Lying Fallow

Call me old-fashioned if you will, but I prefer to exclude violence, mayhem and murder from my personal holiday traditions. Granted, there was that memorable exchange over a lavender cashmere sweater at Von Maur’s department store in Kansas City, and a sudden, stubborn insistence on my first and only trip to Bloomingdale’s that I did so have it first, but nothing in my life compares to the headlines emerging from the beginning of this holiday season.

“Woman Pepper Sprays Shoppers to Gain Advantage” in her quest for a discounted Xbox, reads one report.  “North Carolina Police Use Pepper Spray to Calm Black Friday Crowd”, reads another.  There was looting reported in New York, and a beating near Phoenix. Shootings in San Leandro, California and Fayetteville, North Carolina competed for ink with a stabbing in Sacramento. Instances of opportunistic petty thievery among midnight shoppers walking to their cars were too widespread and frequent even to detail.

“The difference this year is that instead of a nice sweater you need a bullet-proof vest and goggles,” said Betty Thomas, 52, shopping with her sisters and a niece at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C. She did go on to suggest that the sale prices on merchandise had been over-hyped, and the shopping wasn’t as good as she’d hoped. “If I’m going to get shot,” said Thomas, “at least let me get a good deal.”

Given our taste for tabloid journalism and the media’s love of shocking stories, it’s tempting – and probably justifiable – to pass off such incidents as exceptions. On the other hand, there’s no question the on-going commercialization of the holiday season has made “getting ready for Christmas”  increasingly competitive, combative and exhausting.

Whether it  involves multiple trips to the mall, combing the internet for gifts in order to avoid going to the mall or engaging in that perennial favorite, Making-a-Run-Through-the-Stores-on-Christmas-Eve,  holiday shopping can be as complex and demanding as a two-front war, as costly as minor surgery and as stress-filled as a performance review.

Determined to stoke the fires of avarice, insecurity and guilt that burn especially brightly at this time of year, retailers begin stocking Christmas merchandise and promoting advertised specials late in October. Cities light holiday displays as soon after Thanksgiving as possible and, as if on cue, carols and popular Christmas songs begin washing through the stores like an implacable, sappy tide.

By the time the day of celebration arrives, many people are ready to be done with it. Families gather, communities of faith worship and all of those hard-fought-for gifts are exchanged. Then, in just a twinkling of St. Nick’s eye, Christmas is over.  As the wonderful trees are stripped of decoration and tossed away, as ornaments are returned to storage, Christmas-cookie crumbs swept up and the candles extinguished, the world goes back to its business. Shoppers head off to make their exchanges, store-owners begin pushing end-of-year inventory clearance sales, and the cycle of retail life begins anew.

I’m certainly no Scrooge, and I begrudge no one their Christmas preparations. I take great joy in Christmas Day myself, not to mention the Twelve Days of Christmas stretching away to Epiphany on January 6.  I love choosing and wrapping gifts, decorating with ornaments alive with memories and baking the special treats that taste of childhood and innocence. I enjoy the richness of banked poinsettias, and the surprise of blooming cactus. I delight in placing each light upon the tree “just so”, and never fail to admire the glimmer of colored lanterns across the water, their reflections clarifying into pools of light as the wind lays and the night-bird carols begin.

It’s quite an endeavor, this preparation for Christmas.  Most of us survive the season with our bodies intact, but when retail consumption is touted as the sole measure of a “good Christmas” and businesses increasingly co-opt Christian imagery to manipulate shoppers, the spirit can languish. Ocasionally I find the  misrepresentation of tradition so distasteful I find myself edging away from the marketplace and heading for the shadows, clutching my candles and garlands as I lean into the silence and wonder, Am I the only one here?

“Here”, of course, is Advent.  Set aside by the Church as a time of preparation before the Feast of the Nativity, the four week season has its own traditions, prayers and disciplines. The Advent Wreath marks the passing of the weeks, the Advent Calendar the passing of the days.  The shimmer of candlelight softens the lengthening winter nights; the beauty of liturgical prayer and song shapes and strengthens the soul. Taken as a whole, the Advent season is nothing more – and nothing less – than a word of permission to stop, to rest, to lie fallow as a field anticipating a season of new growth.

In the midst of solstice darkness, Advent empties itself like an upturned heart and turns waiting into art.  It dares to suggest the gifts we long for are not necessarily the gifts we will receive, and any future we demand may not be the future we are granted. Suspended between past promise and future fulfillment, the season counsels patience, the companion of wisdom, and reminds us it is the open hand, not the clenched fist, that is capable of receiving gifts.

In the midst of our chaotic world, Advent is not meant to be celebrated, but to be kept – each day and especially each night of it treasured like a precious gem, its silence the setting for songs to come, its darkness a perfect foil for the nascent light destined to spread from one glowing star to another.  

What will Christmas bring? Who can say? There is no certainty. And yet, in the midst of this gracious season, a great truth continues to resonate. As individuals and as communities, we are free to set aside the murder and mayhem, the frenzied melees, the getting and spending that do such violence to our lives. And, we are called to remember that which we most need never will be purchased. It comes to us, always, as gift, and it is that gift for which we wait.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So shall darkness be light, and the stillness the dancing.
T.S. Eliot, East Coker

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80 thoughts on “Lying Fallow

  1. Tonight my mother and I were discussing both the Black Friday mayhem and the fact that today is the first Sunday of Advent. Putting those two thoughts into the same sentence makes me cringe – like fingernails on a chalkboard.

    My mother also remembered your previous Advent blogs, and she asked me to print and mail it to her if you had one this year. She will love this one, as do I.

    Ctrl-P, address envelope, get a stamp….

    1. NumberWise,

      I know exactly how much you’re cringing.”Fingernails on a chalkboard” gives me shivers just to type it! I suppose some of the young ones wouldn’t understand the reference – or why it’s appropriate here.

      I’m thrilled your mother inquired about whether I might produce something for Advent this year. The fact that she remembers any of my blogs is really special. Give her my regards when you send it along – please.

      And I’m glad you like it, too!


  2. This reflects my feelings so perfectly. I’ve been trying to ignore the whole shopping frenzy in the news and in real life, in favor of just enjoying some quiet time with my family and books.

