Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Joyeux Noel/Feliz Navidad

Some scattered thoughts on Christmas that, funnily enough, all seem to be leading in the same direction:

1) as stated in the previous post I LOVE Christmas, generally. Let's recap- last year's Christmas was spent in sunny Managua far from home, and although my brother was there to make the yuletide gay, I did have an utterly low moment about three weeks prior to Christmas when all my friends went home to their families and mine had not yet come. The Christmas that came was, I was to find out, a total gift, because while Rob and I were sitting in hammocks under Derek's palm trees-and yes it actually looks like the pictures- three of my four friends were at home in the States breaking up with their respective significant others, and the fourth was having a wee family crisis. So lesson learned? The big homecoming Christmas hullabaloo is not quite what it once was nor is glorified in Bing Crosby songs or Bay ads. Kind of ironic that I would die to be there right now. Rob and I are going to put on shorts and flip-flops tomorrow and pump up the heat in the family room to keep the tradition alive.

2) We've finally whittled presents down to just stockings and I am a-ok with this because all I really need are socks. About a month ago, I realised the hard reality that after a year straight in flip-flops (bring on the arthritis) I actually do not have enough socks to get me through a full week without doing laundry. This is ok if you are wearing slip-ons and can pull off the Euro-bare foot thing, however, Vancouver + November/December = Rain and wet feet. So I asked for socks. Perhaps it's the financial woes of the day, perhaps it's my terribly busy schedule, but something larger has happened to me that I've noticed. I don't really feel like shopping any more. Everything looks the same and it doesn't really seem worth what they are asking. This has been coming for a while, but I don't think I noticed until this fall.

3) I went Christmas shopping yesterday. I needed three things: some tea, a magazine and one other thing for my mother who will surely read this before tomorrow evening, so we'll refrain from mentioning by name, however it should be known that other than the magazine, pretty much all of my Christmas shopping could really have been done at Shoppers Drug Mart. Yet somehow I ended up on Robson for two and a half hours, in slushy freezing puddles up to my ankles and snowbanks as the only credible alternative walking lane crowded with people on cellphones. I was MISERABLE within 20 minutes. What almost a year in one of our hemisphere's poorest countries could not accomplish- that is, ridding me of any desire to be ever remotely involved in capitalist consumption- was accomplished in 20 minutes in the Christmas rush. Never again.

4) Later that night I was discussing the DSF service that I missed with Jessi and Clifton. He was talking about how their family, though Christian, doesn't really do the Christmas tree thing or much else. I jokingly asked him "that's a little 'bah humbug' don't you think?" to which his dear wife replied adamantly that it was (apparently Pandora's got the lid on that one not too tightly). Clifton goes on to explain how there really isn't any Biblical imperative to celebrate Jesus's birthday and many of the symbols aren't really related to the Christmas story, even if we are to do it. We discussed for a while the way the church has 'appropriated' certain things in the celebration. I don't really have a problem with Christmas trees or Christmas itself, but I am seeing his point. They are not Christmas.

5) Church sunday morning, which I braved the blizzard to reach, started to piece together some things that I have been getting at here thinking. They've been pumping this advent conspiracy thing. Which is cool enough. I am ready to get on board. This week instead of playing that video, there was the best Christmas performance there could be. This guy, who's dad was visiting from Australia, gets up and is barely able to talk even with the mic, explaining how he and his dad have been together for all of three days and he's been sick, so they haven't practised much, but they are going to do a song, but first... he needed to set the scene. They play the clip from Joyeux Noel, a movie about the ceasefire on Christmas during WWI. He prefaces it by questioning what a 'night divine' actually looks like. As if the image of trench warfare could be any more stark a contrast- one of the most hellish places on earth, transformed into one of the holiest.

6) Then they sang/played Oh Holy Night. But not just any Oh Holy Night. I was holding my breath for most of it. Quite possibly the most beautiful Oh Holy Night I've heard in a long long time. It was one of those rare moments where no one moves, because all are captured by the words, the beauty and finally grasping a meaning that had been lost or darkened to understanding and a worship that hadn't been practised. Something so familiar, suddenly became fantastically important again. It was so simple. There was Christmas: that moment, right there, as a room half full of hearts was turned to the point of all this- the pure, beautiful power of Christ entered the utter mess of the world and made it all lovely.

