Christmas Is Coming…

It always feels more like Christmas when the first wrapped gifts show up under the tree. There are no ornaments on our tree right now — just lights and a few ropes of red beads — but the gifts say, Christmas is coming! It’ll be a strange holiday, as I’m sure many Hanukkah celebrations were this year, without the family gatherings. Hopefully, with everyone trying to be part of the solution, instead of part of the Covid problem, we’ll have opportunities to gather in the new year.

In the meantime, we try to carry on. For me, that includes meeting virtually with my local Poetry Circle every month via Zoom. Our December ‘monthly challenge’ was a French poetic form, called a Lai. It required us to write a nine-line poem with a certain rhyming scheme and syllable count. Trying to write in a form like this can feel restrictive. Words need to be chosen carefully and you can’t always write the complete sentence or the full description you wish to share. This makes me think of our experiences during the pandemic. We’re confined. Life feels restricted.

But then, writing within a poetic form can also force you to whittle down your words to the most important ones. No fluff. No excess. You get right to the heart of the matter. And that’s what all this social-distancing and lack of normalcy has done for so many of us this year. It’s made us reflect on what’s most important in our lives — and in the world. We’ve learned some things about ourselves. And we’ve learned to appreciate the little things.

My hope is that each of us takes this holiday or this end-of-year time as an opportunity to reflect and appreciate, and to choose what’s most important going forward.

FYI: Here’s my Lai poem:

Covid Christmas Eve

Carols playing low
Gift-wrap and a bow
Just right
Softly falling snow
Christmas lights aglow
Despite
How I hope you know
I’m missing you so
Tonight

Advent 2020: Four Signs of Hope

Advent is a season of hope.

For Christians, it’s a season of anticipation and preparation, getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We believe that God took human form and came to show us immense love. By participating in Advent, we hope to ready our hearts and homes to welcome more of that kind of love into our lives. Because love is the bottom line, isn’t it?

I’ve been decorating my house this past week, as I’m sure many of you have been doing, too. I started thinking about hope and how our choices of decorations can reflect hope. I’ve also been watching the news, which, again, I’m sure many of you have also been doing. Hope is sometimes harder to find there. But not impossible. Here are four signs of hope that caught my attention this week. Maybe you can think of others.

A Covid-19 vaccine. Several companies have been working like our lives depend on it (because they do) and they’ve finally developed versions of a highly effective vaccine. Distribution is about to begin. Of course, it won’t be immediately available to those of us who fall into the lower risk category. But the end of this devastating pandemic is in sight. If that’s not reason to hope, I don’t know what is.

Snow. I usually start my holiday decorating by adorning our windows with snowflake stick-ons. Then, I pull out every snowperson decoration I own. Some people set up elaborate Christmas villages on fluffy snowscapes. Others inflate snowmen or whole snowfamilies in their front yards. I live in New England, which means there may be snow on the ground for Christmas, but I’ll bet that people in warmer climates still use images of snow in their decorating. Why? Is it because we love snowstorms and shoveling and icy road conditions? I think not. It’s because there’s beauty in snow. And fun. So, we choose to celebrate the good over the not so good, when it comes to snow. We hope for the beauty of a quiet snowfall or the exhilaration of building snowpeople, instead of clinging to the downside of a snowy season. That’s hope in action, in my opinion.

Lights. I like to wrap my Christmas tree in all white lights. It makes me think of a starry sky. And many houses (not mine ;)) are draped in a variety of colorful lights. Some people put electric candles in their windows. Locally, there’s even a zoo, a motor speedway, and a national shrine each boasting light displays worth traveling for. It’s a dark time of year in the northern hemisphere, and celebrating with lights reminds us that darkness, both literal and figurative, is temporary. There’s hope for light at the end of whatever your dark tunnel might be.

Evergreens. Whether you bring in a freshly cut pine tree and pine branches, or you put up a fake tree and light a pine-scented candle, we gravitate toward evergreens in our decorating schemes. Why? This one’s fairly obvious, especially for those of us in colder climates. Trees, bushes, lawns, and gardens go dormant for the winter. A lot of what we see outdoors looks dead. But evergreens remind us that there’s still life in our landscapes and that spring will come again. For me, the smell of fresh pine is the smell of hope.

My decorating isn’t done yet, how about yours? There are still a few weeks before Christmas. 😉 I intend to enjoy every minute of them. Advent 2020 has given me the unexpected gift of slowing down enough to appreciate the season and to savor the hope it embodies. My hope is that you each find that same gift this year. God bless.

So, This Is Advent 2020…

November is almost behind us and Christmas is coming! What a strange Christmas it’ll be. In our family, we’re trying to adhere to the CDC’s recommendations, which means no holiday get-togethers. It’s tempting to forgo the Christmas decorating, too. But that seems kind of like sitting in a corner, pouting, because we aren’t getting our way. So, we forge ahead trying to bring a bit of cheer to our corner of this pandemic-stricken world.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving was warm-ish here in New England, so, I hung the artificial wreaths across our upper row of front windows. A strategically placed eye hook above each window makes it a fairly easy job. Those poor wreaths are getting old and dry, which means the bedroom floors needed a good vacuum to take care of the fake pine needles after the wreaths were hung.

Next, I hung several lengths of garland along the front porch railings. A velvety bow at each post festively hides the wires and strings used to secure the garland. Just one problem this year: the bag of old bows was missing. Did I throw them out last year because they were old and faded, with the intention of buying new ones this year? (Your guess is as good as mine.) To compound the problem, I use burgundy bows on my wreaths and porch, instead of Christmas red. With all the premature decorating that people have been doing and the fact that burgundy bows aren’t as commonly available as red, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of shopping for them. I considered making them myself, but all that looping and twisting of ribbon isn’t my forte. (I worked at a greenhouse/florist in high school, but could never match the bow-making skills of the florists there.)

Anyway, first, I tried to buy some online. One site sold them for twenty dollars apiece! I used to get them for ninety nine cents, and was hoping to buy ten, so that was a ‘no’. Another site had suspended online orders due to order volume. So, I got in my van to search the old-fashioned way. Five stores later, I found them. But I could only justify buying six, due to the price. My porch looks happier now. 🙂

For those who celebrate Advent, it started this past Sunday. My husband and I haven’t ventured back to church since Covid-19 hit. We’ve been watching mass online instead. When I was fetching the outdoor decorations in the attic, I came across a set of Advent candles, so about an hour before mass, I scrambled to assemble a make-shift Advent wreath using a party tray, some cardboard and thumbtacks, and an unused artificial wreath. Not elegant, but functional. Maybe I’ll spend a little time this week shoring it up before next Sunday.

These simple efforts have started my Advent off on the right foot, I think. And a little more effort is what I plan to ask of myself this season. What about you? Christmas is coming, so we might as well celebrate however we’re able and try not to think about what we’re missing. Let’s deck our halls and appreciate what we have. Hopefully, next year will be all the more special.