    I appreciate the season of Advent and the idea of waiting, watching, and hoping. We’ve been doing quite a lot of that in our family for several years, and have been so beautifully rewarded this year.

    Thank you for this thoughtful commentary :)

    1. Becca,

      “Waiting, watching and hoping” – that certainly describes your life over the past few years. But as you say – and as you show in your most recent photo on your blog – the rewards have come, even if little Connor came a bit early!

      I found myself laughing at a few “Black Friday” stories I heard on the radio. It was as though the reporters had discovered things were slipping down toward the “avoid” end of the attraction-avoidance scale, and they were trying to make the scene a bit more attractive. It didn’t happen.

      I know your Thanksgiving was wonderful – thank you for taking time to stop by.


  3. Your post is indeed timely and much needed, Linda. The shopping frenzy and pepper-spraying mentality has such a numbing effect. In this urban wilderness of ours, it’s good to hear a voice heralding the Season.

    Black Friday and The Advent: what a contrast! One is frantic mayhem, the other is quiet, expectant waiting. Again, you’ve reminded me the virtues of slowness, solitude, and silence. And those words from T.S. Eliot remain even more relevant today. I look forward to your posts during the following weeks of The Advent.

    “… all which we most need never will be purchased. It comes to us, always, as gift, and it is that gift for which we wait.” Thanks for the reminder and inspiration.

    1. Arti,

      Just this morning I remembered a great difference between today’s mayhem and what we used to call “Christmas shopping”.

      During my childhood and youth, my parents had what was called a “Christmas Club Account” at the bank. Each week, a certain amount was deposited – $2, $5, $10. At the beginning of December, that money was withdrawn and used for Christmas shopping.

      When I was old enough – that is, when I was about 6 or 7 – I received my own Christmas savings passbook as a Christmas gift. Every week, my dad took me to the bank, where I deposited my quarter or fifty cents. At the beginning of December, I withdrew that money, added in whatever savings I had in Aunt T’s bank (!) and elsewhere, and began shopping – roaming the stores to see what I could afford with the money I had.

      One huge difference between then and now, of course, is that we did no spending on credit. Much of today’s frenzy is a result of people not giving one minute of thought to whether they can pay for what they grab. (Try taking credit cards away from Black Friday shoppers, and watch what happens. One word for the result is “Eurozone”.)

      Beyond that, Christmas Clubs at the banks, as well as the need to shop and choose carefully, spread Christmas planning across the entire year, slowed down the process and made those solitary hours of gift-choosing pure delight.

      Slowness, solitude and silence aren’t just for some ethereal “other world”. They do quite well in the marketplace, too! May they grace your season, abundantly.


  4. Such a beautiful, thoughtful meditation on what this season has become and what it could be, if we’d just let it. Just reading your lovely prose I feel myself slow down and savor the moment I’m now in. And then you end with an incredible quotation from East Coker! (I have vowed before and vow again, that I must, must, must go back and read the Four Quartets once more.)

    I wasn’t really aware of Advent until other bloggers mentioned it. A real treasure came from Friko, who last year traced out the days of Advent on her blog. If I’ve done this correctly, you can read day 1 here. It’s a real treasure chest.

    As for shopping, Mom taught me, by example, a wonderful approach to it: instead of racing out at Christmas to come up with something, I now choose gifts throughout the year. It’s a bit like the slower pace of Advent—each choice can be thought about on its own. Best of all is taking them all out of the place where they’ve been stored to wrap them up, enjoying the memories of where and when I chose each one.

    1. Susan,

      Your approach to gifts is directly related to the process I described to Arti, above. While we didn’t buy most gifts until December, when we withdrew our “Christmas Club” savings, each deposit into the account was another occasion to think about those who would receive gifts, and what they might like.

      Of course, we had the advantage of another old-fashioned process: lay-away. I still have a small decorative box I bought for my mother one year at Nollen Drug, a family business on our courthouse square. Made in Italy, it was all découpage and gold leaf – it seemed so elegant to a fourteen-year-old! I put a dollar down, and stopped by the store each week to add another dollar until it was mine.

      Like Friko’s blog – thank you for that! – it remains a real treasure chest. Mom kept matches in it, and some of those old packets still are there. But I’ve noticed that, even filled with matches, there’s plenty of room left for memories.


  5. Advent: I’m watching. I don’t know very much about traditions like this but the Calming down certainly feels right.

    We attended some Malls up here on Friday: I tend to phone for deliveries and rarely shop myself. It was an eye opener. Could be the contrast with some places I have been and worked with no supplies – certainly no pens or pencils or paper verses the racks of stationary and filing systems and candy here.

    The (Minnesotan originally) guy I’m working for just now told me to google this: “targetlady” but I’m not ready for that tonight.

    1. Ken,

      First things first: I had no idea who the Target Lady was. Now I do. Why anyone would recommend watching commercials on youtube is beyond me, but so it goes. At least she has a certain flaky dignity.

      You’re right about the amount of “stuff” out there. Unfortunately, much of it is just that – stuff. I will confess a certain weakness for Walgreens, evidenced by the fake fish still swimming near my desk, but for the most part I resist.

      One of the questions that’s been nagging at me is this: what is the difference between the piles of stuff heaped around our stores and in our shopping baskets, and true abundance? Given your own time in Liberia and elsewhere, you know as well as I do that abundance can be experienced in the midst of scarcity. I still remember the day I discovered tins of Danish bacon in Abi Jaoudi supermarket. The thought of real bacon was overwhelming – bacon in a can that could be kept for special occasions? Heaven.

      Just thinking about those cans of bacon is calming.;-)


      1. “Abundance can be experienced in the midst of scarcity.” And, of course, vice versa.

        The abundant smiles (and calm) of street vendors and shoppers in Cambodia markets contrast for me with the scowls and aggressive driving I see here as people rush from parking lot to cash machine for Christmas shopping.

        My long gone poet/artist/friend/workmate, Michael, would say as he passed a food plate to you: “Help yourself. Don’t take too much!”

        1. A friend in the Phililpines recently posted a photo of his participation in a Japanese tea ceremony. Like your Cambodian markets, it provided a stark contrast to the holiday “rituals” here.

          Your friend was wise. I’d forgotten that rule from childhood – never, ever take the last piece or the final spoonful until it is offered to you. It took years to understand that some of that “leftover food” was going out the back door. I might have wanted it, but they needed it.

