In recent years, advent calendars have become big business, another way to get shoppers to spend money before Christmas. However, Advent is a season in and of itself designed to help us prepare for Christmas by embracing the act of waiting.
Over the next 24 days we hope you'll join us as we share songs, thoughts and activities that may help you prepare.
This song is traditionally sung in churches on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. We'll also be sharing a verse or two each week. This was recorded in Haverhill, MA with my parents. Like all good things, it's simple and imperfect. Enjoy!
I have always liked Advent--Lent too. The liminal stretches of time allowed for anticipation, preparation and reflection. I've been frustrated by the way Christmas has taken over November and December and then is boxed up by the 26th to make room for sales and returns.
When I was young, my parents and grandparents made us sit at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning. While they made coffee we'd sit and sing carols ready to burst from excitement. Once we were allowed to come down, the joy of finally seeing the tree and what lay beneath was exquisite. There is beauty in waiting and hoping and anticipating.
For me, Advent gives Christmas its magic. When Robbie and I were thinking about the holidays, at some point I said I want to do a musical Advent calendar. Our Advent calendar is an offering to you. Each day we'll share a song a reflection and activity or craft to help you savor the season of preparation.
The celebration of advent goes back at least to the middle ages, when the bleak darkness of winter must have seemed unending and the anticipation of the coming solstice or nascent Christmastide celebrations must have been as exciting as it is today. We look forward to the holidays because of the light that we know is coming. It is important to also be aware of the dark, so that we can truly appreciate the light.
Five years ago today was the darkest day of my life. It started out well, I helped to bring a little light into a correctional facility, but at home, I walked into a nightmare of violence. In those moments, I felt completely alone in the dark, certain that light would never shine again.
Over the following weeks, my family and friends surrounded me with their love, and their light permeated my darkness, like distant starlight. As I rebuilt my life, their light continued to shine and eventually, my own light began to flicker again.
That period of deep darkness taught me that no matter how dark the night, light will always break through.
If you're feeling the darkness this time of year, know that you're not alone. If you have an abundance of light, be a beacon of love and hope.
One of the challenges of the holiday season is balancing hope against unrealistic expectations. Hope is important. The season is all about the promise of good things to come, but so often the weight of the “shoulds” and the “if onlys” drags on on us all.
According to TV movies and commercials, holiday success is all about finding the perfect present, purchasing the perfect décor and magically falling into the arms of the gorgeous linebacker from high school who finally realizes they adore you.The expectations can get overwhelming and suck the joy out of the holidays.
For me, the beauty of the season comes from the notion that wondrous things are possible in imperfect places. Free yourself from the expectations of perfection and make room for truly transformative, joyful things to happen.
When I was in third grade, and already a full blown diva, someone else got the solo for the holiday concert. The song was “I’ll be home for Christmas.” I was pretty put out about it and taught myself the solo in case she got laryngitis. She stayed healthy and did a passable enough job, but to my ears she lacked the finesse I knew I could bring.
As a kid who had already moved a couple of times, I was deeply moved by the pain of being far from loved ones, and knew that I could have moved grown ups to tears with my 8 year old longing. I was, and remain, more petty than I care to admit.
As an adult, I have had the great, humbling, responsibility of providing food and gifts to people who won’t be home for the holidays because of homelessness, poverty or immigration status. During the years of loving someone behind bars, I thought the pain of separation would break me. I thought about eight year old me, and how little she knew about anything.
This song is a wish, a desire to feel wrapped up in love and comfort. It’s a lie wrapped in a dream. It makes me feel incredibly grateful for the people in my life who make me feel at home and reminds me that there are so many people who need our love and comfort all year round, but especially at this time of year when images of happy homes are everywhere and a sense of home can feel a million miles away.
Think of someone or something that reminds you of home.
Write a list of specific things associated with your subject. The gift is one of your attention, it's less about judgment and more about observation. "My cat takes turns sitting in every window."
String your lines together with appreciation and gratitude. Add doses of love and humor. They are one of a kind! This is why I'm glad they're here!
Give your poem to your recipient in a creative way; in the case of a cat or dog or hamster, you can read the poem to them in their language.
I had a plan. The plan was this: 1. Make stamps from stuff around the house 2. Make cool Christmas cards 3. Write eloquent reflection about how fun and awesome it is to make something unique 4. Sing White Christmas 5. Go to bed before one a.m.
The plan fell apart at stage one when I attempted to turn a Dunkin styrofoam cup into an ink stamp. Mostly I made a mess. (Pics below). Then my back started doing something weird and I was grumpier than I wanted to be, but I remained determined that the show must go on.
The result of my plan is a day without an activity and the silliest recording of White Christmas ever. And I'm really satisfied with all of it. Somehow the past few days of making this calendar is actually helping me be a little less anxious about… everything.
Just taking the time to create and play and reflect has started to change my approach to the season. I don't know if it will last, but I'm grateful to all of you who are cheering us on in this endeavor. I hope you're having some fun with it too.
In honor of making it to day seven without tears or giving up, I'm going to roll the reflection and the activity into one because, well, I'm sleepy.
Yesterday was our first holiday party of the season and took place in a new place for both of us. The previous night I had anxiety dreams, mostly featuring mean girls from high school and similar motifs. I woke up and realized just how nervous I was, so I went to the dollar store.
The white elephant gift exchange, known to some as a yankee swap, is one of my favorite holiday traditions, not because of what I might get, but for the thrill of bringing a gift worth stealing. There is something about seeing the thing I brought become desirable that makes me giddy.
You'll see what I came up with in the image gallery below, but for me the takeaway is, as my dear husband is fond of saying, "it's all about what you give."
It turned out that we had a blast at the holiday party and shared in the warm vibe and good conversations. There's something affirming in doing your best and showing up even when it's scary. My anxieties are rarely matched with reality.