In the Christian tradition, the Christmas season is often referred to as Advent. Advent means “the coming,” or “the arrival.” As a person of this particular faith tradition, I find the idea of a coming beautiful and purposeful. We celebrate Christmas at the end of the calendar year, yet Christmas, whether viewed in the context of faith or not, is a time of anticipation. Christmas itself is something we wait for eagerly.

But Christmas is about a coming, or an arrival, not just an eager waiting. Celebrating Christmas at the end of the year is like a precursor to New Years, reminding us there are good things to come. Last Christmas I embraced the idea of Advent. The song “Oh come, Oh come Emmanuel” was played on repeat for several weeks as I looked back at 2016 eagerly waiting for it to end.

Last Christmas I thought of Advent in a sort of twisted way. Although I understood the meaning last year, I was holding to Advent as a means of escape, of leaving behind, of running. As I’m sure many other people did, I desired a coming, an arrival of 2017 because I wanted an exit from uncomfortable and painful things.

This year, however, I celebrate Advent in a way closer to the true definition. I’m excited not only to leave a year behind, but I’m excited for the coming of 2018. Not as a means of escape, but as a way to enter. It’s a subtle, maybe even seemingly silly, altered view, but it does create a healthy shift from pessimism to optimism.

I think most Christmases are like that. We always celebrate the same things, whether it’s the Christian holiday, winter solstice, gathering with family, gift giving, or a combination of all of them. Yet each Christmas is marked by its own blessings and misgivings. Sometimes the differences are only slight, and sometimes they’re drastic. Some years the beauty of the season is clear and evident, and other years it feels dark and distant.

What’s helped me during the different seasons of the year, and life in general, is to give them a theme. Although last year’s Christmas theme was warped by my own hurt, this Christmas I’ve marked it as something more hopeful and inspired. Maybe your Christmas theme, your theme of Advent, will be marked by a need, a goal, something you’re thankful for, or something you want to change. Perhaps it will be something you don’t share with others, but rather your own secret Christmas gift to yourself.

There’s a line in the new Star Wars, The Last Jedi movie (no spoilers here) where a dark character says, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” I disagree with that statement.

Like all days and seasons, this Christmas time will be the sum total of our past, with a wide open door to our future. Embrace fully what’s already happened, good and bad. Then let the promise of the coming year, the advent of new, hopeful opportunities be something we celebrate both individually and communally, and with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning.