“I need the church to remind me of reality: time is not a commodity that I control, manage, or consume. The practice of liturgical time teaches me, day by day, that time is not mine. It does not revolve around me. Time revolves around God—what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do.” ~ Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary
Full disclosure: I have been dithering about the season we are speeding toward, one moment glad, the next filled with trepidation. What lo this resistance?
I saw a fresh tree tied to the top of a car—two days before Thanksgiving. Ten minutes later, I saw another one, then another.
There should be a law.
In the spirit of equal opportunity judging, I passed a portion on me. Here we go again, I thought. Cue: my own sky-high expectations and a laser-focus on checklists (bought, wrapped, given!) as well as, I fear, the no longer negligible letdown when all is said and done.
Truth be told, I’m a little sick of myself. I am tired of the way I do—or overdo—Christmas.
(Didn’t I say the same thing last year?)
At least, I said smugly to my steering well, me and my house are not in such a godawful rush. I, for one, I won’t be sweeping up dried pine needles prior to tossing autumn’s pumpkins to the neighbors’ chickens.
Contending with stray needles is what December is for.
When I complained to Lanier about people’s pants being, by all accounts, on fire, she urged me to issue a pass to 2017’s crop of eager beavers. It has been a year. Naturally, she said, we’re seeking shimmer and shine, and the sooner the better.
Still, I’m hesitating before jumping in with both red Mary Jane-shod feet.
Presently, I will be competing with fellow traditionalists for the rare string of non-LED lights on store shelves—I don’t care what they say about new, improved “warm” LED lights; it’s a dirty lie. And season’s greetings will arrive in the post littered with extraneous apostrophes folks add to their own last names. Peace on Earth from the Smith’s! All this before we swallow the last bit of leftover cornbread dressing.
Yours truly will comb the aisles—or the Internet—for the perfect cherry-hued velvet headband to go with the aforementioned shoes. I will attack the dust on the chandelier and the tarnished silver like the Queen’s coming for tea. The spouse will scratch his head when I tell him the porch needs a good pressure wash, to better highlight the swags of cedar we’ll hang. You think Santa’s list is long? You should see my to-do list.
So you see, Christmastime being conjured too quickly and its commercialization and the non compos mentis in the Costco parking lot are not my stumbling blocks. I am my stumbling block.
Wise Laura knows: The holidays are not about me or topping the trimmings and trappings of yore or my measure of goodwill toward men, or lack thereof. Wise Laura, however, cannot be relied upon. More often than not, she shows up late to the party—or skips it and stays in bed.
My defaults: demanding, impetuous, impatient. Luke is smart to hide presents for me in his car, underneath a mess of file folders, yellowing editions of The Wall Street Journal, empty Chik-fil-A sacks. Tricky how he’s learned to use my touch of OCD to his advantage, knowing I won’t venture there.
You probably think I’m coming down with a case of Charlie Brown syndrome, or garlic in my soul. No one forces me to work on the decidedly un-Grinch-y Golden Hours—heck, it was my idea—and ordinarily, I adore the anticipation of Christmas. But the day comes—and goes—and then thud with a capital T. So, yeah, the unbridled enthusiasm scares me. What goes up, I’ve learned the hard way, must come down.
To boot, I am feeling phony as one of the Pharasees. I am hitting a wall when it comes to living up to the ideals expressed here, the ones that sound so meet and right on paper: a season savored slow as molasses and then kept well beyond the twenty-fifth, which is, incidentally, the first day of Christmas. Cheers to Boxing Day! A Twelfth Night revel! King’s cakes!
The tree, indubitably, stays until Epiphany. In the best of worlds.
I scold my friend around the bend, the one (hi, J. Murray!) who tears down her Douglas directly after Christmas pie and coffee. But I’d be fibbing through my AP-24-whitened teeth (see my weakness, how I succumb to trends!) if I told you there isn’t a part of me that wants to throw the whole thing over, too, once the air clears of roast beast.
This is not the best of worlds.
Does the trouble stem from my being conformed to the world and its shameless hurtling toward the holiday? Santa forgive me for I confess, I snuck a listen to King’s College Choir and shopped for reels of ribbon before Halloween…
Or does the Thud go thud so readily because after all the silver and gold and broken mercury glass, I yearn for order (now!), for farewell to the fridge’s expired eggnog cartons and hello to an army of plastic storage boxes, stacked and ready for service.
