This article first appeared in the Homeschool Journey newsletter, December 2003
Advent in America... hmmm... not much awaiting of the Light in our local Wal-Mart or in the orgy of holiday specials advertised on TV. It’s such an assault on the senses and sensibilities at this time of year, whether one is trying wade through holiday catalogs to get at one’s mail or cringing along with the Christmas muzak at the mall or simply trying to find out what’s happening in the news between the exhortations to shop, shop, shop! It reminds me sadly of the messages hurled from the White House in the aftermath of 9/11 - it’s OK, folks, come out of your homes - and please go shopping!
Is this what we want for our children? Do we want them to grow up with the message that shopping = fulfillment? That the health of this country is measured by how much we buy?
In our family we do very little shopping for Christmas. We try to focus less on ‘buying’ and more on ‘making’. Since my boys were very little, some of our favorite Advent/Christmas activities have been things like “what shall we make for Daddy?” and “let’s make some Christmas cookies for our neighbors”. Hand-dipped candles, cards made with tissue paper and glitter glue, various crafts such as soap-making and bead-looms have all been popular in our household. The result has been, I feel, a healthy emphasis on ‘giving’ at Christmas rather than ‘getting’.
Another thing that we do that helps strengthen this emphasis on giving is to open presents in a very orderly way. There’s no mad rush-grab-and-lunge scene on Christmas morning. Instead, we gather as a family and take turns opening presents, taking as much enjoyment from others receiving their gifts as in receiving our own. There have been some truly special moments during our gift-opening, times when our boys argued not about opening their own presents but about who was going to give Granny hers!
Every family can find ways to strengthen the spiritual messages of grace during the holidays: Jewish families, for instance, might give a gift to others for each night of Chanukah. Service projects, such as singing at a nursing home or donating food or gifts to a homeless shelter are possibilities. Families who celebrate a holiday such as Kwanzaa are in a wonderful position to remember and honor the values of their tradition by working with a different named quality on each of the seven days of the festival.
For those who celebrate Christmas, another possibility is to save a gift for Epiphany, January 6th. Known also as Three Kings’ Day, some Christian traditions, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, celebrate this day as the birth of Jesus rather than December 25th (Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, gave an explanation as to how there could be two different days for the birth of Jesus... but we won’t go into that now!). We can work with these two different dates - which frame the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas - by attuning to the shift in mood from that of the Shepherds who came on Christmas morn, to that of the Kings, the wise men of Zoroaster.
Many of us try to work deeply with the special spiritual qualities that are available to all people during the Twelve Holy Nights. Those of us who work on the land often take time to walk meditatively on that piece of Earth of which we are stewards, reflecting on its needs. Others pay particular attention to dreams, knowing that the doors to the spiritual world are open a bit wider during this time and that insights can be had which can be of great relevance to the year ahead.
As a friend recently said, we can perhaps think it is a good thing that in America, at least, “Christmas” is generally regarded as a season which finishes on December 25th. With the hubbub of commercialism over and done with, those of us who are actually trying to work with the spiritual reality of this festival can find the peaceful stillness to hear the angels sing.