Monday, November 26, 2012

The limbo week

Years during which the first of November falls on a Thursday are the weirdest years. Thanksgiving, always the fourth Thursday of November, falls as early as it possibly can, and Christmas falls on a Tuesday, making Advent almost as short as it can possibly be. And so there's this weird in-between time, this limbo between the start of the secular "Christmas season" and the season during which Christians traditionally prepared their hearts for the actual Christmas season, before retailers and consumerism hijacked all of December and most of November, all the better to ply their wares.

Man, do I sound like a Grinch. For my next trick, I'll start shouting at people to get off my liturgical lawn or something.

The problem, if we get right down to it, is that I like--really, really like--the flurry of festivity and bustle that leads up to Christmas Day. And so even though I could put my foot down and refuse to listen to Christmas music or put up my decorations until much later in December, I don't want to. Because if I forced myself and my family into liturgical purity--anticipating and preparing for Christ's birth during Advent and celebrating it only during the liturgical Christmas season, we'd all miss out on a heck of a lot of fun. And seriously, I don't want to be the stodgy, dour Catholic church lady who refuses to let her kid attend pre-Christmas Christmas parties or watch Christmas movies when they air on TV or whatever. Our faith is a faith of joy, and it just feels like there's no joy in taking holiday counter-culturalism to that extreme.

(Also! Also! Have you ever tried not listening to Christmas music during Advent? If you do, you'll notice that almost none of the secular Christmas songs make any sense once Christmas Day has come and gone. They're all forward-looking: "Soon it will be Christmas day." "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas." "Santa Claus is coming to town." Religious Christmas music is perfectly wonderful all through the liturgical Christmas season, as one would expect, because it celebrates rather than anticipates the day itself: "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" "O come let us adore Him." "Born is the King of Israel." If I shun all Christmas music until Christmas, it's impossible to really enjoy anything but the religious music--and I love the secular stuff, too.)

And so every year, I find myself fretting about how to properly balance the spiritual needs of what is supposed to be a penitential, preparatory season (less rigorous than Lent, but penitential nonetheless) with the understandable desire to enjoy the fun while everyone else is celebrating.

I'll post our Advent plans later this week. (Frankly, I'm exceedingly pleased with myself this year for having actually purchased Advent candles early. I'm typically scrambling to find them the Saturday before Advent begins.) If you're a Catholic or a Christian who observes the liturgical seasons, I'd love to hear how you balance your spiritual preparation for Christmas with the multitude of fun activities that occur throughout December.

For the moment, during this in-between week, I'm stubbornly leaving my fall pumpkins on the front porch and burning my Harvest candles in the house. I'm trying to get as much Christmas gift shopping done as possible, so that Advent is a little less stressful and a little more spiritual. And I'm taking a deep breath in these waning days of Ordinary Time, preparing for the Preparation, and enjoying the quiet moments before the hustle and bustle begin in earnest.