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The Guardian view on advent: what are we waiting for? | Editorial

This year we have learned to mark time once more – bringing frustration and despair, but also new pleasures

With advent, we have entered a period of codified waiting. For Christians this means liturgical offices and music, the lighting of candles and, in the Orthodox church, a 40-day fast, in expectation of both Christmas and the second coming. For unbelievers, and those for whom the festival is all about feasting and presents, it often means advent calendars (though the more expensive of these undermine the ritual of counting down to excess by commodifying the waiting). Both overlay and co-opt much older rituals, the last hurrah before the lean months of deep winter, and the countdown to the solstice – peak darkness, and the promise of light.

In these high-capitalist days we tend to treat waiting as an affliction that must be abolished, and amply reward companies that aim to annihilate it. One of the shocks of the pandemic has been that while on the one hand we are one-click ordering more than ever before, we have been forced to learn to wait. Some of these waits (for shops to reopen, to be allowed to swim), while aggravating, are eminently manageable, partly because it turns out that they are not for necessities, and in part because they have a clear end. Other waits – for illumination about what exactly this virus does, for the chance to see loved ones, for an end to long Covid, have been far harder to manage, for the scale of their ramifications, and because there is no obvious terminus.

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