It’s been a very women-oriented Advent season for me this year. I keep thinking about Mary and her pregnant journey to Bethlehem, the quiet welcoming that followed, and all of the women that must have helped her along the way. I’ve reflected on poems like this, and laughed about quotes like this. I’ve thought about my role as a woman, daughter, friend, sister, stranger at the gym, customer in the Dunkin Donuts line, and so on. How would I have been there for Mary in her moment of joy and uncertainty? How can I be there for the women in my life now?
I’ve let these questions settle as the holidays approach, and especially this past weekend when I attended a Bridal Shower for my friend Whitney. I’ve known her, the host, and the fellow attendees since I was little from spending summers in Drakes Island, Maine. We became friends while playing spit, swinging on handle bars, and jumping in the ocean. And then there we were, twenty years later on a crisp Sunday afternoon in December, drinking champagne and eating finger sandwiches and wishing her the best.
From my humble observation, I think that bridal showers have gotten a bad rap. These celebrations have spurred eye rolls since The Grand Rapids Michigan Press referred to the shower as “mistaken hospitality that the wedded couple is forced to attend.” But the tradition comes from humble beginnings, starting with the Dutch legend of a young girl who fell in love with a poor village miller. The miller was well known in the community for lending his hand when a hand was needed. She wanted to marry him and he wanted to marry her. Her father was not as excited about the coupling and told the girl that she was on her own. When the rest of the village heard they held their own celebration for the soon-to-be bride, each person contributing what they had—plates, towels, pots and pans—to help the pair to start their home.
I like imagining the stack of second hand goods and how it must have gleamed in its handing over. I like picturing this neighborhood crowd, young and old, married and widowed, dusting off their shoes as they came in the door. I’m sure there was bread and laughter, wine and secrets, and that in the end, the presence of each guest allowed the once fearful bride to realize that the best truly was to come.
I’m sure she would have not expected the quaint celebration to unfold over the years into fancy invitations, Pinterest posts and thirty-seven message long Gmail chains. And yet, here we are. The showers for today’s brides probably look nothing like the gathering the 1860. But the experience invites us to do what we would have done if we were with Mary on the night that there was no room left at the inn: gather around those who are about to embark on a new and uncertain journey and fill that space with love.
That’s what happened this past Sunday as we arranged the gifts by the fireplace and passed them to Whitney in a graceful assembly line. Maybe if we listen closely enough, we’ll find more chances to step into the circles that need us, and we’ll be surprised about how far our strings of hope can stretch.