(This post was originally published in December, 2012.)
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 some time 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 it without hassle). During this hushed hour I may read a little, 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 during 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-religious 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 with an eye to the winter seabirds on the Salish Sea–goldeneyes, 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 work on 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? I’d love to hear about your own practices.
(Thanks to Flickr user KimCarpenter NJ for the lovely photo.)
Just reading your posts helps to keep me sane, during the holidays as well as throughout the year.
Besides some of the same things you mention, this will be my 9th year of a silent meditation retreat from the 27th through the 31st with my meditation community. It’s a wonderful way to reflect on the present moment gifts to close out the old year and bring in the new year. I especially enjoy the crows on my sunrise 2.5 mile walk to the center and the sunset walk from there. They are flying to and from their winter roost then and make my walk so wonderful with their raucous calls.
This season has always had a very happy kind of bustle to it for me, but I guess that’s because I don’t go to a mall to Christmas-shop, nor do we watch TV, so we’re not saturated with ads. (We do rent and own DVDs so it’s not that we’re anti-TV-altogether, it’s just that broadcast TV drives us nuts anyway with regular, let alone Christmas, commercials.)
To invite the peace of the season in, I set aside time for needle-felting and card making and cookie baking with Christmas music playing. And we steal away to Carkeek Park for a walk on the shore, or stroll in Swanson’s Nursery to watch little kids delight in the reindeer and camel there and savor the decorations.
And just being all together in the dark with the Christmas lights glowing now and then–glorious. With lots of good reading stockpiled for when the lights come back on, and several jigsaw puzzles!
i am so excited to look up Caryll Houselander. i think her work might be the perfect friend for the journey through these last weeks of darkness as we wait the coming light….and then a few weeks later our own Child in Winter will come! another epiphany!
peace keep you and yours.
About 16 years ago, a couple from Salem (our town) spent Advent in Bavaria and were invited to go on an Advent walk. When they returned here they started the custom, with small group. on the first Sunday of Advent. For an hour, through the local golf course (replete with woods, wooden bridges over ponds), about 200 or more of us walk in silence carrying lanterns (candles, no kerosene). We start at 5:00 p.m. and walk in the dark, silent. A long line of light snakes through the darkness. A contemplative walk, light in darkness, often with cold and rain (this is Oregon): it’s nourishing and profound, utterly quiet.
Thank you all for your lovely comments and inspiring practices!
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I’m not someone who makes a massive holiday to-do list–I only bake cookies if it sounds like fun. But I do always feel desperate for the solstice to get here by this time of year–I just don’t like this much darkness. Creating some rituals to help appreciate the darkness is a very good idea. Thanks!
In-law here. Should I be worried?
love the idea of waking up early!
A lot of good ideas 🙂
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