It is difficult to avoid worn-out clichés and stereotypes during the holidays. I’m sure I’m not even the first writer to say so! Phrases like “hustle and bustle,” “over-commercialization,” and “the real meaning of Christmas” leap into my mind, unbidden, crowding out any original thoughts.
That’s the point of holidays, isn’t it? We mark the new year not because anything special happens then, but as a touchpoint, a time to gather our thoughts, mark a point in time, and make plans for the next twelve months. We could just as easily have picked August 16 or April 4 to do that. We celebrate birthdays as a way to tell each person that, no matter how much we ignored them or argued with them for the last twelve months, at least once a year we think of them enough to make a phone call or send a card. Falling into familiar patterns is what holidays are for, and much of the fun of getting married and beginning a family is combining a bit of each spouse’s holiday traditions into a new hybrid set of traditions.
Christmas has always been my wife’s favorite holiday, while I’ve favored Independence Day for reasons I can’t quite explain. Birthdays were never a big event in my family, while my wife celebrates them ruthlessly. Together, we’ve built traditions that will last until our children each pair off and adapt them to their own families.
One of the new traditions we’ve established is the celebration of Advent. It’s an old tradition in the Christian church, actually, stretching back to the fifth century or earlier, but it’s new to us. For us, Advent helps to satisfy many of the common complaints about the modern celebration of Christmas: we may still overspend on meaningless trifles for December 25, or exert too much energy pursuing things that won't matter by the new year, but with Advent we'll have at least four Sundays of slowing down, sitting down, and talking together about what is important to us as a family.