My English classes this week were reading Dylan Thomas’s short story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” which is a cute story about –well, the title’s kind of self-explanatory. But what I love about the story, besides Thomas’s use of the English language, especially in his imagery and his wit, is that it’s one of the few Christmas stories that I have read (or seen on TV) that doesn’t attempt to teach me any sort of lesson. Instead of Scrooge, etc. learning the “meaning of Christmas,” Dylan Thomas simply talks about the Christmases of his youth as a matter of fact. I’m not sure if my students enjoyed the story (most of them spent two days either bitching about the fact that they had to be in school when every other school district in the area had the entire week off, or attempting to sleep), but we had a great discussion about holiday traditions and why we enjoy them so much.
Over the course of this discussion, I brought up some of the things my family has done since I was a little kid. This included such time-honored traditions as my mother forcing my sister and I to sit at the top of our stairs and take a picture, getting a toothbrush in our stockings, and the long arduous process of opening the gifts under the tree. Furthermore, I talked about how when you get to be my age and you have a family on your own, you find yourself either starting new traditions or carrying on old traditions either by yourself or with your siblings or children. One such tradition has been holding on to the idea that while Christmas is a day, there is a whole Christmas season.
The idea of Advent has been around for at least a few hundred years and is marked in several ways by different religious denominations. I grew up attending the Lutheran church and the tradition there was that during the four Sunday services prior to Christmas, there would be an advent wreath, which is a wreath with five candles (four purple candles in a circle and a white one in the center), sitting near the altar. At the beginning of the service, the acolyte (which I think is what Catholics would call an “altar boy”) would light one of the purples candles (each a different shade of purple and I believe with a meaning, which I once knew, but my rejection of most things religious in my teens and twenties and suppression of Sunday School trauma led to this information being purged from my memories), with the white one for Christmas Eve/Day to signify the birth of Christ.
However, this wasn’t the only way I knew how to celebrate the Christmas season. There’s been the obvious running of the Christmas shopping gauntlet and a barrage of Christmas-themed television specials and movies (as well as short stories in my English classes), but the most important one, since I’ve been a kid, has been the PeA advent calendar.