I've been thinking about Christmas lately. Okay, I'm thinking about it pretty much all the time because I have about approximately nine hundred (900) projects in the works right now that have to do with Christmas. Most of them I can't talk about here because I'm not in the habit of spilling beans in public. Especially my own beans. (That explains the void of photos on my blog these days as I can't really take pictures of things that I'm doing... Ha- I knew there had to be a reason for that...)
But just for example, there's the pile of pine branches and grapevines on my porch waiting to be made into wreaths. I've never made wreaths before, but I was at the dump (we go there frequently, being scrounges and all) and someone had just trimmed up one hurk of an awesome yard. I had to climb around on a mountain of brush, but I pulled out plenty of branches and vines (sadly, I passed up the red berry branches because they were sporting some especially wicked-looking thorns... Yeah, sometimes even I wimp out on DIY projects. Ya gotta draw the line somewhere.) as well as a pile of bamboo. Someone grew bamboo right here in southern Michigan! And then cut it down and dumped it at the dump. And I was in the right place at the right time to snag it. It will become vine-support structures in my garden next summer.
Oh, and yesterday was our church Christmas party/decorating party. We decorated the tree (during which, Jonah dropped a glass ball ornament and it -POP- shattered on the floor. He cried in mortification for a full 10 minutes, despite our reasurrances that it was just an accident and it was okay), sang carols, held a hilarious white-elephant gift exchange, and ate lots of goodies.
But where was I going with this? Boy was that ever a rabbit-trail... Oh yes, I've been thinking about Christmas lately...
Actually, the previous examples only serve to prove my point (which I'll get to, soon... really). We always seem to want to skip to the fun part and start celebrating Christmas before it's really the Christmas season. We tend to celebrate Christmas starting after Thanksgiving, kicking it off with the societally sacred celebration of Black Friday, emphasizing how commercialized the holiday has become. Then we shop and plan and party and by Christmas Day, we're spent and tired and sick of Christmas. Of course, this is the logical conclusion of a misspent holiday seaon.
The truth is that Christmas Day marks the true beginning of the Christmas season. If we remembered the real purpose of the Christmas celebration, maybe we wouldn't have this problem. You can't celebrate an event that hasn't happened yet, can you? Would we sing "Halleluiah, He is Risen!" on Good Friday? That would be weird and unnatural as Holy Week is the time to remember Christ's suffering and death. Neither can we say "The Savior is born!" during Advent-- the time when we remember the wait for the promised Messiah.
Now, here's a caveat, one which certain readers will be sure to point out to me as Nathan already has: of course, the Savior has already come, so it's not wrong to proclaim it any time of the year. I'm not trying to make a new rule, but only point out the traditional uses of the seasons and what we remember and learn in them.
So here's the course of events that we're supposed to be celebrating this time of year: Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and during that time we remember the wait and preparations for the birth of the Savior-- the prophesies, the announcement to Zacharias, the announcement to Mary, the birth of John, etc. We also use this as a parallell for waiting for Christ's second coming at the end of the world. Then we have the birth of the Savior, which is actually Christmas Day, but we start that on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, Christmas Day is the real beginning of the Christmas season since that's when we're celebrating that our Savior has been born! You know the "12 days of Christmas"? That count begins on Christmas day and goes until Epiphany (January 6), which is when we remember the wise men that visited Jesus and begin the Epiphany season. During the real Christmas season we also celebrate the New Year, which in the church calendar is for the naming and circumscision of Jesus.
So, with all that in mind, I've been trying to find ways to celebrate a little more closely to the intended meaning of the seasons.
Now I suddenly understand (duh) why the Christmas tree (along with the other decorations) was traditionally put up on Christmas Eve. There is no way we could do our tree on Christmas Eve since we have church services to prepare for, but we decided that we will put up our tree on the fourth sunday in Advent ("Joyful Sunday") and leave the lights off until Christmas Eve. (The funny thing about this is that we do this in our church and it's always bugged me because I like to see the tree with the lights. But now I get it, so I'm okay with it.)
I tried to talk Nathan into changing the way we open gifts-- maybe we each open one each day throughout the 12 days of Christmas (till Epiphany or they're all opened, whichever comes first), but he really likes the Christmas Eve traditon of opening everything in one big bash.
My other idea is not listening to Christmas music during Advent, but this is hard for me. (Well impossible if you go into any stores or turn on a radio station...) I like Christmas music! But on the other hand, I get kind of tired of it by Epiphany, and looking forward to playing my favorite Christmas CDs might serve to emphasize the "waiting" of Advent. I'd love to build up a little collection of Advent music, but that might be considerably difficult to do.
So the purpose of all this is just to try to adjust my thinking away from the commercialized version of Christmas that is so prevalent around us. I find myself easily getting lost in my "to do" list of baking and and decorating and of gathering, making, wrapping, and shipping gifts, of making and sending Christmas cards, of planning church activities, etc. etc. etc. I want to find things that help us keep the POINT in mind. And I'm hoping to be able to use these traditions to teach Jonah the real meanings and lessons of the Advent and Christmas seasons and try to prevent them getting totally lost in the "gimmies" always floating around us. I hope that we can always use the symbols and traditions for teaching Jonah, instead of only doing them because they're fun or they're what we've always done. And of course, it might help if we get the order right...