Advent & the art of anticipation
Posted on December 1, 2012
Twenty five years ago Hallmark introduced a simple device that revolutionized the mechanics of gift giving: a paper bag attached to two handles.
The gift bag freed us from tape and scissors, from sizing and snipping and folding. It enabled us to shop on the run, to pick up present and package in one quick stop – en route to the party, even.
With its cheery polka dots and bold hues, the gift bag won us over, becoming the norm and often the sole present carrier at birthday parties and bridal showers. It’s sleek, modern and eminently recyclable, making the rounds from closet to closet, across neighborhoods and through extended families, sometimes returning to the original buyer.
Yet I can’t help but wonder if something’s lost with this added convenience. Back before the gift bag, presents had personality. Aunt Kathy wrapped everything in the funny pages. Grandma tied her packages in red yarn. You could trace a person’s fingerprints on the gift she had prepared. For a moment, you paused to take it in, to tilt your head and behold.
The guessing was inevitable, if private – turning the gift, gauging its dimensions – and then, delight in destruction. Let the paper fall where it may. Childhood revisited.
There’s something about receiving an artfully wrapped gift that makes you feel special – beauty that was assembled just for you. And nothing looks better beneath a Fraser fir than wrapped presents, a wide base leading up to that pointed star.
So I decided to ditch my gift bags and take up the dying art of present wrapping. I play Bing Crosby or watch some made-for-TV holiday romance involving a widower and an angel, a small town and a Christmas-morn kiss. Then I set to work creasing my foil gift wrap, fanning a wide, wire-rimmed ribbon and adding a tag and topper – pine cones or a cranberry strand, a glittery reindeer or a glass ornament. I think of the recipient as I wrap and I relish the details: an emerging theme, coordinating colors, signing the tag in loopy cursive. Then I tuck it away.
For me, it’s a way to sink into Advent, that hushed, holy season muffled by big business. Advent reminds us how to wait and wonder, a gift we’ve never needed more. It rebuilds our muscle memory of the times we used stamps and landlines and phone books, when we snapped pictures we couldn’t see right away and wrote articles we couldn’t publish with a click. It brings an instructive nostalgia, especially for young adults whose lives have been rewired along faster circuits.
Pope Benedict XVI invites us to rediscover Advent every December. My favorite reflection came in his 1986 book “Seek That Which Is Above.” In it he wrote, “It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”
What more could you ask of any season than to awaken memories of goodness, of loving parents and simpler times, of childlike hope in the newborn King and a world that is nothing but open doors?
Advent empties us out, clearing room on our counters and in our minds, teaching us how to delay and to believe, calling us to lose ourselves in thought of others. We slip gifts below the tree and seek that which is above.