  6. Hello Linda:

    I understand your pain of a Christmas without the presence of Christ and the love and men and women alike. The register box has taken over the holidays, and the true meaning of Christ-Mas has faded away into the sunset.

    Thank you for this post, which meditate upon the days when families remembered who was on the center stage: Jesus Christ the son of God.

    In Panama, Black Friday and Cyberspace Monday has also taken over the Christmas religious festivities. I long the years when Christmas was something else besides the ring-ring-ring-a-ding of the cash registers and the smell of money.

    God Bless,


    1. Omar,

      Your use of “Christ-Mas” delights me. I once belonged to a congregation which insisted upon spelling the holiday in a way which restored it’s original meaning – the “Christ Mass”, reserved for the Feast of the Nativity.

      When you have several hundred people sending “Christmass” cards, attending “Christmass” services and writing “Christmass” letters, you have several hundred opportunities to explain to befuddled folks that no, it isn’t a mistake.

      I think we sometimes forget we have a good bit of control over our own celebrations. In these politically-correct times, many of my favorite memories of the Christmas season have disappeared – like the Salvation Army bell-ringers. Their presence in front of the stores and the tinkling of their bells used to serve as a useful reminder that the season is about more than “getting and spending”.

      Now, the bells are gone, and so is that opportunity to give.

      Still, I think about your photos of your grandchildren, and am sure that they are learning about a truer spirit of the season in the heart of your family!


        1. I have the teeshirt. Last couple of years I stood at the entrance of the local grocery/Liquor store with a bell. Last night the “Sally- Ann” called and I could well show up on a web cam there soon. It is really boring so I hope Herself can handle the shifts.

  7. When you wrote about “the frenzied melees” and concluded with the comment “that which we most need never will be purchased,” I was reminded of the etymology of the word “purchase.” It comes from Old French “purchacier,” whose first element meant ‘forth’ and whose second has become our word “chase,” so for the greater part of a millennium English speakers have been chasing after things with money. As the French later observed, plus ça change et plus c’est la même chose: the more things change, the more they remain the same.

    I’m also reminded of my childhood friend Michael Kindman, dead these fifteen years now, who wrote a story in high school called “Finance Day.” It was inspired by the Christmas shopping sprees that we were already familiar with in the 1950s and ’60s. In his parody, people began complaining that their holiday of Finance Day was becoming too religious.

    1. Steve,

      Your friend was creative, indeed. I suspect his parody was thoroughly enjoyable. In a bit of further irony, our conflation of all things financial and religious has given rise to some remarkable High Holy Days (e.g., Black Friday) and some remarkably tacky theologies. The religious huckster’s been around for a while, of course, selling all manner of gewgaws off the back of the ecclesiastical wagon. Plus ça change et plus c’est la même chose, indeed.

      As for purchasing – once again, our language carries more truth than we might like to admit. One reason to purchase, of course, is to possess, and it’s equally true that most things worth having never can be possessed. It’s a hard lesson to learn.

      When I was a child, my first impulse upon seeing a beautiful flower was to pluck it, carry it home and keep it. Imagine my chagrin when, after a few dozen pluckings (slow learner, here) I realized there was no way to keep my beautiful flower except to record it in memory or through art.

      I suppose that’s the primary reason I love your photographs as I do. When I see them, I’m both the amazed child stirred by beauty and the very happy adult who has come to realize that, in fact, some of the best things in life are free!


  8. The only way I can deal with this whole “silly season” as I call it is to not deal with it at all if I can help it. Black Friday mystifies me. I want to scream “What is WRONG with you people?” Why would anyone subject themselves to that? I mean PERHAPS if the stores were GIVING stuff away for free I might be able to understand but the savings certainly can’t be that great. Though I remember as a kid there used to be stories of stampedes at Filene’s Basement sales in Boston.

    Another reason I call it the “silly season” is the different factions that scream at each other. The ones who object to Nativity scenes being placed on public property are just as bad as the ones who get in a lather that people say “Happy HOLIDAYS” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Again, I simply refuse to participate. Maybe that makes me a bad person, I don’t know.

    1. Richard,

      A refusal to participate in such insanity doesn’t make you a bad person. If anything, it shows you’re a smart person. When I read your comment, it reminded me of my grandmother. If she’d heard me say I was heading down to the mall on Black Friday, she would have said, “Don’t borrow trouble”. And she would have been right.

      I suppose it’s heresy to say so, but there are ways in which we were more tolerant and inclusive in the late 1950s and 1960s than we are today. Every year there was a Christmas dance, and a Hanukkah Hop – and all of us went to both. The Jewish kids wished the Christian kids “Merry Christmas”, and we wished them a “Happy Hanukkah”.

      I can’t lay my hands on it just now, but I have an old photo of my Dad and I looking at the Christmas window display in my home town’s hardware store. There was the obligatory train, of course, and a little village with Santa, but there also was a Christmas tree, a Star of David and a menorah. We never gave it a thought.

      I just laughed at your mention of Filene’s basement. That’s one I’ve missed, but I’ve heard the stories about those sales! From what I’ve been told, summer, spring or fall, you can find competitive shopping at Filene’s!


  9. This is a lovely post, very much like the ones I write at this time of year, except mine are not a patch on yours.

    After decades in the UK I still hold fast to the Advent of my childhood, the wreath, the special scents of baking, the afternoon spiced cake and tea by candlelight and early music, which we listen to only at this time of year.

    Mad present buying is not part of the ritual, in fact, presents are far down the bottom of the list of priorities. If I am forced to visit a department store or supermarket, the tinny sound of ‘carols’ drives me almost out of my mind and I leave as soon as my modest purchases are made.

    You are not alone in Advent.

    1. friko,

      I was so pleased that Susan shared your Advent posts from last year. I’ve not had opportunity to explore them all, but I certainly will do so.

      Interesting, your note about the music. I also tend toward chant, Baroque and such at this time of year. Advent is such a delicate season, and early music seems able to pick its way through the days more carefully than most, like a deer in early snow.

      One of the great – and surprising – gifts of my life was a late Advent and Christmas in Salisbury. The innkeepers with whom I stayed were pleased to include us in their mostly quiet celebrations – the exception being Christmas Day, when they went out, and had to be let back in much, much later, by their guests! A great deal of hilarity ensued – I believe a Brit might say they were “in their cups”.

