Preparing for Christmas

The south end of our living room is a bump out with four windows, a narrow sunbathed section we use for homeschooling, lining 100-year-old desks in a row. To the right of this section is the front door and porch, on which one of the windows overlooks. Yesterday, on that porch, with a rusty, undersized hammer, I stood on top of a child’s step stool and pounded nails into the wood, then hung thick Christmas garland from the awning and posts of the porch, swagging it across the top. Today I hung a silver star from the center.

Christmas garland

Little by little, I decorate the house for Christmas.

Advent is four weeks long. Time enough. I meet people or hear about people whose husband’s insist they wait until just before Christmas, so as not to mix up the time of preparation for the time of festivity. I encounter people who decorate the day after Thanksgiving, who argue Christmas begins December 1, and who would like to make the case that Christmas trees should be year-round, evergreen if you will.

As I place an artificial tree on a shelf, I remember the year I arranged every Christmas decoration we owned the day after Thanksgiving because there was no telling how much we’d be home that year of hospital stays. Contemplating the debate of when to decorate, I shrug my shoulders and go back to my boxes, gently unpacking, tenderly remembering the stories behind the decor.

Today, in “Seeking God’s Face” by Josef Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), I read

“Perhaps we ought to celebrate Advent by allowing the signs of this special time to penetrate freely into our hearts without resisting them in any way. We should also perhaps let ourselves be made warm by them without asking difficult questions and then, full of trust, accept the immeasurable goodness of the Child who made the mountains and hills sing and transformed the trees of the wood into a song of praise.”

So let’s do it. The early longing for lights and flavors and nostalgia hearken to a longing deep inside us for something beautiful, something transcendent that surpasses the cares of today. Don’t do it so much that you’re tired of it by the time Christmas comes, that is, on December 25, but just enough.

Go slowly.

Savor the time of Christmas preparation.

Shop in person.

Locally. With a friend. And hot apple cider. Have your shopping list, a list of people you are shopping for and see what you find, serendipitously.

Listen to the music you like.

Seasonal does not have to mean the same thing for everyone. Some of my friends are listening to Handel’s Messiah. We’re listening to the Christmas albums by Big Bag Voodoo Daddy and singing old-school Advent and Christmas hymns.

Find some traditional recipes, either traditional from your family or your culture or different culture that you’re drawn to. We make Russian Tea Cakes, also called Mexican Wedding Cakes, gingerbread cookies, and Spritz.

Craft.

No kids in the home? No matter! Here are some simple projects.

Dehydrate some oranges in the oven or a dehydrator.

Poke ‘em with a needle and thread and hang them on the tree or garland. Discard after the season. My children would say you can eat these at the end of the season, too. I leave that to your judgment.

Collect pine cones.

Set out. Get fancy and spray paint with a little gold or silver for a flourish.

Paint a walnut gold.

Walnuts ready for a Christmas craft

Hot glue a loop of twine to the top. Hang from the tree or garland. You can save, eat or discard at the end of the season.

Christmas tree with painted walnut ornaments

This year we’re planning to add painted wood ornaments to the mix.

After talking with an artist at the Carnegie Arts Center Artisan Market last month, I have an idea for painting “ornaments” on circular disks of wood.

Use evergreens.

You can get free evergreens from Christmas tree lots and make your own wreaths or garland. Tie them together with green florist wire. Garnish with foraged greenery or wintry berries (also ask permission if it isn’t your house).

Advent wreath with collected greens

There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to it all unless you’re drained of joy because of the muchness of the Christmas season.

The dark emotions of sadness, grief, and loneliness, can also be present, even in moments of joy. The joy possible in this season is not a fluffy sort of happiness, but the lasting kind that has the power to withstand human suffering. Remember the Christmas truce. Remember the stories you have heard. Remember the original story that started it all.

And have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.