Every year I haul several plastic bins up from the basement to begin decorating for Christmas. A small one holds our crèche. Another holds the stockings and tablecloths. And a big one contains multiple decorations, including our Advent wreath. It is a simple gold-like ring with bits of wax stuck on parts of it. I put it in its usual spot on the kitchen table and then reach in the drawer and pull out the one pink and three purple candles. I stare at them and realize, with a sigh, that they are the same candles I used last year, but I do not have to replace them. They did not get much use.
Why is it, I wonder, I cannot just remember to light a match each night? And why, I wonder, am I beginning the Advent season with the feeling of failure?
But the optimist in me emerges. I hope that maybe this year will be different. Maybe I will do enough, pray enough, be enough. And maybe I will actually remember to use the Advent wreath.
When I was young, our family was great about lighting the Advent wreath. In part, it was because I was so persistent. I was the youngest and got to light the candles first, so I was always pestering my parents to light it. When I had my own young family, I was a little better about lighting the candles, but I still felt a little guilty. We never found time to read the prayers from the booklet I bought each year.
And for the past few years, my husband and I have sat at supper with the Advent wreath just looking at us. Sometimes I can’t find the matches. After all, no one gives them out at weddings or restaurants anymore. And we can’t just leave them on the kitchen table for the grandchildren to grab. I even bought an automatic lighter. Nope. That was not the solution. For the past couple of years, the wreath has not been a priority.
And I say to myself, seriously, how hard is it to light a candle and say a prayer? We say grace each night—why can’t we just do a bit more?
But then I stop and realize that all of us place “extras” on ourselves that maybe we are not prepared or willing to handle.
We might ask:
How hard is it to wrap a gift with a pretty ribbon? For me, very hard. I admire those who can make a present look like a work of art. I thank God for gift bags.
How hard is it to make fancy cookies? Again, not my strength. I celebrate friends who make beautiful cookie trays. But I also say “Hooray!” for slice-and-bake cookies.
How hard is it to decorate a color-coordinated Christmas tree? Very hard. I am just glad when it doesn’t tilt.
But I can cook and love to entertain lots of people. I enjoy sending out Christmas cards. And I try to throw in money to the red kettles in front of stores. And I will make going to confession a priority.
Now, I’m not saying we won’t be lighting the Advent wreath this season. I will try. And I am not saying it is not a beautiful tradition. I think it is a beautiful one. But I also have come to realize that every person, every family will celebrate this season in their own way, and it will be enough. And perhaps the best gift we all can give ourselves and others is the message that we are enough as we are. We don’t have to be perfect gift-wrappers, cookie bakers, carol singers, or wreath lighters.
We all can love God and celebrate the Christ Child together. And when we sing “Joy to the World,” we can feel joyous, because the Baby came for all of us just as we are.