I mean to get my Christmas shopping done in a week or two. It usually takes about five hours, tops. Some clothes for my husband, computer games and CDs for the kids, a couple of minor things for friends. I’m knitting socks for one stepdaughter and a scarf for the other. I put everything in reusable gift bags. I don’t bake for Christmas – never have. We don’t have a big family get-together or go to (or give) Christmas parties. We do make a fuss over the Christmas tree, which is as grossly over decorated as we can make it (the rule around here is “if you can still see green, there’s not enough stuff up yet”), but that’s an easy, fun tradition. The tree does not go up until at least Dec. 22, because until then, I’m doing Advent.
It’s a matter of making choices. Advent, for North Americans, is a period positively crawling with godlets – false or inflated mini-deities. “Joy”on its own, divorced from the gift of the Incarnation. “Tradition” – our hunger for beauty and mystery that we don’t look to God to satisfy. “Family,” without regard to the gritty reality of living with people who can get to you as no one else can. “Love,” of the fallible, terribly limited human persuasion that really seeks to get rather than to give. “Generosity” – not quite the genuine article, that gives up freely, but a temporary, cheap laying aside of our ordinary selfishness. We forget that while Martha Stewart may have appointed herself to god-status, we don’t have to fall down and worship.
It’s all candy-cane stuff, like the artificial TV ads for happy homecomings, actors joyously embracing other actors who don’t know each other. But like children after candy, we fall for it every time. These godlets always let us down in the end. But year after year, we turn to them again, hoping that ‘this’ time Real Life will be as wonderful as TV promises.
But if we turn away from the godlets and point ourselves Godward, Advent properly considered, can be a blessed quietness. It can be a time for turning aside, for entering into stillness, for picking up small lustrous mysteries and turning them over in the palm of your hand, quietly considering them: how God loved us so much that God chose to bridge the gap between us and came to be with us, a helpless and vulnerable newborn, born of a girl who took such terrible risks in saying “Yes” to God.
Advent is a time for looking out the window at dusk and seeing the snow turn electric blue in that moment before the light fades, and for being in the silent beauty of that moment for all eternity. Advent is a time for me to quiet my soul and to sit with God as restfully trusting as a sleepy child with its mother.
We can choose. Yes, you should go to your child’s school Christmas concert, but nobody said that you “have” to bake up a storm; that may be tradition, but if the tradition is false to Advent, maybe you’re better off without it. Party-going? If you enjoy it, sure, but not if it’s just another stress-inducing obligation. Big turkey dinner with all the trimmings for the whole family? How about a small, quiet meal on Christmas Eve and a workout in the local soup kitchen on Christmas afternoon?
You might meet a certain amount of resistance, but hang in there. There might be beautiful new traditions a-borning.
Choose your godlets, and choose them consciously and carefully. For God has already chosen you.
Molly Wolf is a writer in Kingston, Ont.