I sat down to write a little message, which was simply going to say what I had posted on my Instagram account yesterday, 1st December 2017:
Wishing everyone a very happy Advent season
and then it seemed to me that more needed to be written besides these few words. I became mindful that so many of us wish to have a “happy Advent”, yet for many it is a time of year that is anything but that.
A couple of years ago I wrote an article on The Holly Tree Tales entitled “A Moment Before Christmas” (which can be found by clicking here), where I wrote at some length my thoughts on the meaning of Christmas, about some of what we were doing in our home, and the challenges that some face at this time of year. Now, as I had expected to convey merely the briefest of cheery greetings today, I find myself contemplating instead some of the challenges that go with the entire period that leads up to Christmas Day, mixed in with the blessings and partying for some that this time of year brings.
Sometimes I wonder at how sensitively I feel these things, instead of charging forward unthinkingly into the ‘festive’ frenzy, and how the awareness can even be a burden. Yet I know, too, that we need to be open to the move of the spirit in our lives, and not wear an outer garment of rhinoceros hide all the time. Knowing full well the feeling of anxiety and despair that many people experience at the thought of another year of festive shenanigans going on all around them, while they bravely watch on or try their best to participate in, I think it would be trite to merely gloss over the awareness, by wishing everyone a happy Advent, when for some it simply will not be!
Since the last week in November, Christmas mail has been appearing in the basket in our home’s outer hallway, delivered by a Royal Mail Postman in a little red van. With the arrival of each festive envelope, I wonder at how organised everyone seems! I bought our carefully selected Christmas cards (from the National Trust this year) a couple of months ago, which I thought was good planning, but know that I shall be lucky to have our family’s cards posted by the second week in December … my goal always to have them away before my birthday on the 11th, two weeks exactly before Christmas Day. I know, in fact, that it is more than likely they will still be being posted right up until the end of the week before the Christmas weekend.
Each year of late, I have stopped to ask myself: must we send Christmas cards this year? Is it not a waste of resources and energy and forests, even usurping the busy, tired Postman’s time? Could the money for cards and stamps, let alone all the time spent in hand writing them, not be better placed elsewhere? And then I remember the sense of joy one feels when one seals each envelope, the pleasure as one writes out each card, thinking of the recipient each time, wondering at the year that they have just lived. The pleasure in writing and imagining the person whom one is writing to, perhaps far outweighs even the pleasure one experiences with the careful placement of each card received. When I feel a sense of guilt or apprehension at not being able to write to everyone or not being able to answer every card received, I imagine the pleasure of the writer and hope that that will somehow suffice. I wish there were rules to follow at these times!
Some choose consciously to avoid sending out any cards at all, but I have come to realise that this is part of the ‘magic’ of the Christmas / Advent season for me and that, to set it aside, would be to remove one consciously pleasurable and ‘giving’ part of the season itself. I have always enjoyed sending Christmas cards, but nowadays have realised that it really is not possible to send cards to all those whom I would like to, as there simply is not enough time. Life is full and life has been challenging again this year, but I shall make the time and I shall enjoy sending a few cards, hopefully to reach those they’re sent to in good time for Christmas or, at least, the New Year. Every card received will be given pride of place and appreciated in our home, while we are together for the season, in between commitments elsewhere.
It is a tradition I have instilled in our family to give each of my children, and sometimes others’ children too, an Advent Calender each year. Although my children are now grown, they still enjoy opening the little windows, from the first of the month of December, right up until the morning of Christmas Eve. We do not have lavish Christmasses and we do not completely ‘deck the halls in boughs of holly’, but we do stick to some of the small traditions that are recognisable as being “British / European Christmas” and we do love to have naturalness in our home … always a fresh and fragrant evergreen tree … which waits until after my birthday, usually, before we install it in our home. The tree is kept fairly simple, sometimes we hardly decorate it beyond a few lights and baubles, and is usually taken down around the sixth of January … returned to the soil eventually, in a variety of ways.
During some Advent times (not every year) since my children were little, we have had the full Advent candle display in our home – a fresh evergreen wreath and four red candles – but this year I am keeping it very simple indeed: a single large beeswax candle, surrounded by holly sprigs sits on our dining table, a beautiful little display. The message is one of pared back truth and simple humility, symbolism laid bare, no frills.
While I write, my daughter is singing in the warm kitchen, accompanied by twinkly fairy lights lit in the windows and a Christmas carols CD playing in the background, happily creating a lovely, fresh evergreen wreath for our front door. Each element of the wreath has been carefully chosen and picked from the garden ~ holly, ivy, conifer, spruce, yew ~ all tied with the simplest garden twine. With the cold temperatures, the wreath will stay fresh well into the Advent season and beyond, and will eventually find itself on a blazing log fire sometime later in the New Year. The earthy, Christmassy smells emanating from the kitchen are divine … I have not yet made my first simmering pot of the season, which I concoct with a selection of saved dried citrus peel, cinnamon bark, cloves, bay and whatever else takes my fancy at the time … it will happen perhaps closer to Christmas itself.
There is much to do in these weeks leading up to Christmas, the Advent of the remembrance day of the birth of the Christ Child himself, and some will be busy while some wish they were. I am mindful of that. Despite a vast work load and many tasks yet to accomplish before this year is through, I am deeply grateful for each moment and for the pleasure that being able to celebrate Advent and Christmas brings. We have had heartache this year, we have loved ones who are suffering, many friends and loved ones who are grieving, many projects to complete and clarity to find, but we have now and we have each moment within which to be thankful for life itself.
My son has just walked into the room where I am writing, warmed by a crackling log fire, two hotwater bottles, and heating … (yes, I feel the cold … and I thank God that I have a roof over my head, when so many don’t). As I looked into his eyes, I saw there the love and the strength that has been instilled in him, feeling grateful that my children are whom they have turned out to be. As my tall son offered me a musk stick, a little treat brought back with him from Australia during his gap year travels some months back, I thought how lucky I am. It is lovely to have him home, even for the weekend – a mini break from his university journey, which takes place a couple of hours’ away. It is good to have my children with me, it is good to see them thriving, it is good to be filling our home with studious vibrations at the same time as simple festive cheer permeates the atmosphere.
And so, I would like to wish everyone a happy Advent season, in the hope that yours will be mindful and it will be good, that it will be solid and it will be peaceful, that it will be strategic and it will be expectant in every positive way. Please give a thought to those not as fortunate and to those whose sadness is stifling their joy and, if you pray, please pray for those who are hurting at this time of year. I know that the Christ Child, the One for whom Christmas is named, would like us all to consider the Advent Season a time to reach out to others and to see how we might do the spreading of the good news in mindful and practical ways, being the hands on earth that the spiritual world cannot be and that our fellow man needs us to perform.
Wishing everyone a very happy Advent season, in every mindful and beautiful way.
In Peace and evergreen Love,