For your stray attention this weekend
On ritual and re-enchanting Christmas
For the first time in my life, I don’t have an advent calendar this year. I’ve reached a point of refusal on the whole thing. I don’t - whisper it - like chocolate enough to want to eat it every day, and so for the past few years, H has bought me one of the new wave of adult calendars. I’ve had a gin one full of things I didn’t want to drink; a beauty one that delivered me six iterations of shimmery bronze eyeshadow and a plethora of creams too rich for my oily skin; and, last year, a toiletries one that was fun but honestly not as good as one, big tube of really good hand cream. This year, after browsing around and realising that the only one I really wanted was the Diptyque calendar (£390; anyone?), I called it a day.
If I were a better person, I’d get myself a tasteful pictorial calendar like the ones of my childhood, with each day bringing a miniature image of a robin or a group of carol singers. But my soul has been destroyed by capitalism, so I don’t want that. I never particularly liked it as a child, either. It’s just another routine that I’ll resent after three days. What I want, instead, are a set of signposts to find my way into that blissful midwinter lull.
Last Sunday, I baked my Christmas cake, the beginning of a flurry of preparations that will happen over the next month. There will be food to order, decorations to be hung, gifts to buy, arrangements to be made; I would like to add that cards will be written, but I haven’t managed to do that for years. I’ll almost certainly buy them anyway, with the best of intentions, and probably send out a few apologetic texts on 27th December instead. It’s all too easy to turn Advent into a mere feat of organisation, a performance of busyness resulting in a single day of celebration that gets more elaborate every year. But Advent, traditionally, was an austere time, a period of fasting and reflection before the feast. I’m always looking for ways back into stillness and meaning. It shouldn’t be so, but at this time of year I find I have to fight harder than usual.
That morning, weighing the fruit, beating the butter and sugar, and wrapping the tins carefully in newspaper to help the cake survive its long bake, I began to feel my way into this season-within-a season. Listening to carols on Spotify, and chiming in with my badly remembered alto parts, the beginning of this transition into the New Year landed. While the oven did its work, I sat down to read, and it grew in me, this vast, uncanny sense of death and rebirth that shadows the garish cheer of Christmas.