“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” I’ve heard it on the radio about ten times already, and I’ve probably said/sung the line at least three times that. If you don’t already know this about me, I absolutely love Christmas, and the four weeks of Advent that lead up to it. In my family, preparations begin weeks in advance. It’s our tradition that we decorate for Christmas throughout the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving, and within a week or so of that, we begin the copious amounts of baking involved in producing approximately 15 different types of Christmas cookies. From Black Friday right through the Epiphany, my house is filled with the sweet aromas of baking cookies and evergreen, as well as the joyous sounds of Christmas music of all types- traditional Advent hymns, Christmas carols, and secular holiday songs. If I’m not found singing a Christmas carol, I’m humming one, or there’s at least one running through my head. Most people do not fully comprehend what I mean when I say that I’m a Christmas fanatic- not until they see me in full holiday mode. In fact, some people have even made bets with me that I couldn’t sustain my Christmas spirit from Thanksgiving to the Epiphany, especially in the face of final papers and exams. Needless to say, I’ve never had a hot chocolate taste so good…
With the beginning of the Advent season last weekend, there have been the usual Facebook statuses and tweets announcing the beginning of the Christmas season, or the excitement of Christmas carols on the radio, or the countdown of shopping days until Christmas. And then there are the sporadic comments about the over-secularization and commercialization of Christmas, as well as those striving to preserve the true meaning of Advent as a period of penance and preparation for the coming of Christ. What’s more is that with the increasing popularity of blogging, more than just a handful of entries have been posted about both of these subjects.
Being the avid Facebook stalker and blog follower that I am, I always read these posts, and my thoughts are always mixed. On the one hand, I totally agree with what is being written: Christmas has been commercialized and secularized so badly in recent years that Jesus Christ seems to be completely divorced from Christmas, despite the fact that the holiday bears His name. It wouldn’t be CHRISTmas without CHRIST. In addition to that, it’s also true that this commercialization has overshadowed the true nature of the Advent season. It is a time of waiting, of penance and preparation for the coming of the Lord at Christmas (and at the Second Coming). So obviously, it would be absurd for me to claim that I disagree with these comments and blog posts when I clearly don’t.
So at this point, your brow is probably furrowed as you ask yourself, “How can she purport the importance of Advent if she’s decorating her Christmas tree and singing Christmas carols and secular songs at the same time?” I admit, sometimes I find myself asking the same question. How can my family traditions and my intense love of all things Christmas-related conform to my desire to preserve the significance of Advent and to discourage the commercialization of Christmas?
It’s not always easy, but it is something that I just have to do. It’s part of who I am. I have decorated the family Christmas tree during Thanksgiving weekend for as long as I can remember. It is a family tradition that has left me with more happy memories than possibly any other event in my entire life. When anyone asks me when I am happiest, without hesitation I can answer- Christmas time. And call me a heathen if you want, but I’m mostly talking about the weeks leading up to Christmas, the weeks that are liturgically called Advent. But let me explain, starting with an incident that I witnessed yesterday. On my way home from work, my mom asked me to stop at the supermarket to pick some things up, and of course I complied. I rocketed through the store, picking up the items on my list, and hightailed it to the lines in front, where I promptly got in line in one of the express lanes. And not to get on a soap box or anything, but there’s very little express about those lines. They are always the longest, and people seem to take the whole “10 items or less” thing as a mere suggestion. Sometimes I wonder if it would be faster just to get in one of the regular lines, but then I think of my mother, with her cart full of enough food to feed an army, and I stick to the express line. Yesterday was no different, and after scoping out the lines, I hopped on the one that I thought would move the quickest. If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I chose wrong, but as I watched the line to the left steadily move forward, I kept reminding myself that I was in no rush, I had nowhere to be any time soon, and I had a free night to look forward to. I wasn’t about to let this little inconvenience get in the way of my happiness. Instead, I hummed along to the Christmas carols playing over the PA system, and mindlessly scrolled my Facebook news feed. But then the impossible happened. The woman standing in front of me allowed a man to cut her in line. My first reaction was annoyance- this meant that I would need to wait for yet another person before it was my turn, which would mean standing in line for another five minutes. That’s right, a whole five extra minutes. That’s when I realized how selfish I was being. This woman was doing the just thing- the older man had been on the line to our right before either of us had even gotten there, and she was only doing what was right. If he got there first, he should get to go first. So with a smile, a shocked “thank you,” and a happy “Merry Christmas,” he paid for his case of Diet Pepsi and walked away.
That’s why I love this time of year. People are just a little less selfish, a little more kind to one another. They let other people cut them in line. They call out to the elderly woman who just unknowingly dropped her scarf. They smile when you pass them, and on occasion even speak to you. The period leading up to Christmas is the only time where I don’t get weird looks when I smile at a stranger, where I can greet people with a bright “Merry Christmas!” and often actually get a response. It might not be Christmas yet, but the Christmas spirit is alive and working in the world. Don’t get me wrong- there are plenty of people who are kind and generous year-round, but there are also people out there who need to be swept up in the spirit of this incredible time of year before their hearts can be softened toward the people that surround them. The Christmas spirit is alive, and it fills me up in a way that little else can. People just seem a little more human around this time of year.
Yes, it’s sad that for nearly eleven months of the year, the generosity of mankind is overshadowed by its selfishness. It’s sad that most days of the year, smiles are greeted with stares, pleasant hello’s with throaty grunts. It’s sad that we need a holiday to give us permission to be just a little more human- a little happier, a little kinder, a little braver. But that does not take away from the beauty of the Christmas season. That will not stop me from celebrating this season with as much joy and excitement as I always do. Advent is a season of hope, of repentance and preparation. Despite the fact that most of society ignores the call of Advent and seeks to commercialize this very holy time of year, the spirit of Advent remains alive. It’s known by a different name, here in a world where many people have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas, but it’s still the same spirit. It’s the spirit that drives people to give more, love more, help more, smile more. It’s the spirit that led that woman to allow that man to step in front of her, and that lead me to curb my uncharitable thoughts. Though modern society has forgotten Christ, Christ remains alive. Though modern society has abandoned Advent, the spirit has not abandoned society. And that gives me hope during this beautiful season of Advent, and this wonderful season of Christmas.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!