By Veronica Szczygiel
At the school where I teach, Christmas comes early. So early, in fact, that my students are singing “Little Drummer Boy” in late September. After six years of being exposed to a sprinter’s start to the season, I find it rather endearing. All this practicing culminates in the school’s Lessons and Carols, performed for the students’ families in December. It is always phenomenally spiritual. So, understandably, this celebration of faith requires deep and ongoing preparation.
Children’s melodic voices are praises to God. However, the early arrival of Christmas in the secular world is totally unnerving. Television commercials, billboards, radio songs, and catalogues clogging the mailbox all suddenly announce the arrival not of Christ, but of clutter.
This early inception of Christmas is out of control. And, if you’re like me, stress-inducing. Every year, just when I’m buried under a pile of essays that seems to weigh a ton – WHAM! – on comes a jingle for the latest knickknack or a sultry rendition of “Santa, Baby.” It comes as a shock. It’s unnerving. It grates at my skin like sandpaper. And it seems to suck the joy out of the season.
Because Christmas is not about clutter. It’s about the exact opposite. It’s about making room, just as Mary and Joseph had to make room for Jesus in their lives. Let’s be honest: Mary’s virgin pregnancy before her proper wedding was pretty inconvenient. It sent shock waves throughout her community. But the couple made room, just as any parents would do for a child. Furthermore, Mary and Joseph had to make room for Jesus’ birth in the traditional stable story. The stable was assuredly crowded with animals, their food, their bedding, and other tools needed for farming. But, in the spirit of de-cluttering, the animals made room and loaned the newborn baby their manger.
We, too, have to de-clutter. I don’t mean physically organizing our living spaces, though that might be helpful for many of us (Lord knows my desk is desperately begging for a sprucing). We have to de-clutter what is taking up the most space in our hearts: the darkest spaces, like grief, anxiety, jealousy. It’s difficult. It takes time, patience, perseverance, prayer. It might also take conversations with loved ones, priests, or professionals, if the despair is overwhelming.
That’s why we have Advent. It aids us in the process of spiritual de-cluttering by giving us time. Waiting for Christmas is precious and is necessary, no matter how rushed the media wants us to feel about our holiday. For them, capitalism trumps common sense and Christian values. For us, each moment before Christmas is a little gift, a little time for us to stop and be truly excited for the birth of our Savior.
As for me, whenever I hear an irritating holiday advertisement on television, I will be sure to drown it out with the thought of my own students’ voices singing praises to the real reason for the season.
Szczygiel teaches English at the Marymount School of New York.