One of the nice things about this 40 Days of Blogging exercise is that it is emphatically an Advent rather than Christmas project. We in the US have completely lost the handle on the whole Advent season leads up to Christmas/Christmas season is the 12 days from Christmas Eve to Epiphany thing, in a way that we, especially Orthodox Christians, have not with Easter. Lent and the Easter season are very well delineated in Orthodox America, and I think we do a good job of keeping and respecting the difference in the two. Christmas is much tougher, in part because the dominant culture is really stacked against us on this one, and I don’t see much changing there. The dominant culture, in this case, is a weird mix of Christmas music (never called that, of course) being played in early November, stressful “holiday” parties, and a grotesque orgy of gift-giving (friend Huw refers to American Christmas in practice as Consumptionmas).
I myself play into this, to some extent. We put our tree up the week before Christmas rather than Christmas eve. I enjoy hearing Christmas music on the oldies station starting in mid-December (on the other hand, I do not enjoy listening to Silver Bells and other classics during nice indian summer November days.) I fast but also attend “holiday” (cringe) parties throughout December. It is very hard to observe the advent season in this cultural environment but there are some coping mechanisms:
-“Degiftify”. I am tired of hearing people (usually women, because everything falls on them) saying “I hate Christmas” due to the pressure they and others put on them. We think we have to buy gifts for every single family member and friend. How stressful, and how unnecessary! Most Christmas gifts are not truly appreciated. Remove yourself from the process, and instead buy (or better, make) gifts for people at random times throughout the year. Also…
-Don’t kill yourself hosting a family Christmas party. You do not have to make six sheets of baklava, cook two hams, have a gazillion appetizers, whatever. At every Christmas gathering I have ever attended, there have been three consistent happenings: everyone gets stuffed on appetizers, everyone gorges on dessert, and there are tons of leftovers. This is in the Advent, or even Christmas, spirit?
-Use the Advent period as a time of reflection and joyful anticipation. There is nothing wrong with listening to Christmas music and enjoying the other stuff that comes with the season. But read some scripture. Attend the special services. Make the 12 days of Christmas count. Reach out to relatives you haven’t talked to or people with whom you have quarreled. This is all doable.