On one hand, the Christmas season seems way too long to me. I think I saw the first red and green displays hit the stores the day before Halloween. On the other hand, the Christmas season seems way too short. While the ritual of holiday shopping has lengthened, other more spiritually grounding holiday rituals are often shortened, if not gotten rid of altogether.
Christmas is about more than one day of celebration, instant gratification, and presents. The Christmas Season is also about tending the fires of long held, as-of-yet unfulfilled hopes. It is about longing and anticipation and waiting. For some observant Christians, the Christmas Season lasts 40 days! It begins with Advent on the Sunday following Thanksgiving and continues past Christmas Day all the way to Epiphany on January 6th. Advent begins with the Angel Gabriel announcing to a shocked, young teenager, Maryam that she will give birth to a child destined to change the course of history. Christmas Day is the day that Jesus is born in a simple stable, and the Epiphany is the day the three kings finally arrive to celebrate his birth. In some cultures, children must wait to open their presents all the way until the fortieth day.
Advent provides us with rituals to help us learn how to move through a season of darkness and challenge while holding onto hope that light and joy will return. Two practices are the weekly lighting of the Advent Wreath and the daily opening of Advent Calendars. The Advent Wreath has four candles, and on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas one more candle is lit. The four candles represent the light of hope, love, joy, and peace. Advent Calendars are usually cardstock calendars with an image of a winter scene with 24 or 25 tiny doors that you open each day beginning December 1st. Children and adults alike look forward to discovering the amusing picture or the small piece of chocolate behind each door. When I was growing up we had a felt Advent Calendar made by one of our neighbors that was of a giant pine tree with 24 metals hooks, and every morning we hung another felt ornament on the tree. Although, as a child I was anticipating a day of presents, as an adult looking back I remember that Advent Calendar better than any presents I received.
Many of us need spiritual practices that speak to this truth: Where we find ourselves at this moment in time in our lives and in our collective history is still far from what we hope will be the end of the story. Advent practices companion us in our attentive waiting for something new to be born and in our active preparations for love, joy, and peace to have more room than they do today. So, this year, instead of one day, I invite you to turn Christmas into a season of daily practices that open the doors of your heart.