As the frost closes in and brings nips of winter, it also brings mornings without wind and rain for a change. Things can get gloomy on the rock, but late autumn and winter bring beautiful still, bright sunrises; misty fields with cosy sheep, the rising steam of a breath, the Christmas birds appearing more often (not seen any partridges yet but tons of robins).
With the coldness, this time also brings the opportunity to wrap up warm, stay inside and catch up on things left undone, counting down the days until a hopeful time when things will brighten up again. There are many who do not look forward to this time of year, for many reasons. But there are many who do – children especially – because this season brings with it an indescribable tradition.
Even without the faithful aspect of Advent, the run up to Christmas has a building of anticipation to a big day, which appears every year. Talking to friend recently, he spoke of that but also how that sense is at risk of disappearing because of modern life. He was worried his children may not have the sense that he, I, and so many grew up with of building anticipation.
So he resolved to reconnect with traditions which regain that sense of anticipation: dedicating time as a family to walks, fairs, and even the odd carol service — 22nd December, 6.30pm … (ahem)
In the vicarage we have always tried to dedicate time to our little traditions, for much the same reason, and partly because Advent is harder to appreciate when you are the one trying to deliver it.
So the tree goes up on 1st December (or thereabouts …); the decades-old reusable advent calendars come out; the three wise men get hidden about the house for hide-and-seek; '80s number ones blare alongside carols; Miracle on 34th Street gets watched for the 35th time; and we ensure there are enough candles for a suitably-sized insurance claim.
The little traditions are just as important as the big ones. We need them to build anticipation before the big celebrations because they reinforce the big times with love. That becomes even more important for those who do not have fond memories of times like Christmas, because it gives us impetus to make things better. We are not made to spend the whole year being miserable.
The original story, going back 2000 years, resulted in the unexpected revelation that our lives are not to be spent living in misery, but to be joyful. The Christian story is not about punishment and fear, despite what some miseries might say.
The birth of a little boy in a stable was fundamentally about turning people's hearts away from the stone we get when we are hurt or in no mood for feeling joyful. It was about recognising there is pain in life, but life is more about what we do to heal that pain.
Which reminds me of my friend's determination to subvert 'modern life' and not let anything get in the way of his family's joy. He sees life as a gift to celebrate and look forward to. Not to let disappointment or frustration beat us, but instead to face down difficulty and hardship by being determined to find healing and peace.
Re-connecting with the celebration of life in all its fullness is the reason for the season: awaiting the time things will brighten up again. If building new traditions is necessary to remember that, then we must.
Have a very peaceful, joyful and blessed Christmas and New Year.