Right after Halloween, it started. Christmas decorations up in every shopping centre. Lots of bling. Christmas music—not that many traditional carols—playing in endless loops.
My work schedule picked up a lot in November-December. Days just whooshed by. And then suddenly, it was the second week of December and I had done almost no Christmas shopping. Hadn’t put up a single decoration in the house.
With Christmas just a few weeks away, I felt like a beat up old winter tire: half-frozen, half deflated.
It’s right about then that my son Simon arrived on the scene. With his glad tidings. Or to use 21st century language: with his irresistible, upbeat energy and effortless joy.
In no time at all, we were on a focused and fun track. We were on a mission. First, there were the recipe searches. We sat together on a Saturday afternoon and looked through the magazines I’ve collected over the years that are stuffed with proven recipes. We surfed online, stopping a long time on Nigella Lawson’s website, hoping to pay homage to my son Christian’s year in London by making some smashing British Christmas puddings and cakes.
Then came the marathon cooking/baking weekends. Two of them, in fact, that caused us to STOP all of the work we normally bring home and pore over for far too many unpaid hours (we are both teachers), and instead, make things happen in the kitchen!
We cooked and baked till our backs ached and our hair and skin smelled of it all: mini-tourtières, ragoût de boulettes, shortbread, gingerbread, Nigella’s chocolate fruit cake (to die for—thanks, Nigella!), jam-filled butter cookies, chocolate hazelnut mocha balls and cinnamon roll cookies…
We did it all with my laptop next to us on the table where we rolled out all of our dough, drinking gallons of tea and listening to The Great British Bake-Off (Simon’s idea, with Christian’s tech support). We got through seasons 2 and 3.
When we were too tired to cook, we shopped.
A week before Christmas, my husband, Christian and I got the tree up and decorated.
I lost track of lots of things (house cleaning among them), and it didn’t matter.
And some time, in the midst of it all, it occurred to me that this, in fact, is what anticipation is all about. And that anticipation can be a very good thing.
As part of the yoga practice that I’ve been developing for the past two and a half years, I’ve been working on mindfulness, and on learning to be more centered; more in-the-moment. There’s something to be said for pushing out the anxiety that wants to build and build, as pressure from both the outside world and my own mind swirls around inside me.
And there’s something important about turning away from the expectations that my mind manufactures constantly; the mental check-lists of what my life should be.
But it also occurred to me—with a bit of coaching from Simon and Christian—that pushing things out of my mind to keep stress at bay also prevents me from feeling the joy of anticipation.
All anticipation is, really, is the ability to see the joy in every part of a process, in every step of a journey. Regardless of its destination.
Time will pass, we will move through it, inevitably, so let’s mark every moment of it as we discover where it’s leading us.
Some people seem to have a natural talent for joy and understand the value of artful anticipation.
What Simon never loses track of is why he’s doing all of the things he undertakes at Christmas time.
It’s for love. Love of life and of his family and friends. That’s what makes the planning and the doing fun. Joyful. Even when things don’t quite go according to plan. Even as plans change.
This year, for instance, winter forgot to show up in time for Christmas. With temperatures rising to weird numbers like 17 Celsius on December 24th—instead of a more familiar minus 5 degrees C—it became obvious that we were definitely NOT going to have a white Christmas. People shopped in t-shirts instead of parkas.
On Christmas Eve, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook:
« This Christmas is all awkward… There is no snow…,my boys don’t believe in Santa anymore… So no halfway eaten cookies and milk under the tree…no letter from Santa…no hiding wrapped gifts
Another step farther from childhood…
Happy holidays everyone! Wish you all health and happiness and all the best! »
It was such an honest post. There were personal elements in it: her sons growing up, the wistfulness of small traditions being abandoned, the fading of a phase of her family’s life.
But there was an unease that we could all relate to: strange, unseasonal weather that left us feeling «off». That felt ominous. Weather that echoed the feelings and fears we have about change in our lives. About Christmas, like so many things, becoming undependable, or unrecognizable.
All the more reason, then, to live in the advent of important moments.
This is what I realized this year. And it changed everything. And my three Christmases—one with my in-laws (about 30 of us!) on the 24th ; a quieter Christmas day at home with family and a dear friend; and a third, on the 26th, with my mum, family and extended family—were the happiest in years.
Because everyone showed up. Full of cheer. Because we were sincerely glad to be together.
There are people who have a special kind of gathering energy. They are the ones who bring everyone together. My mum and son Simon have that energy. They change things for all of us. They make things happen. And that’s okay. All we have to do is cooperate. Jump on board.
My son Christian cultivated the art of anticipation by planning and effecting his gift purchases months in advance. He was just bursting to finally give them to us.
I found myself responding to the lights that are hung everywhere at this time. So I went off on foot or in my car photographing my freshly dolled-up home town and neighbourhood, when I had a few free hours.
We went together to see Star Wars: the Force Awakens, which my sons have looked forward to for years!
My granddaughter Penelope, who is 3 ¾ years old, took at look at the season’s first snowfall and exclaimed:
« I love the snow! It makes my heart beat faster! »