Every year we see articles on “staying sane during the holidays”–advice for dealing with unruly inlaws while maximizing cookie production and shopping efficiency. I follow some of this advice. But here’s a confession: I love the inner dimension of this season. I love advent, the dark days leading to the Solstice and Christmas, and I take this time seriously as a period of simplicity, waiting, expectation, and inward reflection. And though December is often the busiest month of my year, I never compromise on my simple practices for keeping peace in this season. Here’s what I do:
1. I get up early, in the darkness of morning, every day during advent. In this quiet hour before my sweeties stir in their beds upstairs, I light a candle, maybe turn on a string of twinkle lights, and spend a few minutes enjoying the stillness. (Before coffee? Of course not!! But I get the french press ready the night before so I don’t have to think much about it when I get up). I might play some soft medieval carols (my favorite seasonal music, which Tom and Claire do not care for–this is my chance to enjoy them without hassle). During this hushed hour I may read a little (see #2), write in my diary, or just spend some time in meditation. Yes, I am a morning person. If you’re not, this practice would be equally beautiful in the silence of late night, after your household is asleep.
2. I choose a book for contemplative reading for the season. This year I am re-reading A Child in Winter, a selection of advent writings by Caryll Houselander, the English laywoman, mystic, and poet, who was writing in the middle of the last century. I love her challenging spirituality, grounded in ordinary life, but I know her Catholic language is overly-religous for some. Seasonal reading can be anything that makes you feel calm, and whole. I have worked with Emily Dickinson during previous advents, or Thich Nhat Hanh.
3. I spend extra time observing my neighborhood birds. Anyone who reads my work knows that I watch birds all the time anyway, so this might not really seem like a particular advent practice, but I find my attitude shifts during this season. I’ll walk along the beach and watch the winter seabirds on the Salish Sea–goldeneys, horned grebes, harlequin ducks. All of them tossing on the gray water, their bodies quiet no matter how rushed the waves. Or just the chickadees and juncos outside my window, feathers ruffling in the chilly breeze. Amidst all the ads and the frenzy and the cooking and the making and the singing, here are these creatures that have nothing to do with any of this, tending their day, their simple needs for food and warmth. We live alongside each other, in the same dark, expectant season, and watching them I feel a renewed confidence in my own indwelling peace.
Yes, I am also making cookies, and fantasizing that I’ll still get a few more homemade gifts finished, and decking the halls, and taking our daughter back and forth to her holiday recitals, and trying in the middle of it all to finish my next book. I love all of this, and will be passing on some of my favorite recipes and projects here at the Tangled Nest in the next couple of weeks. But my simple advent practices help to keep me calm and joyful (mostly) in the whirl of activity.
How do you keep the peace of the season? We’d love to hear your own practices.
(Thanks to Flickr user KimCarpenter NJ for the lovely photo.)