We're a Little Bit Pagan . . .

Did y’all ever think about how WEIRD Christmas is?  I don’t mean what we are celebrating, of course–I know you know that.  Maybe what I really should be asking is did y’all ever think about how weird communal traditions are in general, or if weird isn’t the right word, how . . . PRIMITIVE.
I mean, look how we all go kind of crazy this time of year, and all the wacky (if you really think about it) things we do!  Chopping down trees and bringing them inside our houses and decorating them.  Festooning our homes with lights inside and out.  Singing certain songs.  Eating certain foods.  And more or less all of us, no matter how different we are, observing very similar customs.
And we all take it so seriously, too.  It’s not the kind of thing most of us would ever opt out of.  It’s like, I don’t know, we are afraid the sun won’t return and the days won’t grow longer again if we don’t do these things. 🙂
I’ve always said it was an awesomely strategic PR move on the part of the Church to co-opt the trappings of the primitive pagan festivals for use in religious celebrations.  You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, right?  And I wonder, if things hadn’t happened that way, if the Church had instead forbidden people to engage in the old ways at all, what would have risen up in their place.
Because there has to be something inside of us, don’t you think, something more than mere custom or habit, that NEEDS these kind of communal celebrations?  Surely they could not continue, could not mean so much, seem so crucial, if there wasn’t more to it than that?
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Countdown to Christmas

That’s what they call some of the calendars in stores this time of year, and it irritates me.  Of course, Advent doesn’t always correspond exactly to the dates on the calendar, but it’s an Advent Calendar all the same!

I remember the first one I ever had–a Nativity scene with child-like characters.  It was pop-up and had movable parts.  I do have an incredible memory for everything that happened before I had kids but that’s not why I remember it–it’s because we saved it and continued to hang it year after year.

It looked a lot like this.
It looked a lot like this.

My sisters and I were largely responsible for decorating our house at Christmas time, and at some point we decided that our large dining room would look more festive with every single Advent Calendar we’d ever had displayed on one wall.  Although originally we’d get one and take turns opening the doors, eventually we started getting two or even three, so there were a lot of them.

I recall several Tasha Tudor versions (my mother’s favorite), one featuring Benji (remember that movie?), a Muppet one (“Hope Santy-Poo is good to you,” quoth Miss Piggy), the Legend of the Robin, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, the Nutcracker Suite, and many more.  We were so excited about our calendars, which we opened each morning before we left for school.  We looked forward with great anticipation to what the big secret would be under the 24th door.  This sometimes caused a problem when our cousins got the same calendar we had, because they were the kind of kids who peeked (we would NEVER EVER peek) and then they would tell us what was under that last door.

We had this one for sure.
We had this one for sure.


My first year at college, my roommate and I were determined to be festive.  We festooned our rooms with Christmas lights and put up a manger scene that I brought from home at Thanksgiving.  And since exams ran so late that we were at school until Advent was almost over, we wanted an Advent calendar.  Yes, my roommate and her family had this tradition as well, but with a twist–they always had chocolate calendars, which at that point I had never even heard of!  So we went out to Wisconsin Avenue and went shopping, and managed to find one.  I can’t remember now whether we continued that custom for the next three years.

Of course when my kids were old enough I started getting Advent Calendars for them.  There was no question of sharing–everyone had his own.  I haven’t always been successful with this tradition, though.  I never seemed to have it before Advent started, so we’d end up having to open several days at once when I finally got one.  Or there were years I waited so long that there was none to be had–or really hideous ones that I would normally have scorned.  And although I wanted to save them, either they weren’t as sturdy or my kids are rougher because some of them didn’t make it to the following year!

Sadly, at some point I found the old Advent Calendars from my childhood, which no one was displaying anymore, and decided they would make a nice addition to display with ours, which at that time we plastered all over the walls of our den.  So now ALL of them are gone.

I got the jump on this year by buying one on sale AFTER Christmas (because I forgot to get one until too late last year!).  But then Lorelei and William saw chocolate ones at the grocery store and wanted one of those.  So this year we have two, and they can alternate calendars each day.  It warms my heart to see their excitement and enjoyment and takes me back to a simpler time in my own life.