      Isn’t it wonderful to share such things, across so many miles? And thank you for that final affirmation.


  10. Daughter #1, grandson and Daughter #2 and I went out on Friday to choose the perfect tree. One lot had a truckload of trees still on the truck. I’m so glad they enjoyed their Thanksgiving and didn’t race to put the trees out. We decided that was a good “lot” of folks to do business with so we switched our plans…go to the farm on Friday and get the tree on Saturday when the trees were unloaded.

    Why did we go out so early? They were both back on the road yesterday and we wanted to shop for the tree together. So we picked out the perfect tree and when I turned around to pay for it… it had already been purchased by daughter # 1 and #2. I really don’t need anything else except this memory.

    I also wrote about Advent and would love to pingback/trackback to your lovely, well written post. What a joy to come to this read and find such an appropriate message. Thank you.

    1. georgette,

      Such a delightful story, and such precious memories. One of my favorite photos from childhood shows my dad coming up our front walk with The Tree, snow piled high all around. He’s grinning like mad, looking at something straight ahead of him – me, probably, bubbling over with excitement that our Christmas was coming!

      It’s such a blessing to be able to celebrate together through the whole of the season – I suspect your daughters felt good about their gift to you all day long.

      And yes – those who choose to resist the madness just a bit, like those tree sellers, deserve whatever reward we can give them.

      I’m just settling back into my post-Thanksgiving routine, and will be by soon to enjoy your Advent posts. And of course you’re free to link here, any time.


    1. Juliet,

      It’s true – we all lose when consumerism runs roughshod over traditions, whether of faith, family or culture. Still, there’s room for celebration, and if we have to work a little harder to make room for what we treasure – so be it.

      I have to smile, just a little – clearcutting is clearcutting, whether it’s the trees along the Water of Leith or the Christmas trees. We need to hug all our trees a little tighter!

      I’m glad you found the post appealing – thank you.


  11. Hello, Linda;

    I’ve never understood the Black Friday rush and why people would voluntarily subject themselves to being packed in a crowded store with a bunch of frenzied shoppers. I live in a small town where the biggest store is the local grocery store, but there is a mall about a half hour’s drive away and I usually succeed in avoiding that place. I would rather shop just about anywhere else than go there at Christmastime (or any other time, for that matter). Actually, I usually try to have my holiday shopping completed well before Christmas or even before Thanksgiving if I can manage it.

    Just last night I was having a talk with a friend about how some Christmases are different from others. This will certainly be a different holiday for me, as it’ll be the first one during which I’ll be on my own in many years, but at least I have my daughters and their families to celebrate with. Considering the six grandchildren, four of whom will be under the age of 9 this year, I’m expecting a good Christmas.

    Just seeing young children experiencing the magic of the season gives me so much pleasure. They don’t worry about getting the decorating, shopping and baking done or getting the Christmas cards and gifts in the mail on time; they just revel in the joy and beauty of it all. I’m looking forward to having them over to bake cookies and make holiday crafts like paper snowflakes, sea shell ornaments, and homemade creche diorama scenes; all the things that my parents and grandparents did with my siblings and me. The children who are old enough to help cook or wield scissors and glue really love the busy work and the little ones like to “help”, too.

    Who wants to be out shopping when you could be home with a bunch of happy kids, piping frosting smiles on gingerbread men or stringing up paper snowflakes in the windows?

    Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving! ~ Beth

    1. Beth,

      Even though you’re New England and I’m Midwest, so much of what you write about is a part of my past, too. How long has it been since I’ve thought of paper snowflakes? Maybe years. Truly. But of course, as soon as I think of those, I remember stringing popcorn and cranberries and making tiny bells by pressing tinfoil over thimbles. (And it was tinfoil then! None of today’s cheap stuff!)

      And there were the paper chains, put together with homemade paste. And decorating cookies. And covering pine cones with peanut butter, rolling them in birdseed and putting them out for the birds who’d stayed, not to mention a few deliriously happy squirrels.

      The store-bought presents were important, too, but in the end the anticipation was nearly as good as the gift.

      Of course we’ll be sharing something else this year – holidays marked as much by who isn’t around as who is. But that’s the way of life – and as you say, there’s still more than enough to celebrate. Now, if we could just get some snow down here, it would be perfect! Folks who were here for the Christmas Eve miracle snow a few years ago still get misty-eyed when they talk about it. Maybe this year it will happen again!


      1. Linda; Maybe the paper snow flakes, paper chains, strings of popcorn and cranberries and all that were just part of the Baby Boomer generation’s experience, no matter where we grew up; I’d be interested to know if other Baby Boomers did the same things at Christmas.

        I’m wondering if we’re going to get snow for Christmas this year, too. We’ve had a long, wonderfully warm fall and although I’ve enjoyed this unseasonable weather, I’ll be disappointed if it’s still here at Christmas! Like Bing Crosby I’m “Dreaming of a White Christmas.”

        Do you have any special plans for the holidays, yet? While trying to cope with a first Christmas alone, I’ve decided to just try to make it a “different” Christmas; I gave away the decorations that Lorne & I had accumulated together and I’ve bought a few new things as there was no way I could put out all our old stuff and not be reminded of Christmases past and I’m hoping that happy new holiday traditions will help to ease the pain of the old memories. Do you think that people would take a dim view of starting a new holiday tradition with an ex-husband shaped pinata?

        1. Beth,

          I remembered another tradition today – the cookies and milk for Santa routine. That tradition changed midstream, though. When I was perhaps six or seven, my folks told me Santa’s tastes had changed, and he would rather I put out a glass of 7-Up. It was years later I got a confirmation of what I eventually suspected – Santa was mixing a little Seagram’s into his drink. ;)

          No special plans here, and no rush to make any. It may turn out to be the most “different” Christmas ever. We’ll see.

          As for that pinata – I don’t think anyone would care at all. Sounds pretty creative to me!


    1. Jo,

      Truly, that makes me happy. It took me a while to understand that, while I write for myself and my own pleasure, of course, I also am writing for others.

      The mystery lies in never knowing who those “others” will be! Everyone responds differently, to different topics and treatments. I’m glad this one touched you!


