This was supposed to be a ‘how to’ before Christmas but illness interfered with writing plans. Enjoy this retrospective instead; not only what we did but what we learned from it for everyday life.
Last November I caught the end of a Radio 4 programme about advent, in particular emphasising that it is the only Christian festival that looks to the future, instead of remembering the past. I’d never thought about advent this way before; it had instead been laden with childhood notions of chocolate and counting down to presents. At the time I was lamenting our lack of advent calendar* and was struck by the opportunity to capture something of that anticipation for the kind of future we’re trying to intentionally build in an advent calendar. Something that would help us spend time during December acting on our desire to be more kind to people and the environment, more creative and yet, perhaps paradoxically, do this all at a slower pace of life and with more breathing space.
The ’25 Dos of Christmas’ were born.
- Each day was assigned a ‘do’. I’m a big fan of the Do Lectures (if you haven’t seen them then go there as soon as you’ve finished reading this) because they don’t just leave you feeling generically ‘inspired’ but are focused on genuine action. I wanted to capture something of this spirit by creating a daily action for us.
- Each ‘do’ should take no more than fifteen minutes. This wasn’t about stretching an already commitment-laden diary.
- The ‘dos’ should fit with our current priorities. They weren’t plucked from thin air; they were things that we longed to prioritise but hadn’t necessarily been giving time to actually doing. For us these priority areas were:
- forward-looking: recapturing dreams and making plans. e.g. ‘Remember a dream you had about the future when you were younger. Consider if you still want it. If so, what are you going to do about it in 2016?’
- exploring creativity e.g. ‘Open a poetry book at random and read that poem. Now summarise it in a Haiku’
- sustainable living e.g. ‘Spend 15 minutes researching a sustainability issue you want to know more about. What are you going to do about it?’
- fostering community e.g.’Send someone a ‘pick me up’ e.g. a video, scripture, poem…’
- investing in our marriage e.g. ‘Tell each other something you love about the other that you think they don’t know yet.’
- slowing down and taking time out e.g. ‘Go for a 15 minute walk today.’
- growing our faith and remembering the reason for advent in the first place e.g. ‘Share with each some highlights from 2015 and what God’s been teaching you through them’
- having a little more fun. We’re both prone to being quite intense so introducing some lightness to the house isn’t a bad thing. It’s difficult to stay serious when being forced to learn ‘my hamster has died’ in another language (an in joke for another day…).
This personalised advent calendar was intended as a gift for the husband. Having written the ‘dos’, lack of time, a temperamental printer and an ill husband thwarted my ambitions for making their appearance match my aspirations. Unsurprisingly, it’s difficult to make a surprise gift when the recipient is in the house all the time. I contrived half an hour to myself in our study and resigned myself to a speedy making method: printing, cutting out and folding in half each ‘do’, writing the advent number on the front in marker pen, and storing them all in a jar. I pretend I don’t mind the gap between my ideas and reality by telling myself that the aesthetics weren’t part of the rules anyway and, hey, at least they’re in a recycled jar and look ‘rustic’ (read: badly cut out…).
What we learned:
- You can be your own permission giver. I buy into the theory that we subconsciously empower people to be ‘‘permission givers’ in our lives. Others can give us permission to relax, to create, to have grace when we don’t meet our own standards. Through the ‘dos’, I gave us the permission to daily prioritise acting on the very things we already considered important.
- It is possible to give 15 minutes in a day to these things. Sometimes we build things up too much, thinking they need hours to be worth attempting. It is possible to get in touch with a friend, go for a walk, stop and listen to some music in just 15 minutes.
- However, sometimes all I can manage in a day is to complete my work, feed us and grab sleep. That’s ok. I don’t want this to be the pattern of life all the time, but when it is, I should be better at giving myself grace for it. Sometimes finding 15 minutes to do something is just not worth the associated stress.
- Things won’t often just happen when life’s busy. We need to be intentional and build in time for them.
- Being specific can be helpful. Setting aside an evening to ‘be creative’ can be paralysing through its vast, unqualified nature. The ‘dos’ were specific – make this, do that. They brought direction, which in this setting was helpful rather than limiting.
- Doing these things together was not only fun, but good for our marriage. We might express the activity differently, but they still created shared experience and talking points.
I can write this blog post in February because, in truth, it isn’t about a season but a whole way of life. We won’t be setting a ‘do’ every day, but we’ve hopefully given ourselves permission to keep pursuing those priorities laid out in ‘The rules’. It’s time for them to have the time that corresponds to their professed importance in our lives.
*This is distinctly my own fault. I have been ‘making’ a fabric advent calendar for two years. The numbers are embroidered, the pockets cut out and yet I have not prioritised sewing them together properly. Maybe 2016 will be the year….maybe.
Go here to start your Do Lectures initiation.
Today’s soundtrack: Matthew Mole // The Home We Builit
(If this had been written before Christmas, it might’ve been: Lincoln Brewster // Joy to the World)