It's right about at this time every year that I begin to vacillate about the entire December holiday extravaganza. There are times when I'm cool, calm and composed. I've got this Christmas thing down. I have plenty of time. I've had years when I'm much farther behind than now. And then there are other times when I open my eyes and examine my surroundings: no tree, no decorations, no wreath, no tinsel, no advent calendar, no nothing. In fact, at the moment my house looks the same as it does in February or September. A bit on the cluttered side, stacks of music everywhere, piles of books to read, enough chores to keep me busy for a long time, and two furry felines who spend their entire existence eating, sleeping, and beating each other up for fun.
There is not one outward sign of Christmas in my personal orbit.
And then there are the good-meaning, always prepared Christmas people. Are you ready for Christmas? they ask. Have you finished your shopping? Have you wrapped your gifts? Have you baked the cookies, bought a tree and decorated your house? My answers are no, God no, Ha Ha no, nope, negatory, and do cats count?
I try to calm my own sense of guilt by reminding myself and others that December is a very busy month. In a musician's life of feast-or-famine, December tends to be feast, and believe me, we gorge ourselves as much as we possibly can. This leaves next to no time for the usual holiday activities of of the season: Shopping, Christmas Tree Everything, Baking Baking Baking! and Wrapping: The final frontier. Call me a whiner, but it gets stressful.
Last night I headed out to see my gal in Kalamazoo (mazoo mazoo) and hear their choral Christmas concert. It had already been a long week and was looking to be a very long day. But I wanted very much to be there and support my family. I plopped myself down in the pew and assumed a common doubting attitude of "OK, let's hear this." And one song in, and then two, and then an hour later, I found myself grateful, alive, challenged and uplifted. I may have been tired, but the concert was so good that we stayed to hear it again that evening. My heart and my soul can confirm it was worth every second. Music has that power, and I was lucky to have been in the audience to receive that gift that was so freely and wonderfully given.
This morning, after a somewhat frantic rehearsal prior to Sunday morning services, I started the service by singing a Gregorian chant common during Advent. As I sang I was struck by how quickly I was able to calm myself, refocus and recenter. With every breath and musical phrase I was able to relax and chip away at all the non essentials that seemed to be clinging to me like stubborn barnacles. And then I was able to share that sense of peace and calm with others. It was a gift I was lucky enough and open enough to receive, and it was a gift I was happy to give to others.
So if you ask me if I'm ready for Christmas, I'll answer you with a question. If you're asking if I'm ready to exchange presents I've bought in a store, the answer is no. But if you're asking if I've been lucky enough to both give and receive gifts of the spirit and gifts of the season, the answer is a resounding yes. I'll get to the rest, but this is the part of the holiday season I like the best.