Iron Ladies
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Iron Ladies

“We Need A Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute”

A plan for a not-so-crazy holiday Season

First depection of the Jesse Tree from the Vyšehrad Codex.

I popped upstairs to our church youth room on Sunday. The topic for these young Anglicans: the liturgical calendar. Makes sense as it is almost the new year. Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, is the beginning of the church year.

They didn’t know this. I didn’t know it until well into adulthood. I was raised Baptist and even though Anglicans and Baptists share more doctrinal DNA than they typically know or admit, one of the bits they don’t share is liturgy, or public forms. Anglicans use rote practice, Baptists aren’t so big on rote. But while I may be a late adopter of the liturgical calendar, I have become a devoted one.

Oh, I am not the Anglican Advent Absolutist my husband likes to tease me about, or as Rev. Sarah Condon calls them, the Advent police. I won’t go scold the clergy for playing Christmas carols before the 25th or get into a debate about Sarum Blue or purple. My liturgical devotion is more practical, and the reason the calendar was developed in the first place, to provide a rhythm and practical form for our faith.

Why it fell out of favor is a bit more curious. I like to mark things in pop culture terms, so for this one I’ll mark from Mame, the 1950’s Broadway musical, adapted from a book, about an artsy, intellectual socialite who falls on hard times just as she takes in her orphaned nephew. She begins to school him in her guiding principle on life: “Life is a banquet, and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death.” It is the musical that gave us, “We need a little Christmas” placed in the play a week after Thanksgiving, just at the start of Advent.

Haul out the holly/ Put up the tree before my spirit falls again/Fill up the stocking/I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.

For we need a little Christmas/Right this very minute/Candles in the window/Carols at the spinet….

For I’ve grown a little leaner/Grown a little colder/Grown a little sadder/Grown a little older/And I need a little angel/Sitting on my shoulder/Need a little Christmas now….

For we need a little music/Need a little laughter/Need a little singing/Ringing through the rafter/And we need a little snappy/“Happy ever after”

I do not contend that the play created the attitude, just that it marks it. We brought Christmas forward for the quick fix of good feeling cheer. Funny thing is, without the preparation, the feeling good is fleeting.

A Christmas Morning Conversion

When our twins were tiny we almost lost them in the Christmas wrap debris. That was upsetting enough. The older two children, under 7, were suffering from a month of anticipation followed by a 45 minute frenzy of gift getting — hence the willy-nilly paper flying covering twin tots— and then weeks of just hanging out. I’d been feeling more discontentment than joy at Christmas for a while, but watching things play out in one’s children has a way of focusing one’s attention. As a mom I started dreading Christmas the way I dreaded the children stumbling upon Calliou. (For the uninitiated, it is a seemingly sweet cartoon that inspires excessive whining in little children.)

By this point I had also been in the Anglican church for a decade and London, where Anglicanism is often more cultural than religious, for half of that decade. I had discovered the liturgical calendar, which starts with Advent four weeks before Christmas, which itself lasts 12 days. (It isn’t just a silly song about birds.)

I had also noticed that for Americans, Thanksgiving falls just before the church’s preparation period and so the seasons flow from a day of giving thanks, to a period of giving to others, to a celebration that includes the promise of the a new year. So while the pop culture calendar for the Christmas season schedules weeks of consumer anticipation for a one day binge and then weeks long letdown, the liturgical calendar schedules weeks of reflection about what we’ve been given followed by days of celebration.

As I pondered how to save my children and my husband and myself from another insane Christmas, I realized that the old calendar had everything I needed. Funny, that. So I became and Anglican Advent Absolutist and set about converting my family to a liturgical calendar rhythm. Eight years in, it works wonderfully.

This year, Advent doesn’t start until Sunday, so there is time for you, too.

Before anyone objects that this is not possible, that the gravitational pull of culture is too strong to add anything to the month of December — I didn’t add. I swapped. I turned things we already did into Advent tasks by calling attention to the service to others and preparation to celebrate aspects of the tasks. That’s what Advent is, after all, a preparation.

Accordingly, I also took most of the celebration aspects, a kids’ Christmas party, for instance, and moved them to Christmas. (It is so easy to schedule a kids’ movie night on the, say Fourth Night of Christmas.)

Instead of little gifts in the Advent calendar, I made cards or scrolls and the occasional symbolic trinket for each of the day’s tasks. In our calendar, some tasks require nothing more than dinner conversation, like making shopping lists for Adopt an Angels or choosing our charity of the year. Another day’s task sends us shopping for our adopted angels. The next day might be wrapping those gifts. It was all things we already did — now they were just the highlight of our day. At least that is what I did the first year. The next year, I had some verses and lessons. As the children got older, I modified the tasking for week themes. Week One is typically shopping and decorating. Weeks Two and Three have a lot of gift wrapping and donations. Week Four is study with cooking, greenery, and party prep at the very end.

A few tips for making an Advent plan based on age

For those with little children, use a few small tasks each week with mostly readings and short Jesse story lessons. (See below.)

As kids get older, I recommend moving to themed weeks and placing more emphasis on things outside the house. Baking cookies for neighbors or assisting at the toy drive sort rather than just donating to the toy drive. I also like shifting the lessons to things like the Bible stories (they hopefully know) in art and pop culture. Christian allusion is everywhere, but we don’t always see it.

Sitting in the youth room this past Sunday, I saw older teens and young adults who would like to do something like this, but don’t really know where to start. They can’t turn their family of 5 on their own, or they are young newlyweds with no children yet. So for them I recommend a little self study to get into the habit and mindset of Advent. Their practice can change as their life does. The simplest and most useful that came to mind is a Jesse Tree study. Since some of my kids didn’t know the term, the book of Isaiah contains the prophecy that “a shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse.” Jesse was David’s father, and Jesus came out of David’s line. The first chapter of Matthew lists the genealogy. Study the names in the stories, in art, just the women. However they choose to break it down. The possibilities are many.

Doing Advent makes December saner, but the biggest change has been in Christmas itself, which I will cover next. I do need to get at least the first week’s Advent cards prepped.

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Leslie Loftis

Leslie Loftis

3.6K Followers

Teacher of life admin and curator of commentary. Occasional writer.