Selfie Review of The Season of the Nativity

Oct 20, 2014

Just thought I’d be the first person to review the book. A little serious, a little snarky….

The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist by Sybil MacBeth

A Review by Sybil MacBeth

After four books about the doodling prayer form she calls Praying in Color, Sybil MacBeth is traveling on a new path to God. Besides prayer, MacBeth is passionate about the Nativity season. Her latest book, The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist, is an invitation to join the ancient journey of Christmas celebration via some fresh ideas and some extreme practices–both spiritual and earthy.

Sure, she wants the focus of Christmas to be less Santa and more Jesus, less consumerism and more transformation, but she is a realist. As in her previous books, MacBeth writes with wit and whimsy about her own meager efforts to stay focused in prayer and disciplined in Christian practice. She invites individuals and families to bring their whole irreverent/holy selves on the Christmas pilgrimage through the preparatory weeks of Advent, the twelve days of Christmas, and the nebulous time of Epiphany. “This is the season,” she proclaims, “when Christ is imagined; Christ is born; and Christ will spread like wildfire.”

This is an odd little book. Odd, because like MacBeth’s mind, The Season of the Nativity flits from room to room. There is a bit of memoir, a bit of faux brain science, some front-porch theology and lots of great hands-on ways to celebrate Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Like the mismatched patterns of a Matisse painting, vividly contrasting sections of the book meet like striped and polka-dot walls in an impressionist still life. The book moves from fun, almost frivolous holiday practices to reverent and contemplative devotions in just a couple of pages. Praying Scripture, sprinkling purple sugar on ice cream, creating a prayer wall, staring at the stars, doodling on Advent calendars, and sleeping under the Christmas tree are just some of the varied ways it honors both the playful and serious side of the human spirit.

Review collage 1

This is also an imperfect book. Imperfect, because MacBeth clearly has a preferential option for purple and more pages are dedicated to Advent practices than Christmas and Epiphany ones. But although it is a little purple-heavy, many of the suggested activities for Advent can be used during the other two seasons as well. And besides, MacBeth has been in love with Advent for a long time. She has only seriously courted Christmas and Epiphany in recent years.

Between the author’s menagerie of photos and doodles and the skill of the Paraclete Press design-team, Season of the Nativity is a 160-page treat for the eyes. This is not just a volume of words; it is a compelling visual journey. Readers will want to own the book and buy it for their family and friends as a holiday tool. In preparation for the first day of Advent (which falls on November 30 this year), Halloween or Thanksgiving might be the ideal occasion to give this book to others, especially to people who say, “I do not want a repeat of last year’s vapid and over-caffeinated Christmas.”

Review Collage 2 resizedPeople of deep faith will appreciate this book, but so will those who struggle with faith and are unsure whether they can actually have a relationship with God. People who want to explore the Christian story can study theology or read history, but The Season of the Nativity gives readers the chance to immerse themselves in some of the stories and practices of Christian faith. MacBeth invites the reader into participation rather than insisting on a set of dogmas.

Amazon ratings and Richter scale numbers aside, The Season of the Nativity is a book to shake and shift holiday celebrations. It does not promise to end the chaos of the season but offers to moderate it with meaningful and creative practices. Readers who follow the author’s suggestions for the three seasons just might make some new or revised affirmations of faith at the end, not because of coercion but because of lived experience. Or they may just have a one-of-a-kind, not-to-be-repeated Nativity season adventure.