This holiday season has felt different from the joyful noise and excited expectation of previous holidays. As I wrote this post, I reflected on some of the big changes between this year and the typical experiences of past Christmases. Most notably, for my family, the usual busyness has slowed to a crawl, due to the necessary reduction of activities accompanying this time of year. In the past, I’ve concentrated almost exclusively on the highs of the season: getting to experience greatly anticipated get-togethers, concerts, and traditions – joy-filled and exciting celebrations. In direct contrast, this December’s calendar has remained nearly empty. Similar to the subdued sense of Thanksgiving thankfulness, this Christmas season has, in many ways, felt subdued as well. I’ve gone through many of the physical preparations of the season, decorating the tree, wrapping gifts, listening to music, and watching holiday movies, however, my emotions have had a hard time reflecting the cheerful holiday spirit that these preparations represent.
For last year’s Christmas-week post, I shared what brings me joy during the chaos of the holiday season and focused on the celebratory aspects of Christmas. This year, my attention has shifted dramatically and instead of noisy excitement, I’ve been more aware of the quiet anticipation in the leadup to Christmas day. The Advent season, Latin for “coming,” feels especially pertinent this year as “waiting” corresponds with the experience that has consumed most of 2020. In a way, it has been relieving to have a season centered on waiting, normalizing the feelings associated with living in suspenseful expectation.
I grew up with the tradition of Advent, the season preceding Christmas day, but it seems its significance sometimes gets lost in the excitement of Christmas celebrations. This year, however, the season of Advent felt particularly compelling. I have been comforted by the opportunity for a collective recognition of waiting, space for mental and emotional preparation for anticipated hope, a sense of expectancy, an increased awareness of holding both melancholy and joy together.
Being separated from almost all of the busyness typically associated with the holidays has given me a renewed opportunity to lean into anticipation. But, rather than the eager expectation that comes from waiting for holiday excitement, I often found myself instead dealing with the uncomfortable, sometimes frustrating aspects of contemplative waiting. As I waded through an abundance of time and did my best to focus on hopeful waiting, the melancholy of anxious anticipation preoccupied my experience. And yet, through the heaviness, I found a depth and connection to the universally difficult emotions and thoughts frequently faced in the leadup to the hope and joy of Christmas.
The largely empty holiday schedule has allowed time to consider just how much a sense of “both” is present in Christmas. I have come to deeply appreciate how the quietness has led me to hold onto the true meaning of Christmas, and forced me to accommodate constantly competing emotions of melancholy and joy, stress and calm, anxious waiting and hopeful expectation. It struck me that even the music of the season reflects this dichotomy, this awareness of “both,” from the solemn “What Child is This” to the exuberant “Joy to the World.”
As I navigated the tension of “both” this season, I realized maybe it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be during Advent. The joy of the holiday season is coming. However, Advent, this season of waiting, is something I missed out on by not allowing it due space in previous holiday seasons. So, this past month I have given myself time and space to be quiet, to reflect, to wait in pensive anticipation during the leadup to Christmas. Although it doesn’t feel celebratory or full of holiday cheer, it has been grounding. I have worked to accept where I am, and to appreciate this relevant aspect of the season that I often overlook, and which is all but overshadowed in the joy and noisy celebrations of the holiday. Even throughout the shadow of waiting, I have tried to be on the lookout for the hope I know is still present. This season of waiting will end. Advent will come to a close and we will shift to joyful Christmas day. Even life will eventually return to a new normal. Though the feelings and emotions surrounding Christmas celebrations, and the celebrations themselves, will look a little different from previous years, I know that through it all I can wait for and hold on to the hope and joy that this season brings.
Wendi, her husband, and their two kids live in Minnesota and are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and a member of the podcast Moms Who Wine.
*photo credit: personal photo*