  12. A very timely post. Your other readers have said it all and I echo most of the sentiments expressed.

    I must say, though, that I am totally repulsed by the pepper spray incident! I guess the ‘shopper’ does not believe the sentiment expressed in the following quote by Burton Hillis: “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”

    Yes, I am celebrating Advent.


    1. Maria,

      I have tucked away in the far recesses of my mind a list of things I simply do not understand: cruelty to animals, abuse of children, and so on.The pepper spray incident seems to fit right into that list. Using a device meant for protection as a weapon against other shoppers? For what? A bit of gadgetry.

      Of course, if we think a little more deeply, another issue gets raised: the attempts of merchandisers and manufacturers to convince us we MUST have this or that. Perhaps if we’re able to resist the advertisers’ attempts to confuse “want” and “need”, we’ll be a little more able to keep our weapons holstered when we go shopping!

      I like Hillis’ words. And what a blessing it will be for all of you to be together this year – with luck, we’ll all stay healthy and happy through the season!


  13. We still have the Salvation Army bell-ringers! I didn’t realize that they have disappeared in some places.

    In recent years, my major holiday donation has gone into the red kettle, for Salvation Army does a lot in this area. I don’t go to WalMart to shop, but I make one special trip to that store during December, for that is where the bell-ringers are. I’m always impressed that they are cheerful and friendly (even to those who don’t give), for standing outside in upstate New York in December can be brutally cold.

    1. NumberWise,

      You and pixelated2 made me curious, thinking perhaps I was wrong about the bell ringers disappearing. The answer is both yes and no – they’re still out there, but only at certain locations.

      National chains that allow them include Big Lots, Bloomingdale’s, Hobby Lobby, Penny’s, Kroger, Macy’s, Sam’s Club, Walgreens and Walmart.

      Target, however, is among those who have decided against allowing their presence. Apparently Safeway and Walgreen’s have local discretion, too – which explains why I thought they were just gone. Those are the local stores I frequent, and the Red Kettles disappeared a year or two ago.

      A representative for Target, Jessica Carlson, says they made the decision to ban the Salvation Army because Target is committed to providing a distraction-free shopping environment for our guests.” Oh, okay. I guess that’s what made Black Friday such a success – no distractions.

      You’re right – they are cheerful and friendly, even to those who don’t give. There’s a Hobby Lobby and Kroger not too far away – I’ll make a point to go by and see if I can’t make a bell ringer even more cheerful.


  14. Nice post. Black Friday was an appalling way to start the season – a 2 yr old punched in the face, seriously? (Her mother ducked, said the woman who did the punching.) Everyone is upset now, so it will be interesting to see if things change next year – or it all the outrage now will vanish when the vast discounts are promised.

    Still, I have hope for Christmas. And Advent is very cool. Loved the Elliot quote. Thanks

    1. philosophermouse,

      If recent events are a sign of things to come, it certainly doesn’t bode well for us if serious economic dislocation takes place. I used to listen to my parents’ tales of the Great Depression, and was struck by the ways in which people cared for one another, and helped to meet one another’s needs. I’m not so sure some of those shoppers would be willing to share!

      But like you, I have hope – for Christmas, and even for humanity. As did Eliot, as a matter of fact. I’m sure everyone has their “go-to” poet – he’s mine, and there’s always a word or two in his work that crystallizes something for me.

      Thanks for stopping by – and Happy Advent!


    1. Ian,

      Bypassing those clamoring hordes is always good, whether you’re shopping or leaving behind the “the walrus colony of package tourists and leather-tanned pensioners”. ;-)

      We’ve all got our preferences, and that’s one I’ll admit to sharing with you.


    1. Andrew,

      Oh, I hope you need no antidote ~ surely such mayhem hasn’t made its way to Falabella and your bodegas!

      Still, a little slowing is good for the soul, no matter the time of year. So nice to have you stop by – many thanks.


  15. I got a bit swept up in the cyber sales, trying to find some winter boots (for my progeny) and a new swimming suit for me (to take to Baja Mexico with family members). All well and good, but it’s truly addictive looking for the perfect item at a low price. For the boots, we stopped briefly into a store on Black Friday and were appalled at the families clamboring over spilled boxes of boots in the aisles.

    I hope to rekindle some of the peace of the season that your blog evokes so wonderfully. Listening to ancient music is my way back into the season’s purpose.

    1. Mary Ellen,

      Winter boots and a swimsuit – there’s a pair of purchases! I suppose you would have to go online for the swimsuit – it’s hardly “in season” in your part of the country! On the other hand, if saunas are popular there, maybe snow’n’swimming would fit together.

      I had a friend who took a part-time job at Dillard’s a couple of Christmas seasons ago. Dillard’s is a Macy’s-type store, and it always astonished me to hear her tales of extra hours put in after closing, simply to put back into order goods that had been ransacked.

      I’d segué into a story about what it used to be like to “go shopping”, but then I’d really sound like an old fogey!

      I suspect you’ve heard the work of Gregorian/Masters of Chant – some of their more modern renderings fit the season beautifully. This is perhaps my favorite.


  16. I promised myself that I would experience Advent this year. So far I haven’t done all that well – what with traveling, first day back at work & scary second mammograms (fortunately what they thought they saw with the first one wasn’t there this time).

    I have a little book of Advent meditations (by Barbara Cawthorn Crafton) – she uses a hymn from the Episcopal hymnal as the basis for each meditation. I’m going to take some time each evening to sing the hymn & read the meditation, and contemplate the true gift of the season.

    1. Bug,

      My heart stopped when I saw that phrase “second mammogram”. I’m so glad it didn’t confirm number one – and we’ll hope for lots more boring reports in the future!

      Advent’s become more important to me as the years have gone by. Once I began “de-cluttering Christmas”, it helped me find a little time for this season, too. There’s no reason to bake five kinds of cookies, when three will do, just as there’s no real reason that all of the gift wrappings have to be co-ordinated! Sometimes I think I have more of the 1950s left in me than I realize.

      Some of the most beautiful hymns in the world are in the Episcopal hymnal. One of my favorites is “People, Look East” – until last year my favorite version was by the Cambridge Singers, but the Young New Yorkers’ chorus does a splendid job. You can find Eleanor Farjeon’s lyrics here.

      Happy Advent!


