At our house, we celebrate Advent as its own season. We move the pieces or open the windows on a few Advent calendars. We also continue the tradition of reading from the Advent storybook I had as a kid. It's a Little Golden Book, and all sensibility would say all the kids and certainly the grown ones are way, way too old for such a thing. The book comes with a paperboard calendar in which you open a window each day to reveal a small picture. December 1 is a dark cloud, because the Prophet Isaiah predicted a time of darkness before the light came into the world because unto us a son would be born.
Further on, the calendar has a picture of a bunch of grapes, because the story says grapes were hanging heavy on the vine waiting for the prophecy of Christ's birth.
Out in the world, children are obviously waiting for the magic and wonder of Christmas to come. Will we see the good cousins over vacation? Will there be enough snow for sledding without it growing wet, sloppy and muddy?
I'm waiting for the rush and busyness of my work to slow down, for the play (mark Feb. 17 on your calendars) to start coming together, so I can enjoy the season and bring in the new year with my loved ones. I'm waiting for the day after Thanksgiving so we can start playing Christmas music at home. We have to wait, because I laid down this law years ago that Christmas music and decorations happen only between Friday after Thanksgiving and January 6, the day of Epiphany. Okay, maybe Epiphany Sunday if it's a couple of days later. But that's it.
Last year, I broke the spell of what I feel is a terrible, maudlin song, "The Christmas Shoes." My mom is no longer on earth, and she loved shoe shopping. While watching the movie with Rob Lowe helped a little, it's still a sore point with me, but I?don't tear up anymore. It's just a song.
As with music throughout the year, my favorite at any time depends upon my mood, and I believe that's a common thing. For when I'm looking at the Christmas lights, allowing the awe and wonder of the season to sink in, I like a lot of things from Mannheim Steamroller: "Still, still, still," the more peppy "Joy to the World," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Allison Krauss does a haunting version of, "In the Bleak Midwinter," I found on YouTube. Also on my video playlist is the end of the "Charlie Brown Christmas" when they all sing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" around Charlie's little tree. When I'm missing people and need to cheer up, Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is coming to town" is fantastic. The last few years, I've discovered the Stanley Brothers on YouTube. They are actually three brothers and their sister, and their quartet did a version of "The Friendly Beasts" that includes a nerd, all pasty and white, that cracks me up every time. The Stanley Brothers have also teamed up with some other sibling musical groups to make a fantastic big band performance of "Rudolph, the red-nosed Reindeer." If I had to name my all-time favorite Christmas carol, it has to be "The First Noel." If you want to weigh in on favorite Christmas music, comment here or email me.
I'm also waiting to attend the upcoming beautiful holiday events, to taste/inspect any baked goods and other treats for which you need a discerning opinion (call me!) and to still be part of thrilling my children, nieces and nephews and other loved ones with at least one or two of the desires of their hearts.
Last year, the kids said they would rather have us get something that benefits the whole family instead of trying to get them the gadget or game they want with the right settings and specs. The teen has, in all his humanity, waffled on that a bit, saying, "Well...I?mean I'd still like some things of course."
We are going to start a newer tradition called Advent Conspiracy. There are videos on YouTube to explain more, but it basically talks about how you can make a real difference in the world by spending somewhat less on gifts and decorations and swag at Christmas, to free up a few more dollars for giving. I have given once to my brother's cause of feeding hundreds of homeless on Thanksgiving Day in Des Moines through his restaurants.
I will give again, and hope everyone will consider planning a charitable gift or two on Giving Tuesday coming up. If we're going to dream of Peace on Earth, which seems very hard to do in these times, I think it starts with having a generous heart.
I hope you found a lot to be thankful for and that you still believe in the wonder of the season.