By Nikki Finkelstein-Blair
I’m afraid it’s true, I am one of Those People.
But, let me be clear: I do not advocate for the celebration of Christmas to begin in mid-October. The Christmas season begins the way God intended, when Santa Claus floats down Fifth Avenue at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Until then, we won’t listen to Bing Crosby croon “White Christmas,” or watch young Natalie Wood try to summon up belief on 34th Street, and we won’t haul out any holly or deck any halls. (I will admit, however, that I have caved in when my 5-year-old has requested “Bob, The Tiny Reindeer” for his bedtime reading for this past week.)
Something I’ve learned, though, is that when the season finally arrives, I need to be able to hit the ground running. For the past six Christmases I have participated in a daily art journaling project beginning December 1; to keep up with it and complete it successfully, I have to assemble and organize my supplies well in advance. Before we can merrily decorate our house, we need to tidy, sort, and purge the debris of daily life that seems to accumulate around us like snowdrifts. For most of our 17 Christmases of marriage, Scott and I have lived far away from family, so our gifts must be bought, wrapped, and ready in plenty of time to ship across the country (or the world). This year for the first time I am knitting many of the gifts we will send, and every handcrafter knows you can’t wait until Christmastime to start your stitching, painting, building, creating.
So yes, even though it doesn’t look anything like Christmas around here right now (well, apart from “Bob”), I am beginning to undertake the necessary preparations. And even some pre-preparations. I do it not for the sake of busy-ness or control-freakishness, and certainly not because I want to bypass the days between now and then. I do it because I know that it will help me when I most need it—when the days of Advent begin in ernest, and when I need all the calm I can unwrap amidst the mandatory fun of the season. I don’t start preparing because I’m trying to make Christmas stretch into October; I start because I know that my being ready will allow those short, full, flying December days to stretch, to lengthen, to open up and make the space I need to be in them as they come.
In life, it’s not always possible to be prepared that way. Most of the events that fill our days with flurry, anxiety, and to-doing are unexpected, and catch us unawares. Ready-or-not! Quick change! Reroute! How I wish there were a countdown calendar we could follow for those surprising seasons, reminding us to pace out our preparations and construct our scaffolds of readiness in plenty of time for that unknown Big Day. Still, although we might not get advance warning, we can know for sure that those Big Days will come, days when the life we anticipated and eagerly planned for takes a sharp and unanticipated turn. There will be days when we feel listless or lost or left behind, days when there is no spare moment for stillness, days when the clock and calendar race ahead of us and we wonder whether (or how) we lived through them at all.
Is it possible to be prepared for days like that? Perhaps, in the same way that we can prepare for the season of Christmas … knowing full well that whatever we do in advance, the days of December (and of life) will still be bustling and brief. We can gather up the resources we need—trusted friends, Words of Life, moments of worship. We can make our lists — remembering the gifts we have been given, the ways we too can serve. We can clear out the clutter — letting go and making space. We can put our hands to work, and in that work turn our hearts to God.
And just maybe, because we’ve done all that, we’ll be able to look around us when our unplanned life happens (as it always, always does) and find that while it might not look quite like Christmas, it is beginning to look more and more like home.