  17. When I read the story about Walter Vance, the 61-year-old pharmacist who lay dying on the floor last Friday while customers at a West Virginia Target store stepped over and around him, I was sure the incident had nothing to do with Advent or Christmas. Advent and Christmas had to be the furthest things from the minds of people so distracted.

    I’m not one to condemn Christmas shopping, because I think buying and giving gifts — when it’s done out of a sense of joy and generosity — is appropriate to the season. The Grinch stole material things, thinking he had stolen Christmas. When he figured out that while those things were signs of Christmas, they were not Christmas itself, he gave them back. The Whos didn’t need the presents and the food and had already started celebrating Christmas without them. Still, I’m sure they were glad to have those material expressions of their exuberance and their affection for each other.

    1. Charles,

      Certainly, there are stories aplenty of people going about their business at other times of the year while those around them are mugged, raped, beaten or bullied. That’s not new, unfortunately. It may be we’re more distressed or pay more attention at this time of year because the contrast between what is and what should be is even more striking.

      As for gifts – I’ve always thought people who consider themselves “above all that” have it as wrong as greedy materialists. I could be wrong, but it seems to me the tradition of gift-giving is grounded in the fact of the Incarnation. If the material world weren’t important, there would have been no need of stable, star, young couple, baby and so on.

      I really wish now I could find a poem I misplaced years ago – it’s so apropos. (Eventually I will find it, as it was in one of three magazines, between 1973 and 1983.) The poet, speaking of Christmas, remarks that he bought his mother her usual poinsettia and “she says I shouldn’t have, but still – she is pleased”. He goes on to ponder gifts and adds (paraphrasing here), “As the dark descends, why should we not become extravagant, give one another gifts? They help to make the season stay.”



  18. A lovely, thoughtful and timely post and I have to say “right on.” I was listening to the radio when they were discussing the Black Friday shopping incidents, listing four in a row — the pepper spray, a shooting, a couple of robberies — all at WalMart. I thought “There is a solution for this,” not that any retailer will be the first to do it.

    The only stores into which I ventured for four days were the pet store (or you would have heard of an incident equally horrible — orange declawed cat chews owner in a starving frenzy.) And the grocery store. Interesting, but no one was there!

    As for me, I’m sure I’ll have to venture into “big” stores, but I’m steering clear of crowds, shopping local, perhaps making a few things and yes, cutting back. And that will be very good!

    1. jeanie,

      Steering clear of crowds will be one of the best things you can do for yourself. You have different kinds of threats to worry about, and I don’t mean just out-of-control shoppers and Gypsy-in-a-bad-mood! Health comes first.

      Your mention of the pet store reminds me that I need to start whispering to Miss Dixie about the need to be good – after all, Santa Cat is coming to town! Maybe I should post the cat carols again – I do love them so, and others might get a kick out of them. I heard a rumor that Gypsy has been very good, indeed. Maybe Santa Cat will come to your place, too!

      The good news is that the season can be enjoyed without frantic activity – and every year has its own particular qualities. I hope this Advent is wonderful for you!


      1. The cat carols are the best. We sing (well, I sing) carols to Gypsy on Juicy Tuesday as for 20 minutes we hang out, needle in him, attached to my hand! There’s “I’m Dreaming of a Gyp Christmas,” “Gyppy Claws is Coming to Town” and any others we can corrupt for our own purposes. One does what one must! He has been a VERY good boy! (Since you have an “in,” pass the word!

        Yes, I’ve been forced to slow down. And that’s not so bad. Not at all.

  19. Within the last few years, Linda, all the adults in my combined/extended families agreed to no longer exchange gifts. I only buy one gift for my only grandchild and that’s over the internet…something for his favorite computer game. Easy.

    After Astrid and I down-sized our homes in order to move in with each other 2 years ago, it didn’t make sense to start buying things again. So our main gift to each other at Christmastime is a very special meal out, on the 25th. We look forward to it for weeks because it’s a 3-course evening meal, which we never do otherwise.

    This year we’re also spending a day at the Christmas market in Düsseldorf, Germany. THAT will fill up all our senses for a long time to come, for sure.

    But there’s nothing like the quiet loveliness of our candlelit suppers during this season of “fallowing” to make us so happy to be alive in this world gone mad!

    Thank you for yet another wonderful meditation!

    (Please make sure you see my currect post on Astrid at “In Soul.”)

    1. Ginnie,

      I fear I’m one of those who will hold out to the end on behalf of “real presents” – wrapped and ribboned and just sitting there, waiting to surprise. That doesn’t mean a gift has to be large or expensive – a lipstick in a favorite shade, or a clutch of fancy chocolate bars will do quite nicely. But there’s just something about the ACTIVITY of exchanging gifts that is quite wonderful.

      One thing I did find as my mother aged was that gifts became more important – they were concrete and tangible, and they helped her remember both the day, and that she was loved.

      When I think of the best Christmas gifts I’ve received as an adult, I’d have to put at the top of the list an orange and some peppermint sticks I found outside my door, that Christmas in Salisbury. Each guest had that “little something” on Christmas morn, and it was unbelievably touching and deilghtful.

      Of course, your Christmas dinner has much the same quality about it – the planning, the participation, the sharing. Being with someone who shares your values is quite a gift in itself!

      I can’t wait to see what you’ve gotten up to with Astrid!


  20. Thank you, Linda, for this feeling of serenity I felt as I read your beautiful writing. Advent is indeed a time for “walking” slowly towards Christmas, a time for reflection, patience and delightful moments of creating little personalized gifts.

    Or choose with care The gift for The person whose name I pulled out of a basket last October. This is a tradition now, no end of year stress in big stores. Each family member has agreed to offer one single gift to one person. Such great excitement as the moment of sharing gifts comes on Christmas Eve !

    1. Isa,

      Isn’t the drawing of names delightful? It’s such fun to spend time reflecting on a person, and choosing *just the right gift* to bring happiness.

      And I have to tell you this – sometimes we receive gifts we never expected, from people we hardly know. I received a call from the ladies who knitted the small bag for Mom’s “going away”. They discovered that some pieces in the boxes of yarn I took to them actually were sweaters which hadn’t been completed.

      They took on the task, and now I have two lovely cardigans knit by my mother’s hand – one a rose-colored mohair blend and one a lovely ivory Aran. I think it must have a dozen stitches in it!

