It smells like warmth in my home.
I kept Advent this year, an undertaking requested by the ancestors last year when it was too late to honor it. In the keeping of that promise to them, I discovered the smell of warmth.
It was home cooking at first. Gingerbread with its ginger and cinnamon undertone. French meat pie with its hint of sage and overdose of clove. Cinnamon buns and vanilla icing and birthday cake. It filled my home like the candles’ light and I pondered the meaning of it all.
Intellectually it was obvious. I’m keeping a calendar in colored candles. The first two purple, the third pink (for hope my mind shrieks out), the fourth purple. The four Sundays before Christmas, before the next week began, I was keeping the calendar for the season of peace, for the birth of a child of a deity who has never been my own.
My mother reminded me of my childhood and our Advent calendar in the explanation of what Advent was. She reminded me of the little bear my little brother and I would click in place on the sewn image of a house. He was looking for Christmas and the build up was infectious for two young kids, thrilled at the prospect of presents and colored lights and good home cooking. We would fight every morning about who would move Little Bear. I always cheated and did it before he got up in the morning.
“Where is Christmas?” Little Bear would ask and search his house from top to bottom with our help. No, not in the bathroom; not in the attic. He’d pass by the living room with his family and it’s Christmas tree in his search. The rational part of my mind would always ask, “why the fuck doesn’t he ask his parents?”
It didn’t matter what rationale there was even as I got older. Christmas was the calendar my mom hand made when I was still too young yo remember and we counted down the days from December 1st to December 25th. After he had found Christmas, I wondered what he did in his spare time before the new year began.
As I lit my final candle, I was reminded of the day after Christmas looking at the bear Advent calendar. What does one do when the build up is over and the time you’ve been counting down to is finally here? Where do you go from here when it’s all finally over?
The candles burned low, burned out, and I got stuck on what comes after. You plan up to the moment in question, but it’s not often that you think beyond what you’ve been planning for. What do you do after the final candle is lit, has burned itself down to a stump, and the final Sunday has happened?
For my ancestors, they would have gone to Mass if they were from the Catholic side. I can remember whispers about Midnight Mass from my mom’s family when I was a kid. I don’t know what that means really but that’s what they would do.
My Methodist family would have done something like the Boars Head Festival. Or maybe they would eschew the Methodists’ dislike of drink and have a few in celebration of the season. Either way, they would have been loud and boisterous and shrieking with laughter.
For me, it’s an inexorable progression to leaving out presents and filling the stockings. Peppered in the holiday tradition of being up too late for my baby schedule. In the midst of all that, there’s the peace the season claims to be part of the season while I sneak away from my family to take a few minutes’ time out for myself.
Beyond today, beyond tomorrow, I don’t know what the calendar will bring. It’s all messed up and whatever hope I normally have going into a new year was burned out of me months ago. There’s just the steady, heavy, finite progression forward with the whisper of my Ancestors in my ears.
They tell me to take it easy, to stop blasting forward always looking for what’s next? They tell me that Advent isn’t just the keeping of time, of four Sundays with color coded candles, but it is also a time of reflection, of the peace spewing down from white doves’ lips on tapestries in my neighbors’ yards.
It is more than just being reminded that another week has come and gone. It is more than simply the need to keep a countdown in place for what we all know is coming. It is more, more, more they whimper at me and I listen.
My house smells of my childhood now.
I can remember the bread my mom would leave out on the steam heaters, the smell of yeast perfuming the air. I can remember the brownies she would make and the smell of meatloaf. Cinnamon wasn’t a huge part of my childhood in food, but my mother would leave out cinnamon sticks and make crafts peppered with that smell every year.
It smells like warmth.