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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ask the Matriarch: At This Festive Season

At this festive season of the year, a correspondent wonders, "How do you keep Christmas from taking over Advent?"

It is the eternal question, and since the holidays have brought just two answers from our Matriarchs, I hope others will chime in via the comments.

First, let's hear from Ann Fontaine:

Advent is the greatest of seasons for me - immersing myself in the
whole darkness theme of wrapping oneself in the blanket of night,
under the quilt of stars, and meditating on the cave of my heart,
seeds in the earth, babies awaiting birth from the womb and other
assorted dark places.

It is my little counter cultural season - a great excuse not to think
about Christmas until it is before me - gifts can be given during the
12 days - until Epiphany - Jan 6 and they are on sale then! Cards can
be sent out until Easter - early this year BTW - then you just reply
to the ones you have received. Cuts down on postage and one finds out
who really cares. At church they will all whinge about not getting
to sing carols - but don't give in except for the pageant that has to
be done before the kids take their Christmas break. Everyone is sick
of them anyway by a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving - so maybe
they will thank you for the Advent minor key unsingable ones!

Seriously -- I might let a carol or 2 sneak in as we approach
Christmas - and the children's pageant is good for an all out carol
sing. I also put together a Service of Solace (sometimes called Blue
Christmas) for some time in the week or so before Christmas for those
who are not have a so merry time of it.

I really do like Advent and wish my favorite book Night Visions by
Jan Richardson had not gone out of print so you could love it too.

And now, some thoughts from Jan Edmiston:

What Easum & Bandy would say (if I may be so bold to offer their thoughts secondhand): Most people seeking a spiritual home do it in December and they don't know/want/understand Advent. They want to hear Christmas carols and see little kids dressed like angels and sheep. So, go with Christmas, minimize Advent, and follow up on your December visitors.

What I would say: Like children, we want Christmas now, but even God says, "wait" (hence: Advent). People really truly seem to want to focus on "the real meaning of Christmas" which is best done before maxing out all the cards and tearing your hair out (i.e. during Advent). This is a very difficult time for people. And Jesus was born into a context in which it was a very difficult time for people. Go with that. Explain why Jesus came and what it means to be saved. Who doesn't need someone to save them this season?

And . . . some Christmas carols are quite Advent-friendly.

Thanks to Ann and Jan!

If your church is liturgical, or marginally so, how do you cope with this? Those of you in non-liturgical traditions, do you feel the same pressure to rush to Christmas once the mall is decorated?

And what say you to the question that has been provoking me for the past couple of years. Wherever you stand on the separation of secular and sacred Christmas, there's no question that children are getting only one part of the tradition in the public arena. Given that many families may travel on Christmas Eve, particularly in these past few years when it fell on a weekend or adjacent to one, if we save the whole story for the 24th, are they ever going to hear it? When will they learn to sing the music that older church members (and I include myself in this) heard all over the place when we were young?

I look forward to your thoughts. Gallycat should be back with you next week!


  1. To the last question: I try really hard not to save the incarnation only for Dec 24th, much the same way I don't only talk about the resurrection on Easter, or the last supper on Maundy Thursday, or the cross on Good Friday. In fact, I preached my "Eight Pound, Six Ounce Baby Jesus" sermon earlier this fall.

    Some friends and I were talking about this issue yesterday--eight clergy women from five different traditions. Every one of us takes a slightly different approach. The Episcopal priest was at one end of the spectrum and the American Baptist serving a UMC congregation was at the other. Let's just say I'm closer to "Piski" than to UMC

  2. I think your questions about the children missing out on the story and the songs are so very true. In my previous call, where we had an after school club each week, December was given over to experiencing the nativity story in as many creative ways as I could dream up, and we sang the carols every week. In my new call (here a whole 3 months as of today!), I'm encouraging the Sunday schools to do this, along with their Christmas program practice.

    In worship, I do try to hold the line on Advent, however. We don't start singing anything truly Christmas-y until the third Sunday in Advent (Christmas Program Sunday). They already are enjoying teasing me about it, I get the feeling it's like a little game every year. "Can we convince pastor to sing them a little earlier this year? Ha, ha, ha!" It reminds me of how we used to beg my mom to put up the Christmas tree early every year, knowing full well that she wouldn't. It's part of the ritual of anticipation, I think!

