navy to do the job.

I grew up in south Florida, so part of the Santa Claus legend always sounded a little off to me. Our house didn’t look anything like the ones in Santa-themed storybooks. I once asked my dad how Santa got into houses like ours, with no chimney. He assured me that Santa had his little ways. Little did I know that mom and dad had little ways of their own.

One Christmas Eve when I was four or five, we had an overnight guest – a sailor, or at least a man in a sailor suit.  I remember his kerchief and cap because they looked so unusual to me. He was very quiet and polite, as I recall.  We had a small house, and my sister and I slept on the living room couch that night so the sailor could have our room.

Sometime during the night, a sound woke me up – a very quiet sound, like people whispering. I opened my eyes but didn’t move, feeling a little scared. I was reassured to see that one of the people was my dad. The other was our guest, the sailor. Together, they were putting presents under our little Christmas tree.

All kinds of thoughts raced through my little brain. Daddy’s doing Santa’s work! Is Daddy Santa? And why is our new friend helping him? He doesn’t look like an elf. I’d better be quiet because the presents will disappear if anyone thinks I’m awake. And where’s Mommy? Oh, boy, I know something my little sister doesn’t!

I don’t know how I managed to get back to sleep, but I did. When my sister and I woke up, and we saw the tree looking beautiful and presents waiting for us, I wondered if I’d been dreaming. I think I declared something like “I saw Daddy!” Dad responded by gently telling me I must have been dreaming. Mom and our guest promptly agreed with him. My two-year-old sister was no help. Puzzled, but still happy it was Christmas, I went back to playing with whatever I’d just opened.

I never asked my parents about Santa again. I saw Santa on TV and in department stores and in books, and I knew he was make-believe. That was fine with me. I had learned that the same dad who took me to Midnight Mass was the one who did Santa’s work. Amazingly for a kid who had as big a mouth as I had, I never felt the need to spoil any other kid’s Christmas by announcing that there was no Santa. One exception to that: I tried explaining the facts to my sister a few years later. She flatly refused to believe me. So much for my powers of persuasion.

Forty years later, I knew my mom’s health was failing badly, and our days of conversation were numbered. My dad had died several years earlier. I had to clear up my persistent but hazy memory. Had there really been a Christmas with a sailor? “Oh, yes,” she said immediately. She remembered it clearly.

It turns out that the sailor, whose name was John Parker, was the nineteen-year-old son of one of mom’s college friends. He had recently joined the Navy, and he was having his first Christmas away from home. When his ship was scheduled to be in Ft. Lauderdale for Christmas, his mom called my mom and asked if we could take him in while he was on liberty. My folks were happy to say yes. And that lonely 19-year-old kid, who had never met any of us before, got up in the middle of the night to help my father arrange the gifts and finish trimming the tree.

I’m overwhelmed at that thought, even now. Nineteen years old, and he was putting out presents for us. Someone should have been putting out presents for him – although, knowing my parents, there was probably something with his name on it under the tree.

My parents always put the birth of Christ first as we celebrated Christmas. Even so, I don’t think I’m being irreverent when I say that my memory of this kid from the Navy has stuck with me more powerfully than the memory of any particular Midnight Mass we ever attended.

I never saw John Parker again. This recollection is all the thanks I can give him. Whenever I think of him, I’m four years old again, pretending to be asleep, peeking at two unlikely elves.

 

 

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.