      I think that is one reason to quieten ourselves during Advent, and slow a bit. The world itself may have gifts already prepared for us which we easily could miss in the midst of too much hustle and bustle!


  21. Sitting at home on the other side of ” The Pond”, I found it hard to believe all I was reading last weekend about the violence on Friday.
    In the shopping arcades here, it was a normal Friday. It is one of your “traditions” I hope we do not take on, like trick or treat and Hershey bars.

    Being brought up in a village, miles from the nearest large town, where the majority of the inhabitants were hard working farmers, Christmas was a time to be “savoured”. It began on the 21st, when trees and lights would appear in windows and Advent candles, kept on the sideboard for three weeks, would find their way to the window sill for all to see. The Chapel Choir would go around the village singing carols on the eve before Christmas Eve, and many would prepare mulled wine and mince pies to give to them. (As an child I never understand why they got louder and more raucous as they progressed around the village!)
    Christmas morning would begin with the Midnight Service in the little church, packed to the rafters with villagers, who then would wander around the streets wishing everyone they met a “Very Merry Christmas”!

    Do I miss it? in a way I do.
    It had meaning, it had soul, it had tradition – three of the things we seem to have lost in the last half century.

    Thank you for your wonderful entry.

    1. Sandi,

      It seems unbearably sad to me that I’d forgotten Christmas caroling. It used to be a favorite thing to do – and I did it every year of my life for nearly 30 years. It wasn’t just church or youth groups who would go caroling – even groups of friends would just get together and go. And people liked it.

      Today, you’d probably get sued, or arrested.

      I do miss it – and especially this year, with Mom no longer around to bake cookies with, decorate with and so on, the absence of the traditions is even more sharply felt. Just for curiosity last night, I went looking for another tradition – the weekly midweek Advent services in the churches. You’d think among the Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal there might be a few, but I haven’t found one yet. There are soup suppers here and there, but few true services. I suppose people are too busy.

      Meaning, soul and tradition – precisely. If I disappear from the blogs, you’ll know I got a group of carolers together and we’re trying to make bail. ;-)


  22. All of this mayhem surrounding Christmas, it is so very sad. You have to ask what has happened to us – not only us but the stores that intentionally create an environment that fosters the frenzy.

    When I talked to Dad last night, I asked him if he received Christmas gifts when he was a kid. He said, “Sometimes.” I asked about his tree, and he said that his father used to take the boat over to a nearby island and cut down a cedar tree. So simple. We’ve come a long way from that kind of celebration, entirely bereft of frippery.

    This was a wonderful post and perfect reminder of what is truly important.

    1. Bella,

      I laugh – sometimes – when I see the signs all over town: “Will Hang Christmas Lights”. “Have Your Home Professionally Decorated”. “Better Than Next Door – Yard Decor”.

      I fear our celebrations reflect entirely too well what’s happened to our society as a whole. This isn’t meant to be a grinch-ish statement, only a slightly sorrowful one. In the first place, how do family traditions continue when the family is being torn apart? And what’s to love about going into a “Christmas Store” and saying, “I’ve decided I want to decorate with a silver and rose theme this year – what do you have?”

      I mean – even poor Charlie Brown’s tree is being marketed within an inch of its life now. I believe I’ll take your Dad’s celebration, every time.


  23. Hear, hear, and bravo!. It is the true secret of Christmas to revel in the waiting, the hope, the magic (forgive any obvious use of the word.), the promise.

    Your words are so rich here; your observations real. And I love the idea of the Xmas light/globes reflecting in the water (in your marina?) Refusing to participate in the holiday panic is the first step in regaining the beauty of the time.

    I love this entry. I’ll say no more at the risk of sounding corny, but you wrapped this one up great.
    (and just in off the road, I’m going to look at the Jackie Lawson advent calendar!)

    1. oh,

      Here’s a photo I used in one of my blog entries – the lights and lanterns are at the townhomes at the end of that long marina fairway. Clearly, the view I have is the best thing about my apartment!

      You said it perfectly: “Refusing to participate in the holiday panic is the first step in regaining the beauty of the time.” That’s true in so many ways. We don’t “have to” outdo the neighbor’s decorations. We don’t “have to” spend money we don’t have on gifts. We don’t “have to” do a lot of things we do, especially when the “have-tos” leave us with little time for “want-tos”.

      Reveling in waiting is pretty danged counter-cultural, these days.
      Enjoy every minute of it!


  24. Hello Linda,
    I am late arriving at this post but so glad I made it. Nothing is worth getting out in that mob on Black Friday shopping. I am not much into shopping anyway and this year we ordered almost every gift on line to be delivered.

    You are so right; if there were not “credit cards” to charge these purchases on, there would be no “Black Friday” or at least not like the ones we have today.

    One of my favorate quotes for this time of year is from
    Dr Suess:
    “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

    By the way I am loving the Advent Calendar you sent!
    Enjoy your weekend.

    1. Patti,

      Bless your heart – you’ve reminded me of something I did maybe three years ago. Perhaps four. I need to get my “Grinch” out and dust him off. He deserves another posting!

      Online shopping is a wonderful thing. I do enjoy small specialty stores and stores in smaller towns, but going to a mall or big box store? No, thank you.

      On the other hand, I love big cities at holiday time – not for shopping, but for the decorations, music, and so on. New York at Christmas, with snow, is magical. I’d be willing to do that again – just not the shopping.

      I’ve been thinking about the hard work you put in to your decorating and so on – one of the best things about it is that you have plenty of time to enjoy it with your family, especially the grandkids. That’s what counts – not the amount of stuff piled under the tree!


  25. Despite my Catholic upbringing, that beautiful concept of Advent as a time to be still without concrete expectations escaped me. To paraphrase the song “We Need a Little Christmas”:

    Yes, we need a little Advent!
    Right this very moment.
    We need a little Advent, now!

    Especially me!

    1. Claudia,

      Love your re-work of the old song. Need a little Advent? Me, too.

      Isn’t it funny how holidays can turn into a morass of expectations – both our own and others’? I can’t explain it at all, but I’m coming to believe hope and expectations have very little to do with one another.

      If I ever figure it out, I’ll let you know. In the meantime – a little peace and quiet is gift enough.


