From the Sabbatical Minister - December 24, 2019

In the Christian tradition, December 1-24 is the season of Advent – understood as a time for considering the coming – and the second coming – of the Christ; it ends on Christmas Day, with the words from the Book of Revelation, “joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

But in the meantime – the month is filled with waiting: waiting for joy, waiting for hope, waiting for peace, waiting for love, waiting for the child, waiting for grace.

It is in this time of Advent that we take time – and fortunately, we have music libraries filled with holiday songs to make the waiting less difficult (sometimes filling us with nostalgia, sometimes bringing us cheer, and sometimes annoying us – I’m looking at you, “Little Drummer Boy”). Over the next four weeks, I’ll be exploring the themes of Advent through the lens of some of my most beloved and cherished holiday songs.

“The Christmas Song”

Tonight, the last night of Advent, is a night of connection, of quiet excitement, of comfort and joy. And while this is often impossible for people to find on this night, there is a song that brings back memories and offers some comfort in these hard times – “The Christmas Song” made famous by the incomparable Nat King Cole:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
We’ll find it hard to sleep tonight

They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of toy and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother’s child is gonna spy
To see if reindeers really know how to fly

And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety two
Although it’s been said
Many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you

Songwriters Barry Anthony Andrews and Robert James Wills tapped into something that we are only learning about in the United States – the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced (HUG-geh).

Loosely translated, hygge is coziness and togetherness. But it’s more than that. Hygge is more of a mental coziness, an effect of how we are together. Blogger Louise Thomsen Brits describes hygge as

“The art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel open hearted and alive, to create well-being, connection and warmth, a feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other, celebrating the everyday.
“In our overstretched, complex, modern lives, hygge is a resourceful, tangible way to find deeper connection to our families, our communities, and our earth. It’s an uncomplicated, practical method of weaving the stuff of spirit and heart into daily life without sentimentality then taking time to celebrate it on a human scale. 
“Hygge is about appreciation. It’s about how we give and receive. Hygge is about being, not having.”

In our personal lives, we know the power of hygge – gathering around the table for a shared meal, reading in a comfortable chair, wrapping up in blankets on a blustery afternoon, seeking shelter from the rain under a shop awning, baking pie in a warm kitchen, watching a favorite movie with a cat on your lap, watching the sunset with someone you care for. The things that keep us alert and aware and anxious – the phone, the newspaper, Facebook – are distinctly absent in these moments of personal hygge.

But hygge is not just an absence of things that might be overwhelming. It is in fact a very practical way of creating sanctuary in the middle of very real, hard, complicated life. It is “a kind of enchantment – inviting in warmth, simplicity, connection –making space for the heart and the imagination.” Hygge acknowledges the sacred in the secular – that there is something extraordinary in the ordinary.

But hygge is more than stuff; it intangible – it’s not just a comfortable space, it’s a comfortable experience. It’s freshly baked pie and the smells that evoke memories. It’s a warm fire and time to read. It’s a snuggly quilt and someone to cuddle with. In hygge, the stuff and the space create a sanctuary for our bodies and our spirits.

And it is intentional. Hygge doesn’t happen by accident – as Brits says, “it’s an attitude, a considered practice. It takes effort to hygge.” Hygge is, as author and former monk Thomas Moore writes, “a theme that can be lived amid all the other dimensions of an engaged human life.” It doesn’t seek to hide the darkness but rather provide a light that reminds us the darkness of pain, sorrows, and troubles is not all there is.

We need this reminder more than ever. It can be so easy to get caught up in the 24/7 news cycle and remain shocked, hurt, angry, scared, almost to the point of being inured to the horrors so that we lose sight of the acts of resistance we must take up – and lose sight of our souls – and the lessons that Advent teaches us to stop, be still, and give thanks.

This song – this beautiful song, bringing to mind memories of roaring fires and hot cocoa, of snuggling under blankets and singing carols together, comfort and anticipation– wrapped in Nat King Cole’s honeyed baritone, is hygge.

There is little more to say - so, like Cole, I offer this simple phrase: Merry Christmas to you.

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