In my family, food is love. When I was a child, the holiday abundance was quite unlike any other time of year – bowls of chocolates sprinkled around the house, platters of spritz and fudge and peanut butter blossoms on every table. We baked for days, then piled up the proceeds in a shaky tower of tupperware in the back porch.
The weeks preceding Christmas were a blur of visits from friends and family, finding gifts for the mailman and the milkman – usually peanuts, popcorn or other edibles – and preparing for the Christmas Eve feast.
Although our family was very religious, we didn’t really observe Advent. I vaguely recall an Edwardian pop-up Advent calendar (a memory jostled to the surface by a similar item in a holiday catalog), but that was about it. We put our tree up early, and we (children) thought it something of an oddity, or at least a shame, that the fir trees in the front of church were naked until Christmas.
As I’ve gotten older, the Victorian-style Christmas, where the tree, filled stockings and gifts all show up on Christmas morning, has grown increasingly unfathomable. The retail sector, intent on luring holiday shoppers, is now abutting Thanksgiving with Black Friday sales (“starting Thursday,” they carefully word it), and trees are lit in stores before Halloween arrives.
Now, I’m no grinch. I love a bright, cheery display, aisles lined with ornaments and all the dazzle of the season. I’ll never be self-disciplined enough to wait until Christmas to put up my tree. But the trouble with so much feasting – of the eye, of the body – is the fatigue. One forgets to be grateful. The extraordinary becomes ordinary. Contrast with everyday life is lost.
Without fasting, what is feasting? Overindulgence. Too much to eat.
I’m thinking about Advent this year because our son, an energetic 10-month-old, will be celebrating his first Christmas. It’s a time of intense preparation because we are restoring our 126-year-old home, which definitely isn’t childproof, and trying to wrap up our current project (the entryway), so we can take the holidays off.
So no, as of mid-December, the tree isn’t up. There is no holiday décor. The cards are starting to pile up on the dining room table, and the little doors popped open on the Advent calendar are the only true signs of the season.
Worse yet (to my husband’s mind), I’ve instituted the Draper Family Diet, which is a fancy way of saying I’ll be cooking with more vegetables until Christmas, and he doesn’t get to complain about it. Mostly, this was a response to the rampant overindulgence of Thanksgiving weekend, and a desire to actually be hungry when Christmas feasting commences.
So, there you have it. With the postponement of decorating, baking and overeating, I guess we’re observing Advent.
It’s not so bad, really. Pretty relaxed. It’s a treat to see the lights when I’m out driving at night, and when the tree finally goes up, our home will be transformed.
It does a funny thing to the mind, too, this waiting. Rather than racing around and grumbling about crowds, we are still. Peaceful. And when Christmas finally arrives, we will hopefully not feel rushed, or tired, or frustrated. We will be ready for the babe in the manger, the food, the family, and that warm, loving holiday glow.
From our family to yours, best wishes for a blessed Christmas and a bountiful New Year!