I have a hard and fast holiday rule: no Christmas music before Thanksgiving.
My readers located outside the US may not understand why I have this rule, but there’s something here for you too, so stick with me.
The motivation for my rule is simple: I want to enjoy the seasons as they pass.
For me, the unwinding of the year is a subtle and beautiful transformation from the last rays of summer’s warmth into the barren cold of winter frost. Jumping ahead at any point in the process means missing out on what makes the experience so beautiful to begin with.
If you’re not with me yet, then let me tell you about the maple tree.
Unwinding the Year
I’m from Michigan and we have a ton of maple trees, which are famous for their brilliant fall colors. Sometime around late September or early October, maple trees start their brilliant transformation from lush green, to yellow, to red, and finally come to stand naked as winter winds blow their dead brown leaves to the ground. This transformation is so awesome people will drive hours to see it on full display.
Maple leaves also give the Michigan fall its characteristic scent–the scent of desiccated and decaying leaves. As a kid, I thought this was the “smell of pumpkins” because I associated the scent with Halloween, which is a major moment in fall for any candy-loving child.
In the tea room, October is the last month for the raised hearth and is often considered the most “wabi-sabi” of the twelve months. It’s the perfect time to feature utensils that are chipped or cracked–perhaps repaired with “kintsugi” (golden lacquer) or otherwise patched in some way. The goal is to make us feel the nostalgic sadness wrapped up in the departing rays of summer’s warmth.
From there, we turn the corner to November, which is where the dull skies and cold rains usually set in. The sound of dead leaves rasping on streets and sidewalks as they blow in frigid gusts of winter wind is a key feature of November in my mind. It’s often a wet month and we may even see the first snowflakes fall. My attention is firmly locked onto Thanksgiving–a time to return home and share good food with friends and family.
In the tea room, we have two major events: the opening of the sunken hearth and the arrival of fresh matcha. Fresh matcha in November? Yes, this is the traditional time when we open our tencha (dried green tea leaves) after resting it for six months and grind it into matcha. It’s typically a busy time for tea people, who gather to celebrate the arrival of our signature drink.
Where is there room for Christmas carols amidst all this important activity?
Winter is Coming–Embrace It
Many of my California friends dislike the cold and wet winter weather. “If I want winter, I’ll go to Lake Tahoe,” they say. As funny as this is to me, I don’t share the sentiment. What I disagree with in this attitude is the way it disconnects us from nature, implies we have control over our environment (a human favorite), and leads us to avoid inconvenience.
In other words, they’re doing winter wrong. To enjoy the winter, we must embrace it.
What tea has shown me is we heighten our experience by making the moments we are in something special. We make moments special by “solemnizing” them with ritual, reverence, and respect. This is how we treat every occasion as a “once in a lifetime meeting” (一期一会, ichi go ichi e).
Chanoyu accomplishes this with strict forms and protocols of behavior bound to the changing seasons. Fashion, food, and preparations of tea all change to match nature. Even our manner of speaking or the way we have conversation changes through the use of “seasonal words” (季語, kigo).
As a highly ritualized art, this kind of behavior certainly seems far away from our daily lives. However, it’s closer than we might think at first glance.
We can mimic chanoyu’s tight embrace of the seasons by wearing our favorite warm clothes, watching movies we love, enjoying foods we can’t during other seasons, or waking up early with a cup of tea and the sun glittering on a fresh blanket of snow.
By following this path, we bring the rhythm of Mother Nature deeper into our lives and heighten our enjoyment of her various moods.
All Things in Their Time
While it’s fun to wax poetic on Christmas music and autumn leaves, my point is it’s important to revere time and space.
We may not live in a place full of maple trees and changing fall colors, the same rules apply–enjoy the passing seasons without jumping ahead. Even our least favorite times of the year have something to offer if we find a way to treat Mother Nature with reverence, as is her due. When we lean into the unique experiences offered by the seasons, we can find a type of joy only available to us there and then, in that moment.
As human beings, all we have is time. Life could be over in two moments, so let us not waste this moment by getting ahead of ourselves.
And don’t play Christmas music before Thanksgiving.