Saturday, Second Week of Advent

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
--Matthew 13:31-32

Simple Christmas Joy Spreads

Standing in the snow with my family by my side; hanging strings of cranberries and popcorn, seeds and suet, rings of cheerios and slices of oranges on a small hemlock tree; scattering a bag of peanuts along the ground as wet snow falls and light drains away ushering in one of the “darkest evenings of the year;” I can’t help but think of those I know lingering by the fireside of someone’s home; holiday music on the stereo; drinks in hand; munching on hors d'oeuvres and enjoying the fire’s ambiance while pondering how they’ll squeeze in two parties this evening…

It’s been some years now but I can still remember the epiphany I felt when first I read Bill McKibben’s Hundred Dollar Holiday. From the moment I picked up the slim volume I was hooked and in the ensuing years I have shared this little book and its message with everyone I meet…whether they like it or not.

The premise was simple.  As Bill described it at the time:

It wasn’t because we wanted a simpler Christmas at all. It was because we wanted a more joyous Christmas…Christmas had become something to endure at least as much as it had become something to enjoy – something to dread at least as much as something to look forward to. Instead of an island of peace amid a busy life, it was an island of bustle. The people we were talking to wanted so much more out of Christmas: more music, more companionship, more contemplation, more time outdoors, more love. And they realized that to get it, they needed less of some other things: not so many gifts, not so many obligatory parties, not so much hustle….

While we haven’t quite gotten down to spending $100 on everything we have cut back the stuff and spent more time on moments:  quiet dinners with close friends; making ornaments out of pinecones and twigs and other items found in the forests and fields; baking, packaging and delivering cookies and desserts; caroling to the residents of a senior housing complex; attending pot-luck Christmas concerts; enjoying the lessons and carols service at the Hamilton College chapel; decorating a spindly hemlock tree with edible ornaments…all of these moments allow us to slow down, reflect and share the season’s gift with those we love.

Which is why, on this evening, we stand in the woods decorating a tree with fruits and seed and nuts and popcorn and cheerios.  We know the animals have more predictable sources of food and our one night feast won’t change their winter world perceptibly, but this one night we hope they’ll have a few treats and less worry about how to put food on their “tables.”

We finish hanging our edible decor and head back inside - singing Christmas carols by the woodstove, enjoying some popcorn and cocoa and time together; reflecting on the true gift of the season as we slowly drift off watching the snow fall outside in the hush of a early-winter Adirondack evening…

We awake the next morning to the sight of chickadees flittering through the branches of “our” tree; nibbling on seed and nuts; a white tail doe delicately picks fruit off a string of “garland,” the ground is covered with tiny footprints and spent peanut shells from our night visitors…we settle on the couch and watch as our wild animal neighbors, for one morning in this cold, lean time of year, feast on the abundance of the holiday as we feast on the moment.

-- Chip Hemmel,
COOP Community Partner through the non-profit organization, RTMV (Rebuilding Together Mohawk Valley) and also husband of Betsy Hemmel of the Business Office