The four weeks before Christmas are called Advent in the liturgical year.
For many reasons, I have been struggling to get into the holiday mood. Returning to Hiroshima with balmy weather, trees still in fall bloom didn’t help.
Observing Advent seemed the perfect antidote. I had bought my four candles while home for Thanksgiving. Groggy with jet lag, I enter our guest bedroom. My wreath is a four-inch slice of a log with four holes for candles. In my mind’s eye, I can see gentle Rosie Skoro at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic church explaining the tradition. The purple and one pink candle already lit. A memory of putting it together on the balcony engulfs me. With joyful anticipation I set out.
The room is full of stuffed stuff; evidence of Japanese daily life. The folded futon takes up at least half of the floor, our desk the other half. Bags of stuff fill the underneath of the desk and the top of the futon. Bags of reciprocity gifts wait at the ready. Properly disposing of refuse makes bags of paper and plastic bags essential. My fuchsia birthday beach bag holds all my handbags. My hot pink polka dot Japanese ‘going to market’ wheeled cart rests on top of our suitcases. Every cubic inch of space in the closet is also inhabited.
With confidence I find the box of Christmas decorations. The new candles await their home. Dramatically, the lid slips off the tightly packed bottom. Its not immediately visible, so I nonchalantly pull out some boxed ornaments. Arimasen. It isn’t here. Hmmmm. I can barely move around the room. The haphazardly opened box hasn’t helped. I go to the closet and start bringing down all the containers. They are bags of course, full of souvenirs and gifts. I see a Christmas card box. So I look in there. Nope. Nada. Zenzen. No wreath.
I spend the rest of the day tearing up the apartment looking for the wreath. At one point it is clear that I must clean up my destruction. In the end I have a sparkling apartment but no wreath. My brain fingers its memory. Doubt creeps in like fog until I am totally muddled. With great relief my attention is diverted by my friend, Jackie dropping by. I should be worried about my banshee woman appearance but am too befuddled.
The search is suspended for a few days. Our final visit to the Children’s Home requires my attention. In cleaning out her own storage, my mom has knitted twenty-five pair of slippers for the workers. I come from a long line of knitters. Advent was always marked with knitting along with baking. Mom loves babies and toddlers and wanted to do something for the dedicated people that care for them.
I look for a Christmas card to enclose with the slippers. In the box of cards I realize these cards are very religious in nature and don’t feel appropriate. Last year my friend, Lisa Kelly, had sent ornaments, gift bags, and these cards. I put this box in a pile of other Christmasy stuff.
The visit to the Children’s Home is magical. Tomoko has bought a Santa suit from a hundred yen shop. We have cookies to hand out. It is a bright blue day. To our surprise we learn that the home is under renovation and the babes have been moved to a portable on the soccer field. Charo has not only brought the music but has thought this through. She has Tim wait with the cookies. The rest of us find the new spot and join the children. As usual there are a few who run up to us, but most huddle with the adults they know. It is balmy weather so the kids just have sweatshirts on. Charo puts on Christmas music. What occurs to me is that these little ones who have been alive for less than 1,000 days probably have no clue what Christmas is. When I hear “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” I look up from the sticks I am being shown. Here comes Tim slowly walking across the dirt field. He has a big grin on his face. He is all in red. The adults start clapping and pointing. Like electric current, joy zips through all conductors. I have four toddlers, each holding a finger. They look at me with wide eyes. I crouch down for reassurance.
“Merrryyyy Chhhrrristmmaaassss! Ho! Ho! Ho!” Tim says as he walks through the yard, handing a little package of cookies to each child. They don’t move. They look to their adult for confirmation. No one moves. Music is blaring, Tomoko is singing, Eiko is dancing. One brave preschooler follows Tim and is now on his lap and Tim is opening the cookies. Following Santa’s lead, I open a package. For a two year old holding a bag of cookies in one hand and eating with the other is complicated. I fold up the cellophane package and put it in the little pocket of his sweat pants. Immediately another toddler comes up wanting help. Wanting the package in their pocket. Sunshine, blue sky, Christmas music, balloons, bubbles, cookies, and Santa provided a lovely day of Advent.
Back home to the dilemma of the missing wreath. In the process I have found many forgotten items and am feeling more organized. On the 21st there will be three more adults and three more suitcases here, so I need to create more space. Hanging decorations feels useful and empties a box. Now I can’t find the candles I bought in Boise. Rich helps me put my tree by our front door along with the rug and a magnetic Counting the Days. On St. Nicholas day there will be candy canes on the tree for the residents of the building. I improvise and use my electric candles as an Advent wreath.
Heading to church on Sunday, on a whim, I throw all the religious Christmas cards in a Starbuck’s bag. Maybe someone could use them. Charo told us the first Advent we were here that Filipinos celebrate Christmas in all the months that end in birth, September, October, November, and December. I wish you could hear her laugh. At the end of Mass she has me stand and explain. I tell them that my friend has sent Christmas cards if they would like one. Then Charo has me stand at the back of the church. She orders me to give one per person.
In my mind, these cards are hand me downs. Cast offs. But the parishioners are acting like I am handing out hundred dollar bills. They surround me, hand out stretched; that same electric current of joy passing through our bodies. Heads bow deeply, mouths smiling widely, eyes thanking me. Two African nuns ask if they could have a few more. ”You bet!. Every man, woman, and child got at least one Christmas card. Walking up the stairs, we have Mass in the crypt, I am hugged by many.
Stunned. One word can’t express how I feel. Humbled, joyful, loved, useful, whole.
ang in the middle. This continually rings true. It is a messy place to be. The middle. I find myself connecting two parts that are looking for each other. Like the opposite ends of a magnet unused yarn finds warm feet, Christmas cards find senders, friends find ritual. Maybe that is why I have always shied away from the labels of leader , president (HIWC) or even teacher. Traditionally these roles are in front. My best is in the middle.
Note: I found my wreath. I woke up Monday morning remembering. I used a round loaf of bread last year. Bethlehem means House of Bread so it is a great symbolic use for the base of an Advent wreath.