Sunday, November 27, 2011


Last night at our church potluck, Betty arrived with eleven-day-old Jean Michel, and I was so excited to see them. You see, almost two weeks ago, a very pregnant Betty came to our neighbourhood Taize prayer service, and when it ended, I went to talk with her. I knew, from seeing her a month earlier, that the baby was overdue. She told me, that evening two weeks ago, that she was having strong contractions as long as the music played. It made her happy because she wanted a natural birth, and the doctor was planning to induce the baby in two days. So I told her I had some Taize music cds to keep the contractions going, and she could take them with her to the hospital. My daughter and I delivered them to Betty and her husband at 9 p.m. ... and Jean Michel arrived at 5:41 the next morning. I received an email announcing his arrival, and couldn't stop smiling the rest of the day!

He's so little, and so beautiful. He slept through the potluck last night, so we never got to see his pretty eyes, or those adorable, newborn expressions... but I know where he lives, so I think I'll try to still my dizzy head and walk over there for a baby fix sometime this week.

Jean Michel's arrival, and seeing him for the first time right at the beginning of Advent has me thinking about expectation... and expectations, two very different words, but linked. For those of us who celebrate Christmas in its religious sense, Advent is a time to wait in expectation for the coming of Christ... but too often, societal expectations that have developed over the years put a damper on the joy of the season. Consumer culture starts preparing and celebrating so far ahead of time, that we're pooped when the day actually arrives. That kind of expectation would never work when it comes to childbirth!

I learned a lot about Canadian Christmas expectations in preparing for my Rethinking Christmas workshops over the last few years. Looking through December 20th Globe and Mail archives starting in 1860, I discovered that, for most Canadians, Christmas was simply a one or two day break from the daily grind. It was about family gatherings, going to church if you were a believer, food, drink, music, and celebration. It was about light and joy in the darkest days of the year. Gift-wise, a man might get a new pocket knife for Christmas, a woman, a new housecoat. Children received oranges from an exotic place called Florida, or perhaps peppermint candy. I found a few ads for luxury Christmas gifts like diamonds, whisky and cigarettes (no kidding!) in the 1940s, but it wasn't really until after the war that consumer expectations really took off. Suddenly, we began to buy, buy, buy, decorate, decorate, decorate, and party, party, party!

Oh, Santa! Really??

The thing about expectations, though, that we often forget, is that we have a choice in whether we listen to and live up to them--or not. We have the power to decide whether they are realistic expectations, part of authentic Christmas celebration--or not.

So, just for fun, I've made a list of Christmas expectations that our family does not consider realistic.

1. We don't think it's realistic to spend $1,113 per person in big box retail stores for Christmas gifts. That's what Stats Can tells me Albertans spent (on average) in 2006. How can that kind of giving/receiving even be meaningful? We draw names, and each person in the clan gets one or two useful/well-considered gifts under $50. We also give gifts to Hope Mission and participate in our church's inner city Emmanuel gift sack program.

2. We don't think it's essential to have new Christmas clothing every year (though our kids are still growing, so it might look that way).

3. We don't think it's necessary to attend every Christmas concert and event going. We pick and choose a few that mean something to us, and tend to celebrate more on or after Christmas day than before.

4. We don't think every home should look like Martha Stewart's. What a waste of world resources that would be! Instead, we decorate a tree, and hang up the Christmas cards we receive, and the kids' craft projects from years gone by.

5. We don't think Christmas dinner has to be a twenty lb. bird. But whatever we do eat (homemade chicken noodle soup!) we always include a special, candycane-shaped, layered lime and fruit coctail/lemony cream cheese/strawberry jello confection. It's more a tradition for us than turkey!

6. We don't think Christmas music should start playing the minute after Remembrance Day, and end on December 25th. We enjoy it through December and the beginning of January. I've been avoiding radio stations that start too early!

7. We don't think that each Christmas has to be "better" than the one before. That's just silly, especially when they're all good in their own way.

So I guess you could say we tend to thumb our noses at a lot of societal expectations for Christmas, simply because they cause stress on us or our planet, or mess with our joyous expectation of the season. That's our choice. And we're expecting this Christmas to be a celebration unlike any other (as they all are), a time to pause and remember the Someone who came and changed our world--and us--for the better, with his wisdom and love.

Have a joyful Advent!


  1. So Maria, those candles I've been seeing lit in windows must be Advent candles? How lovely!

    Are you going to share your jello concoction recipe? That sounds so GOOD!

  2. I'll see if I can find that recipe for you, Lael! As for candles in the window, I think they're meant to light the holy family's way (in Ireland especially), but they could be Advent Candles. I don't think Hanukkah is until later in December.


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