The Christmas decorations came down from the attic Saturday, a rainy, dreary day that seemed prescribed for indoor tasks and needing the antidote of joyful, memory-filled decorations. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the long prelude to the 12-day Christmas season. Scripture readings will be all about anticipation and eagerness.
Retailers, worried about an economic downturn and a tightening of consumers' wallets, are far out ahead of these four Sundays before Christmas. Decorations and Christmas accessories have filled store aisles for weeks, some of the merchandise preceding even Halloween. This year's late Thanksgiving — Nov. 27 — made retailers' concerns more urgent than ever.
Advent gets lost in the annual rush from Oct. 31 to Dec. 25. There are decorations to be displayed, shopping to be done, cakes and cookies to be baked, plans to be made, and a whirlwind of activities that give us no time to slow down and reflect. An observance of Advent, through something as simple as an Advent calendar or lighting an Advent wreath at home, can help slow down the mad rush toward Christmas, even if just for a few moments.
The hymns of the season — "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," "Prepare the Royal Highway," "Hark the Glad Sound," "All Earth is Hopeful" and the rest — rein in the joyful celebrations found in Christmas carols and provide a spiritual reflection needed this time of year. When Christmas comes at last, its joyousness stands in contrast to the reflective meditation of Advent.
At my house, the decorations will go up gradually. Over three decades-plus, my wife and I (mostly she) have collected a range of Christmas paraphernalia that will be scattered throughout the house. A tree from the Optimist lot will be carefully placed and decorated with items collected along our journey through life. These include keepsakes from places we've lived, places we've visited and people we've known. Another tree will hold my wife's collection of angels. This recent addition to our Christmas decor evolved as her angel collection became too much for our single tree.
Unlike some people, who haul their tree to the curb by nightfall Dec. 25, we'll keep our house decorated through the 12 days of Christmas, removing decorations only on or after Epiphany, Jan. 6.
On this Sunday after Thanksgiving, Advent has begun, and Christmas lies ahead. Let us pause, reflect and meditate before it arrives.