November: The contemplative month

2017-11-20 14.19.03

The fall election is over. Daylight Savings Time has come and gone, and so have most of this fall’s colorful leaves. It must be November.

We can thank the pelting rains and wicked winds of a raucous cold front for dislodging most of the leaves. We can thank Congress for the time change.

I never adjust well to this convoluted toying of time. I wake up early and am ready for bed before dark that Sunday afternoon.

When we lived in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, I always chuckled at the various reactions to this contrived notion of messing with clocks to supposedly save energy. The Amish had that down to a science.

Some Amish complied with the change to stay connected with the rest of society. Others compromised and moved the time back a half an hour. Some never changed time in the first place.

2016-11-05 16.28.16

I miss that kind of contrariness. I haven’t checked with local buggy-driving Old Order Mennonite farmers here in Virginia to know if they mess with time in the same manner.

With the time changed and the leaves disappearing, our attention turns to Thanksgiving preparations. At least it should if we aren’t too distracted by all the Christmas gift-giving commercials already on television.

It can be for that very reason alone that I become contemplative in November. I think it’s the colder weather though. I do appreciate the cleaner, clearer air. Thanks to a couple of killing frosts, I can breathe again.

Then, too, the early darkness readies me for bed way before bedtime. These are the days of the earliest sunsets of the year until we get to the winter solstice.

I do appreciate the clear evening skies, too. I love to watch the moon creep across the darkened sky surrounded by sparkling jewels and winking planets.

The month of November ushers in the dormant season. By month’s end, the deciduous trees will be bare. We’ll see things in the landscape we had totally forgotten about, like houses we didn’t remember were there.

cropped-dsc_0555.jpgThe longer evenings give me time to reflect on the activities of the day. I do miss my fireplace, though. There is truly nothing like warming your backside sitting on the hearth in front of a roaring, crackling fire.

I used those evenings to think and reflect on our past, present, and future. With that, we recognize November’s other holiday, Veterans Day.

November is like recess at school. It’s the needed break between all of the action of October and December.

Soon Black Friday advertisements will blitz our mailboxes, newspapers, TV commercials, and annoying social media ads. Thanksgiving will be no more than a prelude to that glorious commercial day. Too bad there’s not an app to eliminate that.

As you might have surmised by now, I’m well into my contemplative shtick. I have a brain. I try to use it every now and then. November’s dark days seem like a good time to do that.

Come to think of it, whatever happened to Indian summer? With nine of the last 10 years the warmest on record globally, maybe the weather gods decided we don’t need it anymore. It’s just a thought.

Everything seems to slow down in November. From my point of view, that’s one of the eleventh month’s purposes. Let’s all take a little time to sit back, relax, talk with your spouse, listen to your children, play with your grandchildren, and be kind to one another.

Christmas is only a few weeks away.

2017-11-27 18.26.53

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Patience is a virtue, especially at Christmastime

family, Christmas, family holiday gathering
The night before Christmas. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Patience is a virtue, especially at Christmastime.

Some people, however, just can’t wait for Christmas. I’m not talking about the giddy children anxiously anticipating what might lie beneath the festooned tree on Christmas morning.

Holiday commercials, promotions, and displays showered themselves upon us well before Halloween. Decorations and pre-holiday sale items sprouted in retail stores before autumn leaves had reached their peak.

Every year, the onslaught of Black Friday opens the floodgate to the Christmas shopping season. Besides profit, I wondered what the rush was all about. If there is a war on Christmas, surely this is it. The commercialization of a blessed, annual holiday demeans the true meaning of the season.

For me, Christmas is about waiting, not rushing. Life passes by in a flash the way it is. Why accelerate it all the more, especially at such a celebrative occasion? Let’s treasure this special time of year.

Christmas tree, Bruce Stambaugh
Christmas tree. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Christmas is about expectation. My childhood memories are filled with fondness for the days leading up to Christmas. Whether real or imagined, a certain inexplicable stir was in the air filling us with excited glee.

At school, crayon-colored paper ornaments, stars, wreaths, and candy canes replaced the finger painted turkeys on the classroom windows. We drew names for the gift exchange, one-dollar limit.

Children began combing through Sears catalogs to assist them in making their Christmas lists. Santa got them in plenty of time.

Those days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed to just linger. Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, it was as if time ticked in slow motion.

