December 3 might be the first day of Advent this year but, here in Houston, the holiday season kicks off with the annual Nutcracker Market for the Houston Ballet. This self-described holiday shopping extravaganza brings in about 100,000 shoppers over a four-day period each November. I remember my husband taking me to my first Nutcracker and enjoying the awe that swept over my face at the sheer size of it. Similarly, I enjoyed seeing your first reaction, too, although you are now a seasoned veteran. Sure, you can up your Nutcracker game by getting tickets for the cocktail parties, luncheons, and fashion shows held during the event. However, we have taken the advice of Papa Francisco (admittedly not about the Nutcracker specifically), to go outside and engage with people; i.e., we tailgate.
It is very appropriate to tailgate here because almost nowhere else will you encounter shopping teams like the Nutcracker. There are hordes of women sporting reindeer antlers, matching shirts, and bags. The few men who do attend (like my husband) are generally relegated to carrying bags or giant personalized Christmas yard signs. It makes it easier to find them after your second double Bloody Mary. It is big, it is loud, it is hokey. I could probably spend all day just reading the amusing holiday dish towels – they never get old. For all the Nutcracker’s flaws, it definitely brings people together. I love the sense of sisterhood. I love the fact that all bathrooms in the arena have been converted to women’s rooms. I love seeing grown women riding toy ponies and laughing hysterically. I love that all ages come together here. It is a great tradition.
The Nutcracker has a special place in my heart because it was at this market that we decided to start out blog, while rooting through giant booth of party cups. They moved the cup place this year, which was very disorienting. You cannot move booth space at the Nutcracker; it’s like rearranging the furniture of a blind person. Just plain cruel. We are juggling bags, drinks and sensory overload. We are relying on muscle memory here.
I may get some resistance to this notion, but I think the Nutcracker Market is the best way to prepare for Advent. Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting, which you can feel in the Nutcracker halls, as women stand in line for 30 minutes to check out at the popular boutiques. Nutcracker allows you to vent that initial rush of holiday adrenaline and get holiday partying out of your system before Thanksgiving. A good chunk of your shopping can be gotten out of the way, so you can relax and enjoy your Advent season doing something other than running around looking for the latest deals. It helps us to anticipate the right things in the season by front loading all the other stuff.
The first half of advent is supposed to be for repentance and contemplation of the gift of eternal life, while the second half is meant to be joyful preparation for the infant Jesus. We have managed to work both into our shopping day. Of course, I am sure I will have absolutely no trouble in repenting next month, once I have tallied up all I have spent at the Nutcracker this month. The last two years, our tailgate has been a memorial to lost loved ones. Last year it was my mother and this year it was Barney the dog, God love him. He was even our official uniform logo. Being mindful of those who have left us helps us appreciate the gift of salvation we are given this season. It doesn’t detract from the holiday celebrations, but it does deepen them. It was equally special this year to bring my daughter for the first time. After we finished, with only one melt-down that was cured by pizza, I asked what she thought. “It wasn’t as big as I thought it would be.” Heaven help me.
Have a Blessed Advent,