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Idaho State University emerita professor Susan Swetnam publishes eighth book about Christmas traditions

November 29, 2016

POCATELLO – Christmas is coming, but retired English Professor Susan Swetnam wants people to slow down and embrace Advent, the season that has preceded Christmas in Christian churches from the sixth century through today. For this reason, she recently published her eighth book, “A Season of Little Sacraments, Christmas Commotion/Advent Grace” with Liturgical Press of Collegeville, Minnesota.

 Portrait of Susan Swetnam.“Advent encompasses the four weeks before Christmas; this year it’s Nov. 27-Dec. 24,” Swetnam said. “It’s a time of preparation for the festival ahead, a time for reflection, for patience, for reaching out to others and giving.”

 Celebrated by Catholics and Protestants alike, Advent has its own customs, including the Advent wreath, its own music and colors, readings in church and its own religious obligations.

“Too often today, Advent gets lost in an early Christmas,” Swetnam said. “And that’s a shame, because Christmas can mean so much more after a season that invites us to remember why we need what the holidays celebrate. Advent invites us to reflect on how we’ve been living our lives, to be humble and acknowledge our brokenness.  But it’s also a period full of hope, faith and patient joy. Our culture tends to devalue waiting and trusting, but Advent invites us to remember how those actions can make us more fully human.”

“Most books of Advent reflections focus on the strictly religious side of life, and some insist that people should withdraw entirely from the secular Christmas preparations,” Swetnam said.  “‘A Season of Little Sacraments,’ offers a different perspective.  December can certainly obscure what the season is about. Yet the sort of distractions sometimes accused of taking Christ out of Christmas, the ordinary customs of preparing for the holiday in the real world, can become occasions for beliefs to become more nuanced.”

To encourage readers to reflect on the deeper meanings inherent in their own Decembers, the book offers 16 chapters that depict particular aspects of Christmas preparation including putting up lights, writing a Christmas letter, planning a party and shopping at the last minute.  Those stories blend personal stories and thoughts on seasonal themes common to many faith traditions. Southeast Idaho places form the backdrop for the book’s stories, bringing local scenery to a national audience and making the book particularly evocative for local readers.

Swetnam’s earlier books include other works of creative nonfiction, and academic studies.  This new book is particularly close to her heart.

“It just showed up, out of nowhere, and demanded to be written,” Swetnam said. “This one feels like writing-as-vocation.” 

 “A Season of Little Sacraments,” is available from Liturgical Press’ website litpress.org, from Our Lady’s Bookstore in Pocatello and from Amazon.com and other on-line booksellers.