The excitement and anticipation of the holidays built with each passing day. Christmas was the mountaintop, and we started climbing the slope one step at a time only after Thanksgiving.

nativity scene, Christmas, hope
Nativity. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
Our father enjoyed the holiday season as much or more than his five offspring. On a frigid night, Dad loaded us up in the family sedan to welcome Santa’s arrival at the end of the annual Christmas parade in the downtown blue-collar Ohio city where we lived.

We visited city centers in Akron, Canton and Cleveland more to window shop than Christmas shop. Customer friendly department stores with familiar names like Higbee’s, Polsky’s, and Kobacker’s all decorated their display windows with exquisite Christmas scenes.

Those stores are no more. A lot has changed since then.

Amid all of today’s commercials, online ads, daily deluges of discounts on everything from candles to Cadillac’s, it’s easy to get caught up in the race to Christmas. Doesn’t all of that actually run counter to the Advent season itself?

Historically, Christmas was all about hope, waiting, and watching. When the actual event occurred, only a few people recognized what had happened. Even then, most didn’t seem to fully comprehend.

Shepherds and kings from afar were struck with glorious awe at the event we now call Christmas. Others never even noticed

advent candles, Christmas decorations
Advent candles. © Bruce Stambaugh 2014.
because of their preconceived notions. As that story has been retold year after year, generation after generation, the characters involved in that first Christmas became the icons of how we now celebrate the season, Santa not included of course.

Christmas is a couple of weeks away. Will we rush our way to it, or will we wait and watch, and anticipate all the precious joys the day and the season have to offer?

Maybe it’s just my age. But I’m going to do my best to savor this season one day at a time. How about you?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

Christmas isn’t about hustle and bustle

Snowy decorations by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowy decorations always add to the Christmas celebrations.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t watch much television. But what little I do, I can’t help but notice how the torrent of holiday-oriented commercials focuses on the urgency of buying something really nice for that special someone in your life.

Celebrating Christmas in our advanced society seems distorted. A brand new car wrapped with a huge red ribbon and bow sitting in the driveway, a sparkling diamond ring and a gold necklace cannot supersede the original gifts of the Magi.

Eager for customers, the ads have managed to push their way to the forefront of the holiday season much too early. Growing up, the countdown to Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving, now known as Black Friday. Today, it seems to start the day after Labor Day.

Watching for buggies on Christmas Day by Bruce Stambaugh
Watching for buggies on Christmas Day.

Even here in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, we feel the hustle and bustle of the season. Without admitting it, we might even add to it. It’s always easier to see the fault of others than your own.

Wreath on frosty window by Bruce Stambaugh
A frosty holiday decoration.

I don’t want to be negative about Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday of the year.

I just think that given all the commercialization of Christmas, we need a different approach. As I reflect on the historical account of the Advent season that I learned early in life, it seems more and more obvious to me that Christmas really is more about patience than it is presents.

I have many fond childhood memories of readying for Christmas, and the excited anticipation of Christmas morning. My brothers and sisters and I couldn’t wait to raid the pretty packages strewn beneath the tree on Christmas morning. That scene was not the model of patience.

Mom and Dad had stayed up late assembling and wrapping the gifts for us kids. We always pushed our luck at getting up before the crack of dawn to undo what it had taken Santa and our folks hours to prepare.

But what a happy morning it was, with the excitement of surprise with every unwrapping. Those days were simple compared to what passes as season’s greetings today. I find the entire holiday hubbub of shopping, buying and spending exhausting.

Opening gifts by Bruce Stambaugh
Exchanging gifts at Christmas is part of the family tradition.

I long for the true peace and quiet of Christmas, with the family gathered, the fireplace blazing, the tree’s lights sparkling. Of course, we maintain the gift-giving tradition. We have just toned it down so that reason rules. We want the gifts to represent personal quality instead of absurd quantity.

The stockings hang by the chimney with care. They are filled on Christmas Eve, and emptied on Christmas morn. Just like when I was a child, an orange will be the last to tumble out of each.

The grandkids will watch The Polar Express over and over until the DVR wears out. We’ll play games, eat, and bask in the glow of the moment and the season.

Decorating the tree by Bruce Stambaugh
The grandchildren enjoy helping to decorate the Christmas tree.

Our modern society may rush the Advent season and judge it by its economic success. But as for me and my family, we will enjoy each others company, joyously share our humble appreciation and rejoice that it is Christmas once again.

Those are Christmas gifts worth waiting for.