  26. I don’t think I have ever taken part in a Black Friday event. There isn’t anything I need badly enough to deal with those crowds, that time of night, or any of that! I also believe the holidays have really taken off in the other direction, so I do my best to at least make ours seem more sane.

    I have to admit, that when I became a Grandma over 5 years ago, scaling back was hard. But I also know that these grandsons of mine will never do without. So, I limit myself to one toy each, clothes that I find on sale, and a generous gift to their college account – the one thing that will really pay off in the end and will be appreciated by everyone when the time comes. The toys will eventually go the way that toys go – the clothes will become too small – but an education will last a lifetime!

    And since I don’t partake in all that madness – my holidays remain somewhat calm! Lots of social events spent with family and friends, but to me, that is the best part of the holidays – and the great food!

    1. Karen,

      Even long, long ago, when people still talked about “after Thanksgiving sales”, we never went to the stores. For one thing, the sales went on for more than one day, and it was possible to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday or longer, and still find good prices – and plentiful merchandise.

      Another difference – I think – was that there weren’t as many “hot items”. You went to the store to browse and see what was available, rather than going to get specific things. If I wanted a doll, I asked for a doll, not a “Let’s Go Play in the Garden Barbie with a Complete Set of Gardening Tools”! Retailers stocked shelves with what they thought people would like, people picked gifts they thought people might like, and that was the end of it.

      The fact is that shoppers are being manipulated in a multitude of ways, and many people seem to forget that they’re the ones in control of their lives – and their celebrations. Clearly, you’re one who does understand!


  27. I agree with you on the commercialization aspect of Christmas. As well as with those who have posted. There’s not much I can add that hasn’t already been said here.

    I have to say that I’m glad I’m not alone. I had begun to feel like Mrs. Scrooge.

    Due to some financial issues 10 years or so ago, I cut back drastically on the gift giving. It had ballooned and was way out of hand, anyway. Each year the list was longer and larger. I hadn’t realized how stressful it had all gotten until I quit. It was so nice. Once our finances were back in order, I decided to continue the trend. I had no problem with my family. I got no murmurs of discontent from friends or coworkers. Hubby’s family, however, was horrified and tried to guilt me into rejoining the mass gift giving. They refused to consider drawing names or to cut back.

    I held firm. The last straw was, IMHO, a snide jibe: my sister in law gave me a copy of John Grisham’s “Skipping Christmas.”

    I’m not a total Scrooge. I put up a small table top tree last night. I’ll change out my front door wreath from an autumn theme to a Christmas one this afternoon. I’ll display any incoming cards and put out a few small decorative items. I do some small gifts to a few close friends and immediate family.

    Hubby and I are going mattress and box spring shopping for ‘our’ gift this year. A bit prosaic but what better gift could we give each other than a good night’s sleep?

    1. Gué,

      As you know, there are several in our circle who would give anything for a good night’s sleep. Seems to me if a new mattress and box springs is going to help get that particular joy into your life, you’ll have one of the best examples ever of a “gift that keeps on giving”!

      Pesonally, I don’t think you’re Scroogish at all. You just decided to celebrate differently. I laughed out loud at your SIL’s gift to you – that’s serious snark, right there. ;)

      The fact is that none of us can tell someone else how to celebrate. There are days when I just want the whole danged season to go away, because this year there’s so much about it that’s painful. But I’m not going to insist others don’t celebrate just because I don’t feel like it, and there’s no reason for people to insist that we go “all out” for the holiday just because they don’t want to feel guilty for their excesses – or whatever.

      I put up a wreath today, and even got the tree up. It’s only got lights on it at this point – and if it stays like that, it’s just fine. I am beginning to develop a taste for pickled herring, though. This may work out ok, after all!


  28. Beautifully written, as always, Linda. If only everyone could express their beliefs so thoughtfully, and so free of harshness and hostility. Your words create a connection, whether the beliefs are shared or not. That’s difficult to do, and despite the lessons we should have learned by now, it seems to be getting more difficult all the time.

    Thank you for this post. Merry Christmas.

  29. bronxboy,

    Harshness and hostility seem a little out of the spirit of the season – actually, harshness and hostility can be tiresome no matter when they pop up.

    Truly, I don’t understand why all the brouhaha over celebrations. My neighbor’s menorah doesn’t bother me. When I worked with Muslims in Liberia and they rolled out their prayer rugs during work hours, no one batted an eye. As for the militant atheists of the world – I think they’re safe. As far as I know, faith never has been forced on anyone.

    Well, I don’t need to tell you all of this. You’re well aware. My only goal is to communicate as honestly as I can why this season is so dear to me. Apparently I was able to do that for you – and that’s enough to make Christmas very merry, indeed.


    1. Bayou Woman,

      Well, a tradition, anyhow. Perhaps even the predominant tradition. But it’s not my tradition, and never will be. Let the advertisers and retailers do their worst – I’ll not be in those stores the day after Thanksgiving. I’ll not be maxing out a credit card, or buying useless gewgaws for people I really don’t like. So there!

      You know a whole lot about tradition, and the ways it gets maintained. Love is the answer – loving where we came from will help to ensure that place still exists in the future!


  30. Managed to avoid the madness associated with commercial Christmas; all shopping was done early and everything was organized. (Make a list and check it twice.) Love local IKEA which sold me a 9′ spruce tree for $15 which came with a $20 discount coupon redeemable in the store (dang, should have bought out the whole lot!)

    Must say that Christmas celebrations with us were enjoyable and generally relaxed: visits from kids, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, plus their friends, even my wife’s ex-husband; lots of good food, beer, eggnog, and (homemade) wine. Little emphasis on gifts; lots on fun, music and good conversation. (Our last Christmas in this house.) Celebrations extended from 16 Dec to 4 Jan.

    Looking forward to the next one in Panama without the snow.

    1. Rick,

      Even from here, your celebration feels very much like an “in-between time”. Provisional. Transitional. What’s not to like about fun, music and conversation – particularly when (I assume) the whole clan won’t be transported southward for next year’s celebration.?

      I’ve come to believe that 99% of what people say they “have” to do for Christmas is simply a choice. We don’t have to shop ’til we drop, put on ten pounds, drink to excess or end up exhausted. Sometimes we do have to put up with relatives who aren’t entirely delightful, but no one said life was perfect!

      Next year, you’ll have a new life as a gift to enjoy.


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