As I write this on Friday morning of Thanksgiving week (some noir fans call it Black Friday), our house is awaft with delicious smells and our family is already five hours into preparing to host the big meal for Thanksgiving 2.0, after a day spent up north with the other side of the family yesterday.
Everyone in the family helps cook and prepare the house for guests, but my wife, Sarah, is our fearless leader.
Her organizational skills are peerless. She spent much of our drive yesterday planning out the schedule for today’s cooking. In a tradition that many cooks know well, she planned backward from the time of the meal, scheduling out when to start prepping and baking each dish. That meant a 6 a.m. wake-up time to start getting the turkey ready so it could go into the oven at the proper time.
Sarah’s cheerful voice throughout the day piped out, “Now we’re just going to consult our schedule” as she and the kids measured, mixed, poured and sampled.
Well, honestly, I was doing most of the sampling.
Her brilliant scheduling prowess got me thinking about the timing of our nation’s “holiday season.”
Some of my friends love Christmas so much that they put up their decorations and trees the day after Halloween. That means we’re now 26 days into Christmas and still not even halfway there.
Now I certainly understand the desire to dive deeply into the Christmas spirit, especially after the last year or two we’ve endured during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, there’s only so much Yuletide cheer to go around. Starting early usually means that by the time Dec. 25 finally arrives, many people are exhausted, sick of their favorite holiday and ready to tear down their decorations. By the time Jan. 1 rolls around, Christmas is a distant memory.
Not only do we beat Christmas into the ground, we also lose out in some really meaningful holidays along the way.
So, like the perfect holiday meal prep schedule, I humbly propose that we work backward from Christmas (and forward, as well) to ensure a truly savory and enjoyable holiday season that peaks, rather than collapses, on Dec. 25.
The time before Christmas is traditionally celebrated as Advent (from the Latin for “coming,” to mark the coming of Jesus.) Historically the four Sundays before Christmas were each celebrated with the lighting of candles marking hope, love, joy and peace. There are special Christmas carols geared toward Advent, like “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “The First Noel,” “Lo, How a Rose ‘Ere Blooming,” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”
Advent begins this Sunday (four Sundays before Christmas), which marks a natural end of Thanksgiving week.
That means we can finish out this week with gratitude for our blessings and dedication to family as we give Thanksgiving its due before heading into Advent, which prepares our hearts for Christmas.
Now, to be clear, I’ll certainly enjoy Christmas celebrations throughout December, from the Santa Breakfast in Chehalis to the Centralia lighted tractor parade. But I’ll remember that these are a lead-up to Christmas, not the holiday itself.
Finally, let’s remember that the 12 days of Christmas start on Dec. 25. That’s a fact some retailers would like you to forget, by promoting “12 days of Christmas savings” leading up to the holiday. That might make them money, but it’s historically upside down.
Nope, the 12 days actually begin on Christmas and last through Jan. 5. That date is known as the eve of Epiphany, a holiday on Jan. 6 that is celebrated globally as the day Jesus was presented to the Magi, or wise men.
And even after Epiphany, we’re still in the “bleak midwinter,” as an old carol says. Last year I proposed that people leave their Christmas lights up until the end of January as a way to bring cheer during those dark, short days. That’s a tip of the Santa cap to St. Knut’s Day, which is celebrated in Sweden and Finland on Jan. 13. In those Nordic nations they traditionally keep trees and decorations up until that 20th day of Christmas.
Few things are sadder than seeing Christmas lights come down on Dec. 26 or even Jan. 1. Joy is extinguished. We need them shining until the days get a little longer.
And so today I wish you happy Thanksgiving and a very joyous Advent. I know we’re excited for Christmas, but like a good meal, timing is everything. Let’s enjoy the appetizers and be sure not to spoil our appetites for the main course that starts on Dec. 25.
Columns from a holly, jolly Brian Mittge appear each Saturday in The Chronicle. Contact him at email@example.com.