When I was small, December dragged on forever, it seemed. Each day went by like the slow pour of molasses, and the closer it got to Christmas, the slower the days became.
This, sadly, is not the case for me any more. The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve are some of the busiest for me, in part because of my chosen profession, but also because I have become an adult.
Christmas, which used to be a season of wonder and delight, still is, but it's also a little crazy. No month moves faster than December. And that's one of the greatest differences between children and adults: While children experience the days leading up to Christmas as a slow, belabored torture, adults experience Christmas as a blink.
Which, for many, doesn't mean that the torture has gone away - it's just changed its forms.
Ask any adult about the Christmas season and I'm sure they'll tell you they're overwhelmed by everything there is to do: decorating the house, buying presents, throwing parties, attending parties, spending time with family. Yet, behind all of this lies one of the most unique seasons of the year: Advent.
For centuries, the days and weeks leading to Christmas have been set aside as a special time for reflection and waiting. Advent, which means "the coming," or "the arrival" in Latin, has been practiced by the Christian community to help us re-live the story of the first Christmas in our own lives. Its aim is to help each of us experience the joy and wonder experienced in the first Christmas.
Eventually, Advent was adopted by the culture at large, and now almost any store sells a variety of Advent calendars to help you count down the days to Christmas. Growing up, we had a felt Advent calendar with gold and white numbers stitched into Santa's belly. Each number was attached to a small pocket for treats to rest in. Often my focus was more on the treats than on the "true meaning of Christmas."
Regardless of how you practice it, or if you practice it at all, Advent is an important season for all of us, regardless of our faith background. Simply put, Advent is a season of waiting, and we don't do a lot of waiting in our culture. We can get to any destination in minutes with our cars, or even more distant places in just a matter of hours by plane. Almost everything is just a click away these days; when stumped by a piece of trivia, we can simply pull out our iPhones to give the question to Google.
In a culture marked by the instant, Advent should be a relic of an era gone by, no longer necessary for those with modern sensibilities. Yet, there is something formative in the waiting for family to arrive from far away, for gifts to be unwrapped on Christmas morning, for traditions long-kept and long-enjoyed. Advent teaches us that sometimes waiting is good, that getting everything we want now isn't the greatest virtue of all. Advent teaches us that patience is, indeed, a virtue.
And yet, the kind of waiting Advent calls us each to is not at all passive, but is very active. As the carol says, Advent is a time to "let every heart prepare Him room."
Advent ought to be a time of personal reflection, in which we all take a moment to clean house: to identify the bad habits we're developing; to acknowledge the fracture in an important relationship; to recognize the junk we've allowed into our lives (material or otherwise).
Eventually, the waiting we do at Advent ultimately turns outward, toward others. It becomes a time when we remember that our waiting is not done sitting around with our hands in our laps, but in tangible acts of kindness, willing acts of service and generous acts of charity.
We look for ways to serve others, in food pantries and nonprofits, in churches and clubs. We finally decide to put some money in the Salvation Army bucket outside a store. We invite someone to our family dinner who won't have anywhere else to be this year.
The invitation of Advent is simple: Wait - but while you're waiting, go ahead and do something with yourself. I trust you'll find something meaningful to do this Christmas season - and I'm sure you'll have plenty of candy while you're at it.
Tennant is a Warren resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.