Special things are special because they’re rare. Birthdays are only once a year, rites of passage like graduations are monumental because we can count ours on one hand, and vacations are what they are because they set aside a week or two to help us depart from our ordinary routine. Special, by definition, is different from the ordinary. As we frequently told the kids when we did our school year around the world, when everything’s awesome, nothing’s awesome. If every day of the year was special, they’d cease to be special. That’s what the word means.
The same is for Christmas. This is a key reason why Advent is so effective and necessary: it’s our protection in keeping Christmas special. Culturally speaking, the Christmas season begins as soon as we leave the Thanksgiving table (and according to some places of retail, it begins even sooner). We then binge on All Things Christmas from then through December 25: sugary treats, parties, community events, once-a-year arts and festivals, bloated shopping budgets, excess screen time, and an overall frantic holiday cheeriness from our home decor to whatever’s piping through the car stereo speakers. It’s no wonder we plop on the couch on the evening of the 25th wiped out and exhausted from All Things Christmas. We’re dying to take down the tree and claim a refreshing minimalist vibe for New Year’s Day. To heck with twelve days of Christmas — why bother when we’ve already had thirty-two?
This is why if we want to keep Christmas special, we should embrace the gift of Advent. If we want to help our kids appreciate the beauty and magic of Christmas, we should first lean into the slower pace of Advent. Since Advent’s posture is primarily one of expectation for Someone’s arrival, we should treat these next few weeks like the time of preparation that it is more than a celebration. If we party too soon, it’s like we’re congratulating the bride and groom before they take their vows, like we’re dropping off our adolescent child to their college dorm before they’ve taken senior year finals. We’re missing the point, and in doing so, our early celebration feels less real, less rightly-placed. And by the time the actual season does arrive, we’re over it before it’s barely begun.
The best way to burn out on Christmas is to say no to Advent’s polite request to slow down and wait just a bit. Bingeing on Christmas now is scarfing down Buddy’s spaghetti covered with syrup and candy. Leaning into Advent is sipping a mulled cider and nibbling on a square of fudge.
Neglecting Advent is a key ingredient for making Grinches of us all, and believe me, I’ve been there. A few more ingredients:
A cup-full of every Christmas movie on your list, all watched by December 15.
A sprinkling of non-stop jingle-bell-y music ad nauseam in the background.
A quart of gift shopping with no pre-determined limit that tells you when you’re finished.
Many tablespoon-fulls of an abundantly festive activity — gingerbread houses/cookie decorating/construction paper Santas/[insert holiday activity here] — every. single. day. in December.
A pound of elaborate meals served several times each week of December, leaving no room to feel any semblance of rightly-ordered lack that comes from waiting on the feast.
Absolutely ZERO time or space to personally reflect on the significance of God incarnate come to us on earth, be it via reading, prayer, journaling, daily walks, or what have you.
Christmas is special because it’s rare. It’s not daily from Thanksgiving to the 25th. To keep it rare, we need to keep it in its rightful place. I think we could all safely assume there’s wisdom in the liturgical calendar, seeing as it’s been the way millions before us have counted time for centuries. To misquote Dr. Grant, just because we can celebrate Christmas nonstop in our current culture doesn’t mean we should.
If you love Christmas, as I do, then lean into the current season of Advent more than Christmas for the next few weeks. Christmas will get here soon enough, and then it’s TWELVE WHOLE DAYS. Twelve! From December 25 to January 5, we can delight in treats, play games, enjoy family and friends, and let it culminate in a Twelfth Night celebration, followed by Epiphany. It’s a gift given to us. Just like eating dinner before that rich dessert, a bit of Advent first makes that Christmastide absolutely delicious.
In addition to the Shadow & Light playlist that accompanies my book, this week I created an Advent in the Background playlist, for when it’s not yet time for all-out Christmas music but you still want to feel festive as you go about your day:
In the next few weeks, I’ll share with you our December periodical, what I read in 2022 (it was a good year for me in that department!), along with my overall year-end thoughts, plus an essay I have simmering for January about how we moderns should think about the future more like our ancestors did. I’ve also got a little annual gift I love sharing with y’all, as a thank you for your support — and then I’ll be off to enjoy the holidays! I can hardly believe it’s time for all this, but here it is.
Have a blessed first week of Advent!
“Leaning into Advent is sipping a mulled cider and nibbling on a square of fudge.”
What a timely and beautiful message. Thank you!
The Advent Background playlist is heavenly. Listening right now as I make my grocery pickup order. Thank you for compiling it!