Welcome to A Pause in Advent 2012, as readers and as ‘pausers’ ! This Pause in Advent is more challenging for me than others I’ve organised, as I’m working close to full time right now and our internet connection decided to desert us last week. I wrote this post on Saturday night and am now (Monday morning) in a McDonald's restaurant near to my next lesson, taking advantage of McDonald's free WiFi (and a diet coke and a salad...) It's been an enormous pleasure to log on and read all the kind and enthusiastic messages you've left me since our internet connection disappeared - my apologies to those who asked questions which I haven't been able to answer yet.
So, having more outside pressures at the moment, I’ve had to think about my priorities for preparing Christmas. What is really essential, and what is just a pleasant trimming? Or, to go with the title of this post, what is the essence of Christmas, and what is merely ‘Christmas-flavoured’?
I teach French people who work in the food industry, and one group had an interesting conversation last week about which ice creams are entitled to a vanilla flower on their packaging. If real vanilla essence is used, the packaging can be illustrated with the vanilla flower. If flavouring which has never seen a vanilla pod is used, then there is no right to use a picture of the flower. (Although unscrupulous producers do use it. No surprise there…)
So there we are – essence (the distilled ‘real thing’) and flavouring (a commercial attempt at copying the real thing).
The first part of the essence of Christmas may well be tradition. I love the old traditions and I really enjoy the way that families and other groups quickly create their own traditions – there doesn’t need to be much age behind a tradition to make it significant. I hope that some of the other ‘Pauses’ are going to talk about these traditions, old and new, and I’m really looking forward to learning more about them. But another, very practical, aspect of tradition has really made itself clear to me this year.
I was far too busy teaching English to food producers (and others) to prepare much for Advent this year. So on Friday night I went to the box labelled ‘Advent’ and pulled out:
The Advent Tree made by Ben’s mum when the boys were little.
The Advent Wreath made by Ben from one of our firewood logs two years ago, after we’d burnt a hole in the old fabric wreath in our 'Pause' logo. (I need to add some greenery - I haven't had time yet!)
The Advent Nativity Scene bought by me in the Harrogate Fair Trade Shop about eleven years ago.
If I hadn’t had these trusty, traditional pieces tucked away, we wouldn’t have been ready for Advent. Last year I really enjoyed getting creative and making a fresh Advent wreath. This year I’m delighted to be revisiting the old favourites, which have allowed me to establish a genuine atmosphere of preparation in the home, with almost no work. Traditions make it easy to hold on to what matters – my new discovery of the week.
PS Ben has just started playing ‘O come, o come Emmanuel’ on the piano – full marks for Advent Essence, that man!