Again, with the OCD.
Does the constant bleating of next? make me, at heart, one of November’s Fraser-folly flock? (Yes.)
Christmas succeeds Thanksgiving, but what, pray tell, follows Christmas—most especially the sweet expectation of it? If January holds such treasures, I have not yet unearthed them. I cling to scraps—on the 26th or 27th, I am prone to wander the ravaged, fifty percent off holiday aisles of Target only to discover how utterly un-sparkly stuff appears after. Why were the displays so enticing before?
Whipping out my handy Red Card, I add to my plastic storage box collection—mind you don’t forget the matching lids!—and call it a day. Pack ’em up, move ’em out.
Paradoxically, I cringe to see the thrill of hope dissipate, for the weary world rejoicing to return to its defaults: plodding, workaday, hangdog.
College daughters head back to dorms, the dentist rings to remind me of a cleaning, and I notice for the hundredth time the bath needs re-surfacing, and this time I mean it. Meanwhile, literary New York wakes from its sugar cookie-induced sleep and agents and editors get back to their desks, at last answering my emails with suggestions or rejections or the cold shoulder. (I’m talking to you, Harper Collins! How long does it take to read one measly manuscript?)
Hungover on bourbon-tinged sweet potatoes—and a sip or two of straight bourbon—I find myself waiting all over again, not for Emmanuel but for the next university break, for my big break. Won’t something happen already? Blast the sameness, the paying of bills, embarking on the familiar post-figgy pudding health kick. Here we go again.
But why fight it, really? It has been a year. Sue us if we hunger for a hard stop, a forced interruption like a power outage during a lightning storm.
Let’s light the candles, already.
Energy efficiency (LED lights, blech!) is for the everyday. A people pragmatic and phone-obsessed, most of the time we neglect beauty and flout meaning. We snub small pleasures: a walk with a friend or long baths with a book or a cup of steaming coffee on the stoop in the morning—before we do all the things.
On the other hand, we hoard pleasure, or pale imitations of it. Our overindulgences—just one more Netflix episode, slice of cake, pair of shoes—render us numb, bloated, broke.
Just before Thanksgiving, I had been away—listening. We chose a log inn, open since 1941, situated on a mountain in the middle of nothing but more sparsely populated mountains. I wrote and dreamed from a well-worn leather armchair in a corner of the lodge’s spacious lobby, oak crackling in a stone fireplace that looms so large, it lacks only a pair of Irish wolfhounds snoozing hearthside.
I traveled north from Atlanta with heart heavy, my head’s recurring battle-cry humming: What to do this Advent to simplify, to carve calm out of chaos, to lean into hypostatic union? How to outsmart seasonal stress? And how, exactly, is it I haven’t figured this out by now?
When the spouse and I stepped inside our room at the inn, I noticed it straight away: a holly tree towering outside the window, dappled with late afternoon sun and laden with ripe, crimson berries. I had been imploring God to whisper, but, apparently, sometimes he prefers to shout.
I think he was laughing a little at me, too.
It is a good instinct, I believe, the desire for this Advent to be different. Other. (About others!) Advent observed the old, quiet way. The waiting way.
Dear Imprudent Laura,
Play it cool this year, will you?
Advent is a pregnant pause. Induce not.
Trinket by trinket, tinsel by tinsel, you’ll get there. Christmas, my friend, is about light in the darkness. Not light displays you can see from outer space.
Practice slow. Practice sparse. Fast before feast.
p.s. See you again around Ash Wednesday…
And so I have decided I am going to fast from the Internet, except for working on Golden Hours, during Advent. I got the idea from a nifty new book, Living the Season Well. Its author, Jody Collins, reminded me of God’s weird math—that before gifts are multiplied, there is subtraction.
I am also reminded by another excellent book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, that there is another way to mark time, the church’s way.
The liturgical kalendar (you say calendar; I say kalendar) informs us to reap the perks of contrast. Solemnity precedes celebration. The rhythms of the church year are patterned after the life of Christ. Behold, a means to take us outside ourselves. Thanks be to God for those.
“Discovering the liturgical calendar felt like discovering real time… Now time was sacred. It was structured by worship. It marked the church as a global, alternative people. Time had shape and meaning. All of a sudden, time was a story. And I could live in a story… We recall together that we are waiting for the end of the story, for all things to be made new.” ~ Tish Harrison Warren, The Liturgy of the Ordinary