I absolutely love this time of the year. I love the family time, the food, the decorations, the music, the feeling. I'm not especially religious, and waffle on my beliefs. (I blame that partially on my upbringing in a liberal protestant church mixed with conservative parochial school. Got some mixed messages at a young age.) But during the advent season, I find myself drawn to the church, although this year the draw hasn't been enough to actually get me into one. Maybe Christmas Eve or Day or both. I love the advent wreath and candles and the readings leading up to Christmas. Now that I have a child, the whole birth of Jesus is especially poignant. As a child, I always romanticized the birth in a stable...nice clean hay, a cozy little stable, a few fluffy sheep hanging about. As an adult, I realize what it truly would have been like...smelly, dirty, cold at night, hot during the day. And there was the birthplace of a child, to a young woman, probably scared out of her wits. Did she have anyone else in attendance? Would a local midwife or relative of her husband's have been there? I doubt Joseph would have been. Even today, it's not common for middle-eastern husbands to attend births. (Although an Egyptian student I know did stay in the delivery room for his daughter's birth last year and was so happy he did. He told all his male friends and relatives about it and encouraged them to do the same. Way cool.)
I especially love traditional Christmas hymns. My preference: those written or arranged by Rutter. I have a Rutter CD that I play nearly nonstop during the holidays. My favorite on it is "In the Bleak Midwinter". The lines "Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay; Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before" always hits me. There was the holy child, the Creator in human form, and all he had and all he needed needed were milk and a place to lie. Humble needs indeed. Needs no different from any other newborn.
Another favorite is "'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime". The images it presents are beautiful, although I have issues with its origins (a Jesuit missionary in Canada who converted Native Americans to Christianity wrote the lyrics.) The history of the hymn is interesting, though. Most of the Hurons were wiped out, yet the song was preserved and now is considered a treasure.