  3. Advent is perhaps my favorite time in the liturgical year. It's a time of expectancy, a time of waiting - a very good discipline in our "I want it now" culture, good for both children and adults.

    We know that something wonderful is coming, but not yet. The assigned Scripture readings are the most beautiful of the liturgical year. I'm all for holding off with the Christmas carols until the Christmas pageant.

    Ann and Jan, I love what you've written.

  4. For those who are asking, "Is it Christmas, yet?" Here is the answer.

  5. Ordinarily, I am an advent purist. This year, however, I'm serving a church with very little music literacy, and finding hymns that can be sung is a challenge. So a few Christmas hymns sneak in for the 2 Sundays before Advent--I think only one in each service, chosen because they match the lectionary scripturally.

    I felt bad about it at first, but now I'm fine with it. Liturgy is the work of the people, and I think maintaining the spirit of the season as much as possible without making people feel bad about themselves is the meet and right thing for this Presbyterian to do.

  6. This got me thinking, and I had too much to say (nothing new there) so i've written something at my place

  7. Well as usual I'm in the great both/and. I am a staunch advocate for Advent. The world needs holdouts against the rush to instant Christmases in all their forms. Where else does anyone ever hear "wait" let alone "wait in silence" but in church? And as far as getting to know the story...lots of chance to talk about who this is we are waiting for and why the coming(s) is so important....but on the other hand, I do want my greens hung for Lessons and there you go!

  8. I also put together a Service of Solace (sometimes called Blue
    Christmas) for some time in the week or so before Christmas for those
    who are not have a so merry time of it.

    SB it would be lovely to read more about this. Is this a regular Sunday service or something extra.

  9. Service of Solace - Blue Christmas - it is a special service usually in the evening the week before Christmas. For ideas look here and here.

  10. Also here and here. Scroll down to Blue Christmas or Longest Night services.

  11. I'm just butting in to say how much I love this Advent stole, because it's the only depiction I've seen of a pregnant Mary.

  12. We are a non-liturgical church and are not even starting the "Christmas" season discussion until the week OF Christmas. The series leading up to it deals with relationship issues of our tongues (complaining, gossiping, lying and insulting). We are doing a carol sing that week (but not during church -- in a different setting) which helps.

    I do like the "Blue Christmas" idea and am totally going to steal it for a suggestion for next year. :)


  13. I'm firmly both/and. The UM congregations I've served don't know many Advent hymns, but I get a solid 3 Advent sermons in. The waiting in expectant hope theme is too important to bypass. I'll sneak a Christmas carol in here and there. By week 4, we're firmly ready for Christmas, and we celebrate Christmas all the way to Epiphany.
    In our new contemporary service, we are also having Advent, although finding music is a struggle. We're going to end with a contemporary love feast, if I ever get around to writing it...

  14. We had a music and worship meeting last week... and we picked our Advent music. Many of the Advent hymns... with their "unknown" tunes... can be sung to more familiar tunes (the meters are the same?). Our organist took the time to look up alternate tunes... and I SOOOOO appreciate it... because that helps us honor this season that the world wants to overlook.

  15. I'm a cradle Episcopalian. Need I say more? :)

    But seriously, I hold onto Advent with all my might because I just don't want secular Christmas to take over everything. And since our liturgy and lectionary emphasize the seasons, I do lots of education around why Advent is important and how we can observe it in ways that will make Christmas even richer when it arrives.

    We have a workshop to make Advent wreaths the first Sunday of Advent. We have special Advent Evenings with simple suppers and activities. We have a Jesse Tree. I made an advent booklet to send everyone.

    And then Christmas full stop from December 24 until January 6. The full 12 days.

  16. Another proudly countercultural thing about Advent - as pointed out by Elastigirl in Sunday School this morning - is that today is New Year's Day in the Church calendar...if you are liturgical sorts!

    First day of a new liturgical year...Year A! And we in TEC have joined many of you in the RCL at last.

    So, happy New Year!


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