This coming Sundaymarks the beginning of Advent. Despite what the numbers on the commercial Advent calendars say, the duration of Advent is not always 24 days. It changes from year to year.
Last year in 2016, Advent stretched its longest: 28 days. In fact, the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend was the First Sunday in Advent (that took some mental readjustment!). But in 2017, Advent begins as late as it possibly can, which means that the fourth Sunday of Advent will overlap this year with Christmas Eve!
This coming Sunday also marks the beginning of our seventh annual Advent Calendar. I have been gratified by your enthusiastic responses to the calendar. For us, too, it has become an important tradition. As you might expect, our calendar will begin with an introduction to the Advent candles and wreath. Next, we’ll talk about the reasoning behind the colors of the season, both that Advent “purple” and other, perhaps unexpected, seasonal colors. Then, on December the 5th, expect an entry about a really sweet event from the Advent period: St. Nicholas Eve (get your shoes and socks ready).
Along the way to Christmas Eve, you will find posts about glorious music (featuring J. S. Bach this year), art, poetry, saints, toy soldiers, and even a few words from G. K. Chesterton. Most of all, we hope that this calendar is helpful as you anticipate the arrival of Christmas.
Anticipation can be a wondrous thing. It’s also a bit of an endangered species. With 24/7 access to nearly everything these days, instant gratification is the watchword of our era. A simple click allows us to find out almost any information. Another click takes us to YouTube where we can view virtually anything (for better or worse), including the cities we’re about to visit, right down to the hotel rooms, restaurants, or a curb view of the street. Useful in many ways, all of this instant information does affect the joy of anticipation.
Meanwhile special things once highly anticipated, such as a costly long-distance phone call, have become mundane to the point that, recently, I watched a neighbor set his phone down while talking to his sister in London. Why? So that he could walk across the street and ask a neighbor a question. London!
That is our world.
As we enter more deeply into Advent’s observance, it brings another gift we may find valuable. Those four weeks before Christmas do not have to be a race to the finish line—a race we’re certain to lose if we measure ourselves by society’s standard. The list of things we feel pressured to tick off before December 25 can be adjusted too.
Yes, there are essential things we must do, such as our volunteer projects or sending packages to our military guys and gals. And certain irreplaceable events will stay on the calendar in my family, namely the annual service of Lessons and Carols and a first Nutcracker for our Texas granddaughter.
But the rest? Beginning on December 25, we have twelve long days to enjoy Christmas. And by anticipating it through Advent, we intensify the opening moments, that precious time we call Christmas Eve (known in some languages by the lovely appellation “Holy Eve”).
Think off the freedom (and fun) when we schedule Christmas parties on Dec. 28th, or even January 4th! Your friends might need to get used to the idea, but they will like it, especially if your tree and decorations are still in place. Plus, I’ve never yet seen a child turn down a gift on the Sixth Day of Christmas, December 30.
Celebrating Advent is a devotion that distinguishes a Christian experience of Christmas from the one designed by the secular world. May this calendar be one of the blessings of the Advent season for you and your family.
A couple of months ago, I featured a work by Clara Wieck Schumann, wife of the famous composer Robert Schumann. Today I’m turning to the sister of Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847). Like Clara, Fanny’s musical aptitude was recognized early.
Fanny was not quite four years older than Felix. Both were taught composition by Carl Zelter. Historians credit Zelter and Felix Mendelssohn for sparking a revival of the music of J.S. Bach.
Zelter wrote to his friend Johann von Goethe about the extraordinary talent of both Mendelssohn children, offering particular praise of Fanny. At age 13, Fanny performed all 24 Preludes and Fugues in Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier to celebrate her father’s birthday. Unlike Clara, who was well known as a performer, Fanny performances and compositions were heard primarily in private gatherings at home.
People at the time did not consider composition to be a suitable vocation for women. Fanny nevertheless wrote numerous works and published a few of her “Songs Without Words” under Felix’s name. At least one commentator has pointed out that Fanny, whose compositions were not subject to public scrutiny, was able to be more daring in her writing. I won’t attempt to rate composers according to boldness, but I certainly find her string quartet to be vivid and interesting.
I debated which of the four movements to feature. But while I was listening to the 2nd movement, my 4-year-old granddaughter came into my office to say she really liked that music. So, the decision was made. Patti (whom you may know from Professor Carol’s posts) has endorsed the second movement. If you enjoy it as much as she does, you may want to hear the first, third, and fourth movements as well.