This past Sunday was the first day of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year in the Christian calendar. Because I sing in a church choir I am attuned to the liturgical calendar, which makes for a little confusion at this time of year. On the one hand, the school year is winding down — we have only one more week of classes before exams. How can it be the new year? On the other hand, we’re gearing up at the same time, for next semester. I’m wrapping things up on one part of my desk, and making new plans on the other.
So perhaps the Advent references make sense. After all, the Christian year starts, in some sense, at the end. As the year is dying and days are shortening, we are in preparation mode, planning for a birth, a baby, a future that arrives every year, though it also always seems to take us by surprise. Every ending is also a beginning, and this beginning of the year is therefore rightly also an ending.
I said to a fellow chorister yesterday that I was inured to Christmas carols already but taken aback by the Advent hymns. Christmas carols are a feature of the sonic landscape from Hallowe’en on, but Advent hymns — “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Sleepers Wake,” and “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” among them — last for only four weeks and then slip out of the rotation again. Their presence signals far more urgently than the carols in the mall that Christmas is only four weeks away. As the semester ends, the planning — shopping, baking, knitting, all of it — begins again.
So we are in the midst of things — ending and beginning all at once, trying to plan for the future, reflect on the semester that’s about to end, and stay present and focused all at once. Most of us, of course, are always juggling time like this—but there are times of the year when our juggling becomes, I think, more urgent, and this block between Thanksgiving and the New Year, which can encompass Advent, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas (not to mention Festivus and Hogswatch), along with the secular signs of the end of the semester, is one of them. I wish you all a peaceful end/beginning over the next month or so.