I’ve long been a lover of all things Christmas, and that’s why I have loved, and continue to love, the month of December. Right after Halloween, my mind begins to spin with excitement and the thought of preparation: preparing the feast, the home with sparkly décor, preparing the gifts by wrapping them in silky ribbons, all done with love and warmth. I gravitate toward holiday glitz like a moth to flame: sequined dresses (and this year, UGGs!). Twinkle lights! Glittery ornaments! The actual arrival of Christmas is sometimes less thrilling than the preparation for it, but even with that in mind, my heart still belongs to this season.
Only when I became aware of the season of Advent did the word “preparation” take on a new meaning. In my family, Advent meant counting down the days until Christmas with a special calendar; each day a little door was opened on the calendar to reveal a Hershey’s Kiss. It was sweet. The season of Advent, in reality, is not so sweet at first glance: it’s preparing for the birth of Jesus (the light) with small observances in the darkness. These observances aren’t flashy and glittery. We notice the darkness, which is necessary to see the light. We light some candles, say a few hushed prayers, and stand shakily in our Advent faith, hoping that the light will return. We stay close to our friends. We don’t have certainty about much, and we worry about our weird families getting along and about money and traveling.
The writer Anne Lamott says this about Advent: “[W]e have to sit in our own anxiety and funkiness long enough to know what a Promised Land would be like, or, to put it another way, what it means to be saved—which, if we are to believe Jesus or Gandhi, specifically means to see everyone on Earth as family…But meanwhile, in Advent, we show up when we are needed; we try to help, we prepare for an end to the despair. And we do this together.”
So the focus for December is to light a candle, sit in stillness (and darkness), and just be present, for as long as possible, and wait. Sounds a lot less glamorous than the sweatered, picture perfect Christmas seasons of childhood. In this way, though, just maybe, we can wait for the light together, and after a few weeks of wallowing in darkness, we’ll be ready to receive the sweetness of light. Together.