20 December 2005

The thing with feathers

The Grinch has apparently stolen all the Christmas trees, this time before they even got into people's houses, hung and strung and jammed underneath with presents. Good thing I don't have room for a tree in my wee cottage anyway.

I usually do this, wait until the last week before Christmas to decorate. It isn't that I'm too busy, necessarily, or that I need to wait until the prices go down, although that is certainly a delightful side effect. I'm pretty sure it dates back to my upbringing as a strict Episcopalian. I bet you didn't know there was such a thing, except as it applied to the daily required intake of sherry, what-what old chap?

There is such a thing, and my mother is it, God love her. Strict Episcopalianism involves paying a great deal of attention to the liturgical year. This mostly translates into what color to wear during the coffee hour after church, since each season has an assigned, appropriate color. It's really only supposed to be for the altar vestments and those wacky folks up on stage, but everyone likes to get in on the act and wear the team colors, as it were.

You get to wear green all summer long, because that's Pentecost, a period of time that goes on and on forever without any interesting readings from scripture or Events in the Life of Jesus to celebrate. If you ever wondered when they ever got around to reading all of those "begats" in the Bible, it's during Pentecost. This is when all the priests take vacations and go fishing with their spouses. Episcopalian priests are allowed to have a wife or be a wife, if they so choose. It's all quite up to the individual, which I think is damned civilized.

There's some sort of bloodless battle over whether one should wear purple or red during Passion week, the week before Easter, but I try not to get involved. Choirs have been broken up over less.

One quirky side effect of all this strict adherence to the church calendar is that one realizes that it is not Christmas until it is, well, Christmas. The four weeks prior to the blessed day itself are collectively known as Advent. During Advent one sings Advent carols, such as O Come O Come Emmanuel, not Christmas carols, such as O Little Town of Bethlehem. Advent is a time for preparing oneself for Christmas, but you are not supposed to act as if you know what is going to happen. It's like Christmas is a surprise party we have every single year at the same time. And at the same person's house.

So I tend not to decorate until it's just about Christmas, because until then, it's just Advent, which is mostly celebrated by humming Advent carols and munching on the stale chocolate found in cheap, imported Advent calendars. Why is the chocolate always awful in those things?

I am also more of a pagan with a serious Zen meditation habit these days than an Episcopalian, and so I feel less burdened to follow most elements of the liturgical year. But since so much of the liturgical year is lifted directly out of old pagan traditions, I am mostly down with it anyway.

So today I hauled in my twelve feet (for the twelve days of Christmas) of evergreen garland and a nice, big, fir bough wreath, set some nice little votives in and among the branches, being very careful not to set fire to anything, stuck in a few of the cards we've received from our friends this year, and hung the wreath over the fireplace.

Then I lit a whole extravagant mess of sandalwood incense, the kind we used at the Zendo in New York where I learned to meditate, and thought for a while about the sun gradually returning by degrees, the days finally getting longer and lighter. I like the feeling that I am keeping at least a little bit of green life inside, warm and safe, during this coldest and darkest time, so that if the worst happens and all else is blighted, not all is lost.


Lighthouse Wreath


And because I am my mother's daughter, it will all come down, like clockwork, on Epiphany. Now if only I could find a good performance of Twelfth Night somewhere nearby.

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