Today marks the advent of the season of Advent-anxiety for preachers and choir directors and seminary professors, as they fight their annual losing battle about when the Christmas season starts.
My mother-in-law, Georgia Karr, along about one o’clock on Christmas day--when all the flurry of Christmas shopping and wrapping and opening and cooking and eating was over—would sink onto the sofa and say, “There’s nothing as over as Christmas.”
“Not so,” her son-in-law preacher son would shout, although not loud enough for her to hear. “It’s only the beginning of Christmas. That’s why we sing about The Twelve Days of Christmas. Those twelve days start now. They end at Epiphany, what the Greek Orthodox Christians call Little Christmas, which is really smart because they can do all their shopping at the after-Christmas sales and often pick up used Christmas trees on a curb for nothing, maybe even with tinsel still on.” 
The Advent season, those four weeks before Christmas, is an occasion for much tension between preachers and church members. Preachers want to spend four Sundays singing preparation hymns, like “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” Church members want to sing traditional Christmas hymns, like “Rudolph” and “Hark the Herald Angels” starting on Black Friday, which they acknowledge a good bit more than Good Friday. They don’t at all understand the idea of singing Christmas hymns after Christmas day. What’s the point of singing “Joy to the World” when we are already immersed in the joyless world of taking back gifts we can’t use?
But preachers persist, trying for some little glimpse of preparation for the birth of Christ that does not involve shopping for ties and sweaters and apps. Like Advent calendars.
I have always liked those Advent calendars that have a little door to open for each day of the season. Behind the door is a saying or scene that reminds us of what Christmas is supposed to mean.
There is a new reverse Advent calendar approach I like, too. Each day the person or family puts into a box some gift for those in need. That is perhaps an even better reminder of what Christmas is supposed to mean.
And we’ll still have an Advent wreath at worship, with a different candle for each week. People like that, as long as we sing “Silent Night” afterward instead of “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.”
But now I am retired. I can just smirk as our preacher tries to explain to the little tots during the Children’s Sermon why we can’t sing Jingle Bells as the gradual hymn  until after they’ve had their Christmas day meltdown. When you’re old, you don’t worry much about singing the right stuff; you just want to enjoy the singing, whatever it is.
1] One of my best Christmas memories is getting a really nice tree for nothing. I was walking home at noon on the day all the EIU students were going home for Christmas break. On the curb in front of one of the dorms was a perfect tree, placed there by some dorm director who did not want to deal with a dry tree when she got back from break. I ran home, got our pickup truck—the only one I ever owned, a GMC Royal Sierra 15, used but still classy, necessary in those years to transport our own daughters and their stuff back and forth to colleges—and dashed back to get that tree before any other Christmas miser could. Nicest tree we ever had.
2] So called because we are “gradually” working up to the high point of the worship, the reading from the Gospel. That’s the Methodist understanding, anyway. Catholics and Episcopalians are much more complicated about what a gradual hymn is and where it fits in the worship service