Advent in America

Advent wreathIn the 1940s, Maria Von Trapp and her famous singing family escaped the Nazis and landed in America. In Around the Year with the Trapp Family she wrote about her surprise that Americans have forgotten Advent:

The events that come to mind when we say “Christmas,” “Easter,” “Pentecost,” are so tremendous that their commemoration cannot be celebrated in a single day each. Weeks are needed. First, weeks of preparation, of becoming attuned in body and soul, and then weeks of celebration. This goes back to an age when people still had time — time to live, time to enjoy. In our own day, we face the puzzling fact that the more time-saving gadgets we invent, the more new buttons to push in order to “save hours of work” — the less time we actually have. We have no more time to read books; we can only afford digests. We have no time to walk a quarter of a mile; we have to hop into a car. We have no time to make things by hand; we buy them ready made in the five-and-ten or in the supermarket. This atmosphere of “hurry up, let’s go” does not provide the necessary leisure in which to anticipate and celebrate a feast. But as soon as people stop celebrating they really do not live any more — they are being lived, as it were. The alarming question arises: what is being done with all the time that is constantly being saved? We invent more machines and more gadgets, which will relieve us more and more from the work formerly done by our hands, our feet, our brain, and which will carry us in feverishly increasing speed — where? Perhaps to the moon and other planets, but more probably to our final destruction.

Only the Church throws light onto the gloomy prospects of modern man…  for she belongs, herself, to a realm that has its past and present in Time, but its future in the World Without End.

It was fall when we arrived in the United States. The first weeks passed rapidly, filled with new discoveries every day, and soon we came across a beautiful feast, which we had never celebrated before: Thanksgiving Day, an exclusively American feast. With great enthusiasm we included it in the calendar of our family feasts.

Who can describe our astonishment, however, when a few days after our first Thanksgiving Day we heard from a loudspeaker in a large department store the unmistakable melody of “Silent Night”! Upon our excited inquiry, someone said, rather surprised: “What is the matter? Nothing is the matter. Time for Christmas shopping!”

Maria von trappMaria von Trapp

It took several Christmas seasons before we understood the connection between Christmas shopping and “Silent Night” and the other carols blaring from loudspeakers in these pre-Christmas weeks. And even now that we do understand, it still disturbs us greatly. These weeks before Christmas, known as the weeks of Advent, are meant to be spent in expectation and waiting. This is the season for Advent songs — those age-old hymns of longing and waiting; “Silent Night” should be sung for the first time on Christmas Eve. We found that hardly anybody knows any Advent songs. And we were startled by something else: Soon after Christmas, Christmas trees and decorations vanish from the shop windows to be replaced by New Year’s advertisements. On our concert trips across the country we also saw that the lighted Christmas trees disappear from homes and front yards and no one thinks to sing a carol as late as January 2nd. This was all very strange to us, for we were used to the old-world Christmas, which was altogether different but which we determined to celebrate now in our new country.

Author: Father Silouan Thompson

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