We had a good time at my sister's for Thanksgiving. It was the first major holiday without Dad. It wasn't this deep melancholy thing; in fact, my brother, who is the executor of Dad's estate, brought some of the last of Dad's things to have us sort through, and take what we wanted. I took an old tie-tack of Dad's, that was a 'working' pair of square gears. It was very emblematic of Dad, and something an engineer like me can appreciate.
My sister is in the process of a divorce from her husband of 31 years (they were married the same summer as Jen and me). So, for her sake, it was probably good to have some company to fill her house for the holiday; and filling houses is something our family excels at. . .
Alas, the Lions lost, and the less said about that, the better, probably. . .
But my Spartans finished their second consecutive football season with double-digit wins, something that's never been done before in school history (although, to be perfectly fair, our best teams, back in the 50s and 60s, only played nine or ten games, so double-digit seasons were a little harder to come by. . .)
We got to spend some time with our grandchildren and their parents yesterday evening, and had a really warm, wonderful time together. Some really fine kids, being raised really well, there. . .
We've had a surplus of warm (albeit windy) Saturdays this November. So, the 30 miles I rode yesterday brought me to a total of 1388 for the year. If I can get in one ride in December (which I haven't done in fifteen years or so), I'll sneak past 1400 again. Wish me luck. . .
OK, then. . . on to the main event. . .
This next is a re-post of something I wrote back in 2006 (and re-posted again last year. Who knows? Maybe this will end up being a Tradition around here. . .)
At any rate, 'tis the season. . . And while I'm at it, I'll give a shout-out to my good friend Suldog, whose 'Thanksgiving Comes First' campaign against premature Christmas-y-ness partially inspired my dredging this up from the archives. . .
In our culture, the Friday after Thanksgiving marks the more-or-less 'official' beginning of the commercial season of 'Christmas', with the sales, the extended hours at the malls, special advertisements, etc., etc (although, honestly, the stores have been in 'Christmas mode' pretty much since they took down the Halloween stuff; maybe even before that). It's what much, if not most, of our culture thinks of when they think of 'Christmas', but less and less does it have any discernible connection with the actual content and meaning of Christmas.
One time I was visiting family in a large, midwestern city over Thanksgiving, and the following day, the local TV news had several reporters on site at various malls, doing interviews with shoppers. They asked one guy what the 'true meaning of Christmas' was, and he said, "We gotta get out here and spend money to keep the economy going strong." I am not making this up; he actually said that.
I sometimes wish that they would come up with a different name for the year-end consumerist feeding-frenzy. Just leave Christmas out of it. Or, maybe we should come up with another name for the celebration of Christ's Birth and Incarnation. Let 'em have 'Christmas' for the 'shopping season' - admit that we've lost it, and start over with a new name.
Anyway, today is the First Sunday of Advent - the beginning of the Christian season of spiritual preparation for Christmas. As I've gone along, I've come to really love Advent, imperfectly though I may observe it. In rough terms, Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter, just with not quite the same 'penitential' emphasis. Rightly done, Advent is a time of contemplation, a time to step back from the normal frenzy of daily life, take a few deep breaths, and anticipate the coming joy of Christmas. Advent is pretty much the polar opposite of 'consumer Christmas'. Pausing for contemplation is not a thing Americans are terribly inclined to do (perhaps I should rather say it's a thing that we're inclined to do terribly).
In the larger American culture, the 'Christmas season' runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day, but in traditional Christian circles, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and runs until Epiphany (January 6) - thus, the 'Twelve Days of Christmas'. So, when most of our neighbors are finished with Christmas, we're just getting started. It always perplexes me just a bit to see all the Christmas trees out on the curb on the 26th; when Jen was a kid, Catholics didn't even put their trees up until Christmas Eve. And, just as I'm getting pumped to sing 'Joy to the World' and 'O Come, All Ye Faithful', most of my neighbors are sick of hearing them.
Maybe I should blame it on the Magi - they started the whole giving-gifts-at-Christmas thing. I doubt they had any clue how far it would get out-of-hand, though.
When it comes right down to it, though, I suppose I've got to admit that my spiritual preparation for Christmas is my own responsibility. It's not up to American culture to get me spiritually prepared. It might be nice if the culture were more supportive (or even just less disruptive) of what I'm trying to accomplish, but it is what it is.
So, our family is setting out on Advent. If, over the next few weeks, I seem a little reticent and low-key about Christmas, you'll understand, won't you? And then, if I'm getting all Christmas-y just when you're getting tired of it all, you'd be very kind to indulge me. In the meantime, I'll be over here, singing 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel', in a minor key. . .