Starting before Halloween, in the pre-dawn mornings when Teresa would crawl into bed next to me just a few minutes before we had to get up and start our days, she would pick her head up and look at me in the dark and say, “It’s Christmas time?”
No, I would explain. Not Christmas time yet. First Halloween. Then Thanksgiving. Then we would start getting ready for Christmas.
After a while, it sunk in. She got excited about Halloween and her costume and trick-or-treating. Then the day after Halloween — All Saints Day — she woke up said, “Halloween over. It’s Christmas time?”
Once again, I explained. No, not Christmas time yet. First Thanksgiving, then we get ready for Christmas, then it’s Christmas.
Her questions come with a good deal of anticipation, of parties and sweets and fun and presents, and a little trepidation, too. Sure, Santa brings presents, but who knows what will happen if some stranger in a red suit comes in the house when everyone is sleeping? Especially if he’s been spying on us all year, to know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice?
Maybe it would have helped to actually put all the Christmas decorations away last January: the little nativity scene on the windowsill of the front stairs (which somehow has sprouted baseball players over the months); the tree ornaments that are hanging on the china cabinet because they got missed when we took the box to the basement, even the Santa Claus gift bag, repurposed but still in use and in view.
There are still Christmas books on her shelf; Tomie dePaola’s “Little Christmas Pageant” is a favorite.
I guess that made it hard for her to put Christmas out of her mind.
Now that Advent is upon us, she doesn’t really have to. She’s old enough now to join in the preparations for Christmas; she can help put the ingredients for cookies into a bowl, and help roll out the dough; she can help wrap gifts and maybe even choose some small presents for her brother and sister. And doing all of that will give us opportunities to talk about why we celebrate Christmas. On Christmas Eve, no doubt, she will help make a birthday cake for Jesus, something we have done since Caroline was a toddler.
With Thanksgiving over, when she says, “It’s Christmas time?” I can say it’s time to get ready for Christmas. She will keep waiting, through all the hustle and bustle and planning, for it to be Christmas.
In a way, that’s what Advent is about: the meaning is the waiting. The preparations and the running around are necessary to celebrate Christmas the way we do in the 21st century United States. But they really serve to distract our impatient selves from the reality that we are waiting.
When it comes to the coming of Christ, we all are like little children in the dark, hopeful and anxious, waiting and wondering when that day will come.
Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.