In addition to being the first day of the month, it’s also the first day of Advent. I grew up observing the Advent season at home. My holiday celebration is different now that I’m older and on my own, but I do still try to keep Advent in my heart and soul throughout December, regardless of how busy the month tends to be. Last year, I was too distracted with my internship to really feel the coming of Christmas, but I think it’ll be different this year.
I was happy to stumble on this thoughtful essay about the Advent season in the New York Times today. The author, an Anglican priest, offers the reminder that, according to the church calendar, Advent isn’t a celebration of Christmas. That celebration begins on Christmas day. Advent is about readying ourselves for Christmas, and that readiness includes recognition of our own hunger and yearning for completeness.
The author, Tish Harrison Warren, writes,
For Christians, Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth — that light has come into darkness and, as the Gospel of John says, “the darkness could not overcome it.” But Advent bids us first to pause and to look, with complete honesty, at that darkness.
To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. Advent holds space for our grief, and it reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness.
While I don’t experience faith in the same way that Warren does, I was touched by her description of the human ache for “things to be made right.” Suffering and darkness are part of our world and our experience of it; they’re part of what give meaning and existence to joy.
During the holidays, it’s difficult not to feel pressured to be celebratory all the time; as Warren points out, this pressure may be part of what contributes to the “holiday blues” that so many people feel when their emotions don’t align with expectations of seasonal cheer.
In Warren’s opinion, though, acknowledgment of suffering can be a part of the Advent season:
We need communal rhythms that make deliberate space for both grief and joy . . . Abstaining, for a moment, from the clamor of compulsive jollification, and instead leaning into the reality of human tragedy and of my own need and brokenness, allows my experience of glory at Christmastime to feel not only more emotionally sustainable but also more vivid, vital and cherished.
This resonated with me, and it actually aligned with what I’d been feeling on Thanksgiving this past week.
For the last few years, I’ve entered the holidays with a lot of hope and expectation, the desire for the season to brighten things, or to make them right. I didn’t feel this way on Thursday morning, when I woke up. I was glad to have plans with my mom and an opportunity to be especially grateful, which is what the day means to me. But I didn’t have a vision of the day or an idea of how it had to be. And it ended up being one of the nicest holidays that we’ve had in years.
I appreciate the specialness of the holidays; apart from any spiritual connotations, they feel sacred to me, if only because they were a big part of my childhood and continue to be an important ritual for me and my mom.
But I think it’s important to make space for sorrow at this time of year, not in spite of the fact that it invites us to be jubilant but rather because it does. My therapist always gently reminds me that you can’t mute one side of the emotional spectrum without ultimately quieting all of it, and I’ve found this to be true. By acknowledging the sadness in our world and our lives, we make ourselves more able to value and experience sweetness.
I’m entering Advent with a quiet openness, a gentle receptivity to everything. This includes cheer and mirth, but it also includes the whole spectrum of human realness. And I’m remembering to acknowledge the suffering that befalls people and animals everywhere around the world, even as I hope for peace and goodwill for us all.
Happy December, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.
I’m sorry I didn’t stumble on these scalloped potatoes in time for Thanksgiving!
A beautiful, festive wild rice salad.
Quite possibly the most authentic and appetizing vegan carbonara recipe I’ve found.
Allie’s lentil and rice stuffed squash is simple, yet so perfect for a holiday centerpiece.
I adore bulgur, and this golden hued stew is on my list of recipes to try!
1. My heart was warmed by Erin McDowell’s reminiscences of baking pie with her Grandmother. Whether you love rolling pie crust or not, it’s a lovely tribute to the consolations of being in the kitchen.
2. This isn’t a new video, but it reminded me of how mighty plants are!
3. Distressingly, US life expectancy is declining because of more deaths among middle aged Americans. The article cites the opioid epidemic as a major factor, but heart disease is another. This makes me hope that plant-based eating trends, which may aid in prevention, continue to grow.
4. I love this story of camaraderie and breaking bread in my hometown. (And on the subway, no less.)
5. And finally, Tish Harrison Warren’s meditations on the Advent season.
This week, a holiday-friendly, winter-ready comfort food recipe. Till soon,