Yesterday I came across Adam Gonnerman's entry into a synchroblog "Redeeming the Season" and Adam got me thinking that I should blog about Advent.
Santa Barbara has a different sense of time than any other place I've lived. There is a rhythm to time in the northeast... work and play, work and vacation, day and night, weekdays and weekends, seasons... and there are different activities and different clothing for the differing times in the cycles. It is clear where you are just by looking around. That doesn't happen here.
The days are pretty much the same. Yes, there is a small swing of temperatures but flowers are still blooming, birds are singing here "in the bleak mid-winter"... heck today I was walking by a loquat tree near my office and heard a buzzing sound. It was full of bees pollinating the flowers for the springs crop of loquats! We don't have seasons in the same way so that piece of the rhythm is missing.
California is casual... dress is the same everywhere all of the time, or not the same in random ways. You wear what you feel like wearing so it isn't unusual to see a couple strolling down the street with the woman in a fancy cocktail dress and the man in jeans and a t-shirt. Or a young woman with microshorts, a fleece jacket, no stockings, and Ugg boots. And either outfit could be any time of year under just about any circumstances. Church dress is everything from very very casual to Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. I have only worn a tie about 6 times in the 5.5 years I've lived here. Clothing gives no hints as to where we are in the year or the week so that piece is missing.
There isn't a rhythm to vacation vs. work. Because the weather is what it is, people play golf anytime, surf anytime, hike anytime... and besides that, aren't palm trees a mark of a vacation place rather than a place where you work? Schedules are often arranged around activities so golfers go to work after a morning round, surfers surf because it is raining and the waves are big or because it isn't raining and the sun is shining. You get the picture.
School provides a little sense of time but families don't seem particularly upset with taking their children out of school to go on a trip or do something special so even that piece is less solid than it was anywhere else I've lived.
That lack of rhythm was the most difficult thing for me to adjust to when we moved here. All of that made Advent and the rest of the church year even more important to me. The problem was that Advent was pretty much equated to "shopping season" in this culture rather than a penitential time when we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. Yes, you get ready for Christmas, but there wasn't much spiritual significance to the time. I really wanted/needed to redeem the season. An Advent wreath was a tradition that the congregation had so that piece was easy. The hard part was not singing Christmas carols. I told the congregation, "this is Advent, not Christmastide. We sing Advent songs not carols. It is not about joy, it is about preparation." Of course, every store is filled with Christmas songs if not carols and everything blends together in Santa Barbara so this caused tension and misunderstanding. And then when Christmastide came and I was ready to sing Christmas carols, the congregation was tired of them after all of those days of muzak everywhere. They were ready to move on to the next thing.
So this year, we'll sing a few Christmas carols before Christmas along with serious Advent songs. And we'll still sing carols during Christmastide even though everyone in the congregation will be tired of them. I'll try to reinforce the rhythm in other ways and my family will observe its Advent traditions (more about that later).