In Finding Myself in Britain, I take a through-the-year approach at life in the UK. Originally I wanted to start the book with Advent, for after all, it’s when the church calendar commences. But I took my publisher’s good advice and instead began with the start of the academic year, which marks a time of fresh starts. Here’s a snippet of the chapter on Advent: “Waiting for the Coming King.”
For those who follow a church calendar, the start of the church year begins with the season of Advent. Traditionally the four Sundays before Christmas have been a period of fasting during which we prepare ourselves for the birth of Jesus. Some Christians are returning to this lost practice, making sure they have done all of their Christmas shopping, for instance, before Advent starts. They take the time and energy to prepare for Advent so that they can be ready for Christmas.
I laud them. I would love to be like them. But I haven’t ever managed a complete fast from decorations or baking or even Christmas carols during Advent, for the cultural trappings of the season speak deeply to me of the spiritual meaning of Christmas. Growing up, I’d help decorate the Christmas tree much earlier than what Nicholas experienced – his family would purchase theirs on Christmas Eve, whereas my parents use the late November days just before or after Thanksgiving to put up theirs. As a child, I never knew of Christmas carols banned during Advent, for I understood that the practical preparation of this season was part of the spiritual looking ahead.
I would love to spend Advent in quiet reflection, praying and preparing for Jesus to be born in my heart and home, but instead I mix the reflective with the practical as I get ready for the feasts of Christmas. Because the British traditions differ from the American, over the years I’ve worked hard to ensure that Christmas feels like Christmas in this foreign land. What could feel like a situation of scarcity – the pain of being away from loved ones during the holidays – has evolved into a season of abundance as our traditions have developed and solidified. Finding myself in Britain means creatively enacting the American approach to Advent and Christmas, while learning the British one too. And more importantly, making sure the Christian elements, which transcend any culture, receive the star treatment.
How about you? How do you approach the season of Advent? Are there practices you ban, saving them for the twelve days of Christmas, or do you enter into the spirit of the season as soon as you can?