When I walked into the Commons Center this morning, a Christmas tree that can only be described as majestic greeted me. It’s small compared to famous Christmas trees around the country, but it definitely holds its own on campus. Twelve feet tall, dark green and decorated in red and silver, it commands your sight immediately. On the opposite side of the center stands an unlit Menorah and dreidels to embolden a Hanukkah spirit. Kwanzaa candles light the way into the dining hall.
“Decorations!?” you exclaim. “December has barely started!”
Whether you celebrate Christmas with a desperate ferocity comparable to early morning tailgaters or feel ambivalent about winter holidays in general, you’ve probably wondered when to start decorating. In general, there’s a lot of worry about setting up decorations too early. But while setting up inflatable snowmen in your yard the day after Halloween is a little excessive (unless you’re trying to incur the scorn of your neighbors), decorating in anticipation of a holiday has advantages that go deeper than appearance.
Anticipating a holiday also keeps you aware of the bigger picture temporally.
Essentially, decorations–whether they’re candles, ornaments, dreidels or snowflakes–are reminders of something that is to come. In a world where information and products are almost instantly accessible, decorations are strangely counter-cultural because they celebrate waiting. Decorating early doesn’t make the holiday arrive faster; on the contrary, it forces you to cultivate an appreciation for something that’s outside of your control, that doesn’t operate on your schedule, that you can’t have shipped to you with three clicks.
Anticipating a holiday also keeps you aware of the bigger picture temporally. During finals week, it’s easy to succumb to the illusion that there is no life outside of exams and grades. But decorations, inasmuch as they remind you of the upcoming holiday, also remind you that there is something to live for beyond your tests. They show you an undercurrent of life to grasp onto; it’s independent of your calculus grade because it’s bigger than just you.
Here at Vanderbilt, this anticipation comes in lots of shapes and sizes, from the impressively decorated tree in the Commons Center to small green door wreaths. Simply keeping a countdown on your whiteboard of the days til the holidays is a kind of anticipation. Some say this kind of expectancy takes away from the magic and joy of the actual holiday. On the contrary, anticipation is a healthy practice that reminds you to stay engaged with something bigger than yourself.
So if you’re afraid to hang up strings of colored lights or to display a menorah this December too early, don’t be! Embrace the waiting–not as a means of escape from where you are now, but as encouragement to live aware of the larger picture and, most of all, to live joyfully.
Emma Mattson is a first-year in the College of Arts and Science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.