The season of Advent is the dinner guest who consistently (unexpectedly) arrives ten minutes early. There we are still licking the turkey off our fingers and finishing the Thanksgiving stuffing when the first Sunday of Advent is upon us unrelenting. I suppose this is a uniquely American dilemma. But alas here I am, as American as they come, and the third Sunday of Advent is on its way to the door.
I’m still trying to get the Advent “feel” down. Advent is not like Epiphany, Lent, Easter, or Trinity seasons which seem to have decided personalities. I know what Advent leads to, I know that all the lights and gifts mean something. But I feel almost joy, a bit of sorrow, nearly hope. Expectation is a word often used to describe Advent. It’s the Old Testament in a month, like Greek in a week. It’s an explosion in slow motion climaxing with a fury of wrapping paper on Christmas morning. My dog, Porter, doesn’t even know how to feel about this whole tree business. Occasionally he’s sympathetic lying near it, gnawing at his favorite cow femur. But other days he’s outright antagonistic lunging into the Douglas Fir and coming away with a mouthful of needles and ornaments. I have to tell him ‘no’, but I understand his confusion.
Historically speaking, I understand that our season of Advent is the result of the collision of celebrations in northern and southern Europe. It was in Gaul where the season began as early as the beginning of November (St. Martins on the 11th usually) with a decidedly penitential character. It was a preparatory season, akin to our modern Lent, but it went under the title Quadragesima Sancti Martini which means something like “after this, we get to drink martinis.” In the south, however, the mood was quite festive and was limited to the four weeks prior to the Nativity. Apparently, the Gallic Church began its celebrations as early as the Third century, while the Roman Church didn’t have an organized tradition until the sixth century. At any rate, by the eighth century the differences in celebration were enough to cause a bit of tension, such that a compromise was struck over the course of the next few centuries, and the four week calendar was adopted from the Roman celebration along with the Roman liturgy, but from the Gallic Church a more penitential observance was added.
This, I would suggest, justifies my inability to come down on the Advent Aroma, the right feel so to speak. Historically, it simply is a time of deep expectation, almost joy, near hope, not quite sorrow. Related to this is also the fact that husbands have never wanted to have more than a full month dedicated to shopping and Christmas music.
So in the spirit of the Advent Season, a season of compromise and colliding ideals, we’re seeking to celebrate with those very things in mind. My wife comes from a family that put the tree up and turned the lights on as soon as the last bite of Thanksgiving dinner is off the plate. I come from a family that put the tree up and maybe hung lights on Christmas Eve. We probably did it on Christmas day a few times but I don’t remember; I’m scarred and I’m repressing childhood memories. But the short of it is that we’re trying to celebrate gradually. We put the tree up for the first Sunday of Advent, but we’re adding decorations as we go along. Lights will go up this week, gifts come out on the last Sunday. It adds a little drama to our lives and really makes us long for when we can put the next bits up, but nevertheless something wild and amazing is certainly in the works. I’m enjoying it, but by far the most enthusiastic supporter is the wee Sumpter. I can tell by the way my wife eats.