Lights Out for Advent
Preparing to celebrate Christmas last year brought me to an unexpected halt.
I had never before been faced with the decision of how to celebrate Christmas, having always lived with or near family. I thought of my family’s tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree and imagined trying to hoist a tree onto my car by myself. This led to questions far bigger and more complex than a Christmas tree. I began to rethink what it means to celebrate Christmas as a single person, since all my family traditions were, well, dependent on family.
I remembered our family home, frenetic with preparations, and decided that this Christmas would be different. I longed to strip away distractions and prepare my heart for Christ’s coming. I began to explore the meaning of Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) as the season that invites us both to remember and to await the coming of the Light of the World. Inspired by friends who had given up lighting for a season, I decided to try an Advent fast from electrical lights in my home. I prepared by buying boxes of candles and unscrewing light bulbs. However, a trial run left me concerned about what I had committed to, mourning the light I would soon be losing.
How do you cook by candlelight? The first days were hard in ways both expected and unexpected. I found myself cursing the impairment of my productivity, while crying at the darkness I saw in my soul. But as the days passed, the nighttime took on a sweetness. The quality of household tasks shifted when I discovered them as novel sensory experiences. I lingered in prayer, reading and writing, since I couldn’t see the clothes that needed ironing or the floors that needed sweeping. I lay beneath the lights of my hand-me-down, artificial Christmas tree (my one exception to the no-lights rule), painting Christmas cards. My soul and mind became still. The darkness, crushing at first, became a comfort. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I found myself using fewer candles, loving the slower pace gained through struggling to see. I didn’t miss the panicked preparations of gifts or other past traditions. I learned of the richness that comes from being present in the moment.
I look forward to returning to candlelight this advent; to a season that slows my movements and mind, preparing my soul with intentionality that can’t be found in 10 kinds of Christmas cookies or at the shopping mall. – Laura Menze