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Advent is Not Christmas

Advent Wreath

I never tire of saying that  I am most thankful to Waldorf Education for allowing me a different understanding of the Christian festivals.  I feel this most during Advent when everyone is in crazy Christmas mode that has everything to do with external pressure, and very little to do with what we truly yearn for.  The Advent I have come to know through all my years as a Waldorf mom is a great counterweight to all the outer insanity– if we consciously make it so.

Christmas in September drives me mad and I’m dismayed that my children are growing up in a country where Christmas is so prematurely and commercially celebrated. It’s ridiculous to have Christmas come in September, pause for Halloween, then resume almost the day after, in November.  But because Advent is a tradition that is alive and well in my home, I know that I am at least offering my kids a different picture–a slower, kinder rhythm, and a view that is inwardly richer.

My Christmas tree is not up. I have no Christmas anything adorning my home. It is not yet Christmas after all. Every Friday I join a group of parents who have decided to get together to do a little Eurythmy, singing, and a sharing of experiences that will hopefully enrich our personal Advent spaces, so that we can return to our families enlivened rather than depleted and harassed. We recognize that it is our inner life that needs nourishing during this time, so that we can better serve our families.

In our home we are on the journey towards Christmas. We take Advent seriously. We strive to honor the seasons and what they mean, even though I am aware that my understanding of the great mystery of the birth is not quite complete. It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that each year I work towards understanding more, not just by reading, but by engaging my senses in the practice of welcoming Advent and walking through the extra sheath of darkness it brings.

The first candle on our wreath has been lit. Last night, we read the second story out of our favorite Advent book, “The Light in the Lantern”.  This is a book that has accompanied us for over a decade and we all look forward to reliving the stories each year.  Tonight, we are set to read the third.  It is the first week of Advent and the stories center around the mineral kingdom.  On our nativity table, a few stones and a shell grace our dark blue cloth. That is all.  Next week, plants will begin to appear on the table, and perhaps the Christmas tree. It will remain unadorned until the 24th, the beginning of Christmas. On the third week, animals will begin to appear. The stories in our Advent story book will support this theme.  On the fourth week, the shepherds, then Mary and Joseph, and on the morning of the 25th, the Christ Child at last.  On this day, our nativity table will be complete and the children will see that the time for opening presents, for celebrating in full, is upon us.

I know I’ve painted a seemingly impossible picture, but that’s because I have not yet described the polarity, which also happens in my home.  I am not immune to the demands of the outer world and certainly have not been able to turn my back on the gift-giving. I strive to give simpler, more relevant gifts, and each year feel that I have somehow failed. On my desk is a hard copy of a Christmas list where gifts for each person are meticulously written. On the shelves are presents waiting to be wrapped and delivered. On my floor is a box I take out yearly, which contains ribbons, stickers, cards and other Christmas effects. The chaos is here as well. On the one hand there is the peaceful, more inward gesture of our Advent at home, and on another there is the external activity. Each year I strive towards balance and I am thankful that I have the more internal, quieter path to ground me.

In all my years of celebrating Advent, it is this quiet path that sustains me. It is from there I am able to draw more breath.  As I gather my family around the wreath, hear their violins and voices (both angelic and teenage-broken), relive stories we have heard each year, I am forced to pause and be quiet, to put everything in perspective.  The door to my chaotic study is closed, the lights are dimmed. We enter another world.

My hope for you is a similar space of quiet, carved out with intention.  On the one hand, there is much to be done.  On the other, it is not quite time.

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