All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth, the classic Christmas carol tells us. Don Gardner wrote it in the 1940’s and it never fails to put some of us in the holiday spirit, prompting more than a little thought into those Christmas wish lists. It’s a song that inevitably brings about holiday happiness. Christmas lists are funny things and they say a lot about the kind of holiday season we envision for ourselves. Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt is another classic that entertains as she seductively sings her wish list that includes a yacht, a duplex, a deed to a platinum mine, decorations from Tiffany’s and lastly, a ring which we can presume should also be from Tiffanys. If you would like a refresher of that song check it out on You Tube – www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeNhjPaP53I.
Rev. Quinn G. Caldwell has another take on Christmas wish lists, in his book All I Really Want – Readings for a Modern Christmas. It is a non-traditional devotional intended to bring some depth and warmth into what has become, for many people, a cold and consumeristic holiday season. So many of us get swallowed up by over consumption, excessive busyness and just too many commitments, leaving little time for the true reason for the season.
Quinn writes, “The Christmas season is a time when churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike tend to experience strong spiritual longings.” (That’s why churches are filled to overflowing during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services). “Whatever the longing looks like on the outside, for most of us, deep down it’s a longing for an experience of something holy, something beautiful. Something, like God.”
His easy to read, thought provoking, insightful little book, is filled with honesty, humor and scripture. Within its weekly calendar are suggestions for small acts, that if tasted mindfully just might create a little “holy breathing space” in your holiday. And for Rev. Quinn, That’s all he really wants.
Recognizing that opening this book gives us one more thing to do, rather than simplifying our holiday, it is well worth the effort. “I’m not here to simplify anything for you,” writes Quinn. “Neither is God. This book is actually designed to complicate the season. It’s here to invite you to think and pray a little more deeply about it.” And even if you can’t commit for a whole season, embracing All I Really Want, even when you have a spare minute is easy enough to do. The serendipitous random opening to a page often leads us to just the thing we need to see.
There are reflections for each day of December and 10 days following which roughly takes us through the Christian church’s Advent and Christmastide seasons. In each, there is a Bible passage, a reflection with questions to think about and prayer. For each week, there is a calendar with a daily call to action which is sure to connect with our sense of childlike anticipation, our desire to go deep and our inevitable humanness. He begins with a directive to get an advent calendar. Advent calendars date back to the 19th century and help us celebrate and anticipate the coming of Christmas. They help us stay focused and attentive by inviting us into a little surprise for each day of advent.
Advent calendars come in all shapes and sizes and are made of paper, wood, fabric and any number of other materials. There is a tiny door or pocket for each day of the Advent season which this year begins on November 29, leading up to Christmas on December 25th. Behind each door there is a little surprise and depending on your calendar, it might be a scripture verse, a chocolate, a teeny tiny toy, or some other reminder of the season. Whatever it is, it serves to give us a sense of childlike nostalgia.
But Quinn’s book isn’t just about 19th century advent calendars, it is modern and contemporary for our time, like when late in his January calendar he suggests, “Knock the media gods from their thrones: refuse to have any screen time tonight.” There’s an idea.
“I think of it as primarily devotional for people who may not connect with traditional devotional material,” says Quinn. “It is a little grittier material, a bit out of the ordinary.” He sees it as offering something for people who do come from strong religious backgrounds as well as folks who may not.
“It is 100 percent for people who are looking for a way to add more spirit to their holiday season.”
“Many of us find ourselves battling against cultural expressions of Christmas. I think what Christianity has come up against is trying to deal with those cultural expressions in a way that points us toward Jesus. I think it’s all about finding a way to make those cultural expressions of Christmas to be about God. Making chocolate chip cookies can somehow be holy, and listening to Christmas carols can be about God.”
He wrote the book because he felt a disconnection himself in his holiday. A closer connection with God is something he longed for and as he saw friends, family and colleagues longing for more, he wanted to help in some way. It was a book he wanted to read, so he wrote it. With short daily readings that can be fit in over any cup of coffee, it is easy enough to compliment ones seasonal activities.
Quinn loves the contemporary yet vintage feel of the design. The content is both ancient and evolutionary as a way of honoring a tradition. Resonating with folks likely to be in the middle part of their lives, he hopes that All I Really Want will “complicate the season.” And in complicating it in this way, people might be brought deeper into the meaning of a holiday season that for many, has lost significance.
”I think humor matters in the church. Laughter matters. I’m not sure we do enough of it,” says Quinn. “Writing is an important devotional practice for me. The process of writing forces a certain organization of thoughts. Writing is helpful to me for my own faith and my own understanding of God.”
Coming up with two readings a day for 40 days is a lot to say about Christmas, he admits.” The process was pretty painful but it feels really good to have done it.” It took him about three months to put this valuable advent tool together. The idea evolved over time as he worked with Abingdon Press to publish it last year.
Rev. Quinn G. Caldwell is a member of the United Church of Christ Stillspeaking Writer’s Group and author for the Stillspeaking Daily Devotionals website published by UCC. He is a graduate of Union Theological Seminary and the pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in Syracuse, New York. His book can be found on Amazon at All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas.