I did not grow up in a liturgical church and so “Church Year” is not my mother tongue. So, in my quest to try and figure out what Advent is and what it might look like in our family, this line, "Advent is not tailgating," has been very helpful to me. I am not an expert in liturgical things, but I am a believer there is beauty and wisdom in setting aside days and seasons in our walk of faith for special purposes. I’ve also been interested in thinking about fasting and feasting and how they go together.
Advent is historically a season of fasting before the feast of Christmas. It’s a mini-version of the Lent/Easter duo. The first time I heard of a friend fasting from sugar during Advent until Christmas I laughed out loud. I thought she was trying to embody The Grinch. Needless to say, I did not jump on the bandwagon.
A Season of Tailgating?
My friend Andene O’Neil once defined Advent as NOT tailgating.
Tailgating is a party before The Party. I think the idea is there is so much fun to be had, that it couldn’t possibly fit into the regular Party/Game time allotment. Or maybe it is the principle of ‘so long as you’re having fun, it’s better to have more.’ So, in Advent, you see this as a CRAZY December with parties and cookies and chocolate Advent calendars and wild busyness. Sometimes at home, we have craft projects for kids every day or Elves that give you gifts or lists of activities that all kids should experience to feel “the magic of Christmas.” I don’t think that any of those things are wrong, but I’ve been wondering the last few years if we aren’t missing something in the general idea of fasting and of going without.
I’ve been thinking about my favorite Christmas stories and I’ve noticed a “fast” in a story or a “lack of something” or a “going without to save up” always seems to make for a grander feast. In an Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polocco, Frankie can hardly stand waiting for his father to return home with a box of special Christmas oranges. And, in fact, waiting is so hard that he ends up taking his orange early. And, of course, when you read the story, you know taking the orange early is going to end badly because of the anticipated traditions involving the orange that are only a day away.
So, what I’ve been wondering is how is excess ahead of the feast robbing us of the actual feast itself?
The gift of waiting for the Feast
My goal is to give my children, our family and even myself the gift of waiting during the season of Advent. A friend was recently telling me about a study conducted on peoples' satisfaction of a weekend. The study concluded that people who made early plans for the weekend and anticipated them actually enjoyed the weekend more than people who spontaneously had fun on the weekend. What if the real “magic of Christmas” is not in chaos and events and treats, but in quiet anticipation? What if we need time and space and silence to remember the promises fulfilled by God in Jesus and anticipate the coming of our King? What if we actually need that anticipation to really enjoy Christmas?
Every year I try a new route in navigating between my ideal and the practical pressures and commitments and fun opportunities that are ever-available in December. For the record, I have not figured it out. I will say, though, that we’ve tasted the pleasures of rest and quiet during the Advent season and it left me longing for more. It takes way more work to cultivate a sense of anticipation and quiet waiting than to tailgate. It is absolutely counter-cultural. But, I think the Feast is worth it. Because, after all, we don’t say no to the good and fun things; we just say, “Not yet, but soon!”