These days people complain that the Christmas decorations and all the other Christmas trimmings appear in the shops so early that by the time they get to Christmas, they are tired cranky and Christmased out! Yet it is possible to think of the early appearance of Christmas items in the shops differently. Traditionally some of the preparations for Christmas have always begun early. The Prayer of the week in the week before Advent goes:
“Stir up, we pray you, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people,
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The Sunday before Advent is ‘Stir-up Sunday’, traditionally the day Christmas puddings are made. In our family that was Grandma’s job and when we moved back to Brisbane, the day the ingredients came out to be mixed into a rich spicy Christmas pudding was looked forward to with anticipation. We were allowed to help add the ingredients and mix them together – by hand of course. Then the pudding was wrapped in calico fabric and placed in the boiler under Grandma’s watchful eye. After it was cooked, it was hung in the walk-in pantry, to be brought out and served on Christmas Day with lashings of brandy custard.
I could never decide which was the nicest – the raw pudding mixture which Grandma allowed us to lick off the spoons or the finished product. Grandma was also responsible for the Christmas cake, shortbread biscuits and rum balls. I have inherited the last responsibility, including Grandma’s recipe, though I suspect I am a little more generous with the rum. So, preparations for Christmas actually do begin long before the season of Advent starts.
The preparations for the first Christmas began nine months before the actual day, with the announcement that a young adolescent was pregnant. During these nine months, Mary would have prepared for the birth of her child with anticipation, eagerness, joy, impatience, fear – the mixture of emotions that many women feel during pregnancy. The same feelings many of us have as Christmas Day draws closer, especially when you are young and the wonder is still so real. Maybe a room or a space was initially prepared for the coming child, just as parents today decorate nurseries, and just as we decorate our homes for the celebration.
As the birth of a child comes closer, people begin to think about what gifts they will give, just as we prepare gifts for others to be given on Christmas Day. It could just be that the early appearance of Christmas in the shops gives us the opportunity to be better prepared, rather than doing a last minute rush. Cards can be chosen and written with care, and maybe a prayer can be said for the person it is being sent to. The same can be done with presents, chosen with love and care for families and friends, just as the wise men in the Christmas story each gave a gift to a child in a manger. And, then there is the opportunity to be generous to those less fortunate through organisations that enable us to give life-giving gifts, such as chickens and vegies, clean water and classrooms.
This year take time – time to be with family, time to prepare, time to pray and reflect, time to celebrate. Use the appearance of the tinsel and trees in the shops as a reminder to take time. Advent is the season of expectation and preparation. Just as we can celebrate ‘Christmas’, the birth of Jesus on any day, by coming together as family, offering love and hospitality, Advent can be any length of time. It is the time each family needs to prepare.
Remember, the first Christmas was nine months in the making.
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