Years ago, when a friend and church member who was well into his eighties told me that for him Christmas seemed to come around about once a week, I believed him.
But now, having tasted life at sixty, I’m getting Jay Butler’s point even more clearly. I might not say that Christmases seem to flit by “once a week,” but they surely do seem to come around far more quickly than they did when I was a child (or even, say, 25 or so).
You don’t have to tell me that the rate of m.p.h. (minutes per hour) really doesn’t change. Or that the whole thing is an illusion.
I understand that, though the moon certainly looks a lot bigger when it’s right above the horizon, it’s actually the same size always. I’m a very scientifically-oriented person. I realize that lunar green cheese doesn’t really expand or contract nearly as much as a quick glance might lead us to believe.
And, no matter how “slow the moments go,” or seem to, when you’re in love “for sentimental reasons” (says that sweet old song), minutes are minutes made up of sixty seconds strung along at exactly the same rate whether you’re gazing in eternal bliss into the eyes of your sweetie or gripping chair arms in unending agony as your dentist performs a root canal.
The reality, of course, is that the blissful moment only seems eternal and the cursed agony only seems unending. The sands of time actually drop through the glass at a fixed rate.
We know the reality, but we also know that it doesn’t feel real. Of course, if we trusted our feelings—the unhappiest and most dangerously unstable people in the world always do, and I hope you know better than to make that mistake—we’d swear that our fun/happy times fly by while our sad/painful times drag on forever.
An Internet search regarding this phenomenon led me to an article in The Observer which pointed me to psychologist and journalist Claudia Hammond’s intriguing book, Time Warped. I’d thought that the perception of the frequency of the Christmas season’s arrival had to do mostly with the varied frames of reference, the obviously different chronological
perspectives, of, say, a four-year-old and an eighty-year-old. Yes, in part.
But Hammond points to a “holiday paradox.” As they’re being lived, special times seem to fly by, but their memories last much longer than the “ordinary” times that seem to drag endlessly but whose memories fade in a heartbeat. The ordinary times we zip through on autopilot. The special times in which we do new things and create new experiences are rich in lasting memories. For good reasons, your memory of a sweet event one Christmas will last a lot longer than what seemed like an eternal bout with your last cold, even though Christmases seem to fly by. (I’m not doing the book justice. It’s a good read.)
How long did God’s people of faith wait for that first Christmas? Almost forever, it seemed. But at just the right moment, “when the time had fully come,” God sent his Son and hope that will truly last forever.
I love Christmas. I’m okay with Christmases coming around very quickly. But I want to squeeze the juice out of every moment. I know now that I shouldn’t waste a single moment of Advent expectation/preparation and deep Christmas joy.