Yep, that's what I've got. I think this has been building for a while. Maybe it's nothing spectacular except me outgrowing Christmas like one is supposed to do when they become an 'adult.' But I really do think it is more important than that. While I acknowledget that there is no biblical imperative requiring or calling us to celebrate Christ's birth, I think celebration is definitely part of the Christian life, and we need a good hearty reminder of the cheer that the first night divine brought- and continues to bring in the midst of the mire of wars and confusion and grasping at straws.

So, I'm not ditching Christmas. But I think I'll stop with the buy-fest every year. I won't miss it, not one bit. I am much more excited for tomorrow night's peace, at the candle light service and after, than for anything that will come the next morning (that's not particularly new this Christmas- though it is good to affirm). I am letting go of 'Christmas,' to get a better one in return. I think I will also maybe start learning to play the piano again- though maybe not til August when I am done school though, but seeing as we've got that lovely Steinway and this guy Andrew who played for us at church gave us such a huge gift of open eyes and overflowing hearts, maybe it'd be a good thing to practise. When I'm eighty- by that time I'll be a quarter as good- I will explain to my grandkids why grandma never had presents for their mummies and/or daddies while they were growing up and why they've consequently not gotten any either- but that we've all been the richer for it. And then I'll play that clip and that song. Hopefully they'll understand.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Whisperings of advent

I am internally sighing and wondering how it got to be 10pm already and I haven't even opened one of the 17 articles I have queued up for my next research paper. At the end of this week I have three papers due, two of which are 15-20 pagers and the other is but a paltry 12. One down (good work slugger!) but two to go (get back in there champ!).
But it is 10pm. And for the last several evenings- let's say, eight- I have not gone to bed before 1. I am le tired. It is the sabbath. Should i just give up? Don't mind if I do. Instead, let's just sit down here by the fire and in an effort to lighten the mood since my last post (mom cried- we already know I cried, it was a big ol' cryfest...) I will tell you of Christmas present (as in #4).

Being that it was Sunday, and I had been up until about 2:30 finishing off a seminal work pontificating on the Millennium Challenge Account aid program, I woke up this morning with every intention of sleeping in and then getting up to start editing and doing the graphs (apparently for economics papers they want graphs. I don't really have any graphs, nor do I generally care for excel and its tricks, but graphs they want, then graphs I will pull out of my...ahem). The familiar Sunday morning text message arrived "are you coming to church?" and I rolled over and all my will power to get up and work vanished. My resolve at 2am to get up and be disciplined and not to go to church withered. The enticement of the hot soup after Utown, where I've been hanging out the last month or so, was duelling with my heavy eyelids and fingers that were clinging to the blanket. But somehow after taking some time to sit, caffeinate and breathe with God, I was up and out the door- wearing my new hand-me-down shirt. Don't you just love getting hand-me-downs? It helps when your patron has nice taste like mine.

I walked into the service a good 40 minutes late and the breathing resumed. I don't think I have particularly impeccable timing, but the moment was beautiful. The band was in a bridge between a triumphant carol and the next song and everyone was so ... full. The room wasn't full so much as there was a fullness to the room and the church. You gotta love those moments eh. I find that the Christmas season can be beautifull like this. Maybe its because I like red best, or because I am mesmerized by twinkly lights (lifetime member of the Stanley Park Train Conductors' Society). Perhaps it's also the fact that everything happens at night. Nights are quieter and the twinkle lights show up better. It also gets dark earlier so things really are happening more at night (what was up with that- I went for a run at 4:15 and it was already beyond dusk... that part isn't as cool).

Much to my mother's chagrin, I am the biggest Christmas keener ever. I love it. I love the trees, I love the decorations, I love the music- whoever says that there isn't a Christmas spirit can't explain the fact that I can even tolerate Michael W. Smith's cheeseball crooning if it's one of his holly jolly songs.

One of the things that has come up the last few Sundays is the advent conspiracy. There is an internet video floating around that catches the spirit of Christmas. It is from a group called Advent Conspiracy. I am not going to rant about the ills of consumerism that seem to have swallowed Christmas- because I do not love that like I love fat little gingerbread men (nine! nitske drops knuefen!). I am going to let that be for now, as I am sure, if you have read anything else on this blog, you can get a sense of what my feelings would be (my mom will probably do two fist pumps of yuletide joy because of it's 'spend-less' theme of the video).

But focusing on that I think there is something even more important going on. I think they've hit upon something there with the idea of presence. Christmas represents the time where God became most tangibly present in Christ. What kinda of presence do I give to others as a response?
I have the attention span of a gnat -look! shiny objects! even more this time of year than any!
Gotta work on that one.

So there's my bedtime story for you. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.