Early Christmas Carols & the Secret of Happiness

I have a confession to make: I started listening to Christmas Carols in earnest two weeks ago.

I know I’m not supposed to. I mean, I know that I should wait at least until Advent. (Actually, we’re often told that we should wait until Christmas itself to sing Christmas carols and should content ourselves with Advent songs until then. That’s a debate I’ve entered into before and something, quite frankly, about which I have some strong feelings. :) ) So there’s no way around it: I know I shouldn’t be listening to Christmas music yet.

But here’s the thing: listening to Christmas music makes me happy.

I actually listen to it throughout the year – often while on an airplane and trying tune out the jet engines so I can write. But once the weather begins to turn (which usually happens fairly early in Minnesota) and once we leave Daylight Savings Time and it starts getting dark around 5:00 or so (again, a result of living so far north), well then the itch to listen Christmas carols becomes nearly irresistible.

Truth be told, I love just about everything about Christmas – the lights, the gifts, the singing, the biblical story, the manger scenes, the festive air, pretty much the whole shebang. But I realized a few years ago that what I actually like best about Christmas is getting ready for it.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the day itself…so much so that in our family we actually try to keep all twelve days of Christmas (though it seems our best efforts often peter out after New Year’s). But what I like even more than the day is anticipating it: putting up lights, advent devotions, lighting the advent wreath, preparing cards, buying and wrapping gifts, putting up the tree, getting out familiar Christmas decorations, and…playing Christmas music.

So this year I’ve decided that rather than feel bad about enjoying the days leading up to Christmas,… I would instead extend them.

This actually wasn’t an intentional plan but rather something I stumbled upon. You see, two Sundays ago I had a lot of work around the house to get done. In particular, at the end of the summer we had packed up most of our kitchen to prepare for some repair work that needed to be done to our cabinets. So we pulled all the glasses and dishes we almost never use, as well as a lot of stuff we do, off the shelves and packed them all away. The repairs had been completed three weeks earlier, and I still hadn’t unpacked and put away all those boxes. So given that the Vikings were playing late, I thought I’d give the three hours between church and kickoff over to getting started on this chore.

Just as I started into the first box, it occurred to me that it might be fun to put on some Christmas music while I worked. And is was fun; actually more than fun, as the whole time it felt more like I was getting the house ready for Christmas than working. I got the work done sooner than I thought, still had time before the game, and so started tackling other chores that I could do while listening to the carols in the background.

And that’s when it struck me: the only thing crazier than playing Christmas music in early November was not playing Christmas music because someone else said not to. And, ever since, I’ve been happily humming along to carols while driving the kids to school, running errands, grading sermons and, yes, writing blog posts (a modern rendition of “The Carol of the Bells” is playing right now).

It turns out, actually, that embracing who you are in spite of cultural pressure to be different is one of the secrets to happiness. In her delightful book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes,

I was happier when I accepted my own real likes and dislikes, instead of trying to decide what I ought to like…. As Michel de Montaigne observed, “The least strained and most natural ways of the soul are the most beautiful; the best occupations are the least forced” (233).

Listening to Christmas carols early – or perhaps, for that matter, anytime! – might not be what makes you happy. That’s not the point. The point instead is to give a little thought to what does make you happy and make a little time for it. The key, of course, it that it’s what actually makes you happy, not what your parents or your friends or your spouse or your kids think should make you happy. Embrace that – that is, embrace yourself – and you’ll be surprised at what happens.

So what quirky, or unusual, or irreverent, or odd thing could you do this weekend just because it makes you happy? Do it. And while you’re doing it, know that I’ll be thinking of you…and probably listening to Christmas carols.