Advent begins today. It is the beginning of the liturgical year, and has all the typical new-beginning themes of examining your life and considering what changes you need to make. But it is mostly about preparing for Christmas. This is spiritual preparation we are talking about here. We need to be ready to celebrate Christmas joyfully. So consider what is getting in the way of that for you. Are there things you need to resolve with your family so you can enjoy them? Are there griefs you need to deal with, or behaviors you know you need to change? Are you hindered by materialism, pride, or covetousness from entering whole-heartedly into holiday preparations? Do you have mixed feelings about religious or philosophical issues that make Christmas a time of doubt and uncertainty? This is what Advent is for.

Advent is also a time to live a little more simply in order to free up time and money for charity. It is a time to enjoy simple, wholesome foods so you can enjoy the feast days of Christmas all the more. It is an echo of Lent. It is an opportunity to increase the amount of time you spend in contemplation and meditation.

Because of this, there are two schools of thought about what to do with holiday preparations. Some say not to do them at all until Christmas Eve. Focus on Advent now, and come December 24th, begin the preparations. If it seems that there will be too little time, then you are making your preparations too elaborate.

Some say you should have them finished already. With the gifts bought and wrapped and the house decorated and a freezer full of holiday cookies, you can observe Advent now and know that everything is prepared.

What most of us really do is race around doing Christmas stuff steadily from now till December 25th, rarely finding time to observe Advent properly at all, and then collapse in exhaustion on December 26th.

While you consider how you might like to approach Advent this year, begin with the quintessential Advent carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Here is a page with midi and sheet music for a contemporary setting:

and in the more usual plainsong mode:

and with harmony and history:

This song was probably written in the 12th century and was translated into English by John M. Neale in 1851. The tune is 15th century French. Many churches sing it on all the four Sundays of Advent, and many people contemplate its words throughout the Advent season.

There are lots of recordings of this piece as choral music. The Robert Shaw arrangement is particularly lovely, and the “Robert Shaw Christmas” album is a nice one if you like your music big. There are many other options, from Manheim Steamroller to Willie Nelson. Linda Ronstadt recorded an unusual version of it on her Christmas album, and did us the favor of altering the words. The standard English words go “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel/ Shall come to thee, O Israel!” To many people, it sounds as though the song says “Rejoice, Emmanuel,” giving the directive to Emmanuel, rather than Emmanuel’s being the subject of the next line. Ronstadt changed it to “Rejoice! Rejoice, O Israel!/ To thee shall come Emmanuel!” This makes it clear. You’re not going to sing it that way in church, but you could adopt the change for singing it around the fireside in the evenings.

Here is #2 daughter’s latest scarf. I might have two knitting projects going at once — a complex one and a simple one to do while reading — but she has numerous WIPs. This one was inspired by our trip to the mall, where we stood pretending we might buy the thing but actually figuring out the pattern. The needles, while not circular, are flexy and curly and wouldn’t lie flat, but the scarf is an ordinary rectangle. The yarn is Portrait, from Artful Yarns, in color 161 — really a wonderful mohair.

And here is her crochet tweed scarf, hanging out with the third DNA scarf, which is now two repeats long. I am trying to make quick progress on said scarf, but work interfered yesterday and today I must drive #2 daughter to Tulsa, to the home of the Emo King, who will then kindly take her with him back to their school.

I wish she could just stay here — but it would definitely be too much of a commute. And I understand from other parents of college students that it is really better to have them at a distance where you do not always know exactly what they are doing.

Upon my return from Tulsa, I will finish shifting the house from Thanksgiving to Christmas decorations and tidy up from the weekend.