I’ve been labeled a Scrooge.
For the weeks and months leading up to Thanksgiving, while the world and everyone around me had succumbed to the lure of Christmas music, I stridently refused to indulge.
While the stores were already telling me to hurry and snap up those holiday sales (in September– not much need to hurry in September), I steadfastly continued to wait.
No Christmas Before Thanksgiving, I repeated to myself.
I listened not-so-patiently as my friends rapturously expounded the virtues of Christmas music; I watched unwillingly as stores put up Christmas displays; I admired begrudgingly the Christmas lights put up by my neighbors. And I debated heatedly with any and all takers, trying to justify my position that one must wait for Thanksgiving to be over, before being engulfed by the Christmas season.
In doing so, I was labeled a Scrooge and dismissed accordingly.
As I did my level best to live up to that title, grumbling and grousing about the injustice of it all, I got to thinking– why do I put my foot down so strongly on this topic? It isn’t that I don’t love Christmas– quite the contrary, I adore this season. So why all the resistance? Why make myself suffer? Why…wait?
It could have been just because of the tradition. In my clan, it’s a very strict tradition, going generations back on my dad’s side– No Christmas Before Thanksgiving.
Or, perhaps it’s because I thought Thanksgiving was already marginalized enough, shuffled off to the side, with hardly any giving of thanks at all. The Black Friday sales don’t start on Friday anymore. They start on Thursday at 5 pm. Thanksgiving has been turned on its head, devoted to self-indulgence and materialistic greed instead of gratitude, and I think we mistreat this holiday enough without letting it be completely forgotten in the vortex of Christmas. Was that the reason?
Or maybe it was simply because I didn’t want to get burned out. After all, there are only so many decent Christmas albums out there, and one can only listen to Michael Bublé, King’s College Choir, and David Phelps so many times. Right?
Or maybe it was simpler than all that.
Maybe…it was the anticipation. The waiting. Knowing the joy and brightness was coming…but like Charlie Bucket with his birthday chocolate bar, choosing to only look, and touch, and smell it– but not to eat it, not yet, not yet.
Waiting, with a child-like glee, for the right time.
Waiting, until after Thanksgiving.
On reflection, I’d have to say that there were elements of all those in my decision to be a pre-Thanksgiving Scrooge. Tradition started it, fear of burn-out continued it, Thanksgiving’s plight gave it a happy moralistic appeal. But, in the course of my introspection, what struck me was that last one– the anticipation.
Anticipation is something that I, for one, never really gave a second thought. I’d imagine that many people are like that. We’re so focused on the awaited event that we don’t consciously think about the anticipation for it. And that, really, is the essence of anticipation. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “The act of looking forward, especially pleasurable expectation.”
I think this is why I love Advent so much. In an intangible way, it draws our attention to the very act of expectation. It’s an entire season devoted to anticipation. Everything we celebrate in Advent revolves around the promise of Christ.
I read a story once (courtesy of Dorothy Sayers) of a man who practiced this art of expectation to a fault. He said no experience ever lived up to the anticipation of that experience, and so he lived like a hermit, doing nothing, but planning all the things he might have done. He wrote an elaborate diary, containing, day by day, the record of this visionary existence which he had never dared put to the test of reality. The diary described a blissful wedded life with the woman of his dreams, yet he never married, never took a holiday, never bought a new suit. He lived his entire life anticipating, yet never acting on it, never receiving the fruit of it, rendering all that anticipation entirely void.
While this story was entirely fictional, I can’t help but think what an empty, dry life a man like that would live.
I love Advent because it is based around anticipation, but I love it most because at the end, that anticipation is fulfilled.
With the coming of this season, every circumstance surrounding the birth of Jesus becomes to come into focus; and then, at the end– bright, glorious, joyful! more fulfilling than any other thing– the day we remember the coming of Jesus to earth, the fullness of God in human flesh.When we wake up Christmas morning, knowing once again that the promise was real, that Christ has come, that is when all the anticipation becomes worth it.
And yet, anticipation doesn’t stop with the feeling. The definition keeps going. If you scroll down just a bit, you’ll find this: “A prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action,” or, “The act of preparing for something.”
It’s not just a feeling. It’s an action. Anticipation ought to change the way we live.
In this season, it means preparing for the first coming of Christ, as in the old familiar carol: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room…Let heav’n and nature sing…”
And yet, even in a time so focused on His first, quiet birth, it’s nearly impossible to extricate that first coming from the second– the one for which we still wait, still look for. The two are bound up together, sometimes even in the same tune: “He comes to make His blessings flow far as the Curse is found…”
One day, when we least expect it, He will come again. And the promise of this coming should, more than anything else, shape the way we live our lives today.
From the first quiet entrance in a minute town called Bethlehem, to the second arrival that will be splashed across the sky from horizon to horizon; from the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and the weeks celebrating Advent, anticipation permeates every area of our lives. Not just a feeling; not just a pleasure without fulfillment, not just a passive expectation, but the whole circle.
Maybe that’s why I like to finish Thanksgiving before starting Christmas. Self-imposed anticipation. The Charlie Bucket Principle. That could be it.
It sounds good, anyway.