We're coming to the First Sunday of Advent. We begin another penitential season, awaiting with joy a great Mystery, the Incarnation of God as Jesus Christ, in real time, in a real place.
When I was little, my parents, more from ethnic memory than religious conviction, made our Christmas especially wonderful because when we went to bed on Christmas Eve, there was NOTHING in our house. No tree, no glass Santa heads full of ribbon candy, no red stocking caps covering the spare toilet paper roll on the biffy, no plastic angels and reindeer (we were real style-makers, make no mistake), no Christmas linens, no nothing. With only a small celebration on St. Nicholas Day, finding oranges and chocolate coins in our shoes, we spent the rest of December with an Advent wreath, an Advent calendar, and whatever Christmas decorations we'd made in school. We made cookies, and wrapped presents, and those were put away where we could see them, but Santa brought everything else after we were asleep.
This was especially generous of them because my father, as a police patrolman, was usually working a lousy shift, and still everything was put up and put around and decorated after we went to bed. To keep us from passing out with concern that Santa hadn't been to our house, a specific little elf was placed at the base of our staircase, so we could peek over at 5 am and see it, and know Santa had come, and go back to bed and vibrate until our parents gave the word that we could go downstairs. (I still have the elf, and I still put him near the door.) First, we went to Mass, passing the shut parlor doors (the advantage of a drafty creaky 1895 house is that we HAD a parlor with big sliding oak doors), smelling the tree in there, and then coming home to everything lit up, glowing and beautiful. I give thanks to God for their care and generosity, because the excitement was a great gift to us!
All these years later, I've finally realized the beauty of keeping to this custom. I do put up the outside lights (just as my parents did), because the weather will be getting harsher, but I don't light them. I'll put the tree up the weekend before, because of practicality, but I won't light it, either, until Christmas Eve.
The bareness of the resulting Advent decoration (a wreath of candles on a purple table runner, a Nativity scene without the baby, and a real wreath on the door), has a different bareness than Lent. It's a rich bareness, if you will, with the closet full of presents and the pantry filling with homemade gifts and sweets. Glitter and color and memories are packed away in boxes, but will come forth at the proper time.
If you are planning when to put up the decorations, will you consider waiting a little, as long as possible? It is really necessary to have Christmas decorations up so long that they get dusty? It's exactly analogous to our birthdays; do we put up the "Happy Birthday" garland a month ahead? If we do, we may be saying that our birthday isn't a specific day, an exact event. It is, and so is the Birthday of Jesus. Don't rush it, I beg you, at the risk of insulting your family traditions.
Happy Advent! We are preparing our hearts, lowly mangers that they are, to become the throne of the King!