by Tara K.E. Brelinsky
My youngest child wants to know why we don’t already have a Christmas tree set-up in our family room (it’s only Dec 2). Judging by the displays at our local big box store, he thinks we’re late to the party.
I tried to explain (as I’ve done countless times before with his 7 siblings) that Advent begins on Sun, Dec 3 this year. And Advent is a time of preparation. We are preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ: preparing our hearts, preparing our minds, preparing our homes.
Advent, like Lent, is a reflective time that includes prayer, penance and fasting. Though Advent doesn’t have the strict penitential requirements of Lent, it is still a period of self-preparation.
The Grinch of Advent
Of course, the secular culture has sold many on the idea that Advent is merely one long Christmas party. The unfortunate result of which is that most of the party-goers are completely exhausted by Dec 26. So rather than celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas, they instead drag the tree to the curb and turn off the holiday lights just as the real season of Christmas is beginning.
Teaching children to be patient when the world around them is merry and bright and beckoning them to join in the revelry can be a challenging. If I’m being honest, grown-up patience can be challenging, too. But we don’t need to turn into the Grinch of Advent in order to keep our focus on Christ. Instead, we can choose to slow down a little, look for ways to direct our minds to the coming of the Savior and actively take part in Catholic Advent traditions.
Catholic Advent Traditions
- The Advent Wreath is a traditional way to mark the four weeks of Advent. Each of the four candles symbolizes our expectation and hope that the Savior of the World is coming. Advent wreaths can be purchased at a variety of online sites or locally at In His Name Bookstore (an Ignited by Truth vendor). If you’re celebrating Advent with children, check out Making the Most of Advent: 10 Ways to Celebrate for a how-to-video on making a child-friendly Advent wreath.
- Reclaim Advent with the Bible and the Virgin Mary. Host Matthew Leonard leads viewers through a study of the biblical basis for everything Catholics believe about Mary. The free online study begins on Dec 3, 2017 and continues through the end of the year. Register for this free course HERE.
- Pray the St. Andrew’s Christmas novena. The St. Andrew’s prayer begins on St. Andrew’s feast day, Nov 30, and continues through Dec 24. It is a beautiful contemplation of the nativity and the perfect way to increase our anticipation of Christ’s birth.
- A Sacrament of Reconciliation Service is the ideal way to prepare your heart and soul to receive Jesus on Christmas. Parishes throughout the diocese host Penance services. Visiting priests make it possible for everyone to receive the sacrament. While we should go to confession regularly, penance services can provide an especially powerful witness for children and teens. Our youth need to see that people of all ages take seriously their need for reconciliation.
- Celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary by attending a Solemn High Mass or a Mass at your local parish. Dec 8t is a holy day of obligation on which Catholics commemorate the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Anne.
- Hold off on the Christmas tree and put up a Jesse tree. The Jesse tree uses ornaments to trace the family of Jesus from Creation to the Nativity. Ornaments can be made or purchased.
Other Local Ideas for Advent
- Even though we’re holding off on stringing Christmas lights at our house, that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some bright lights right now. Piper Lights and the Lake Myra Christmas Lights are two of my favorite places to take the family at this time of year. Both displays are free of charge (though a donation is suggested) and both include some Christian displays (e.g. nativity, Bible characters, Christian music).
- Enjoy an evening (or two) of sacred, holiday music. St. Thomas More Academy Choir & the Liturgical Choir of NC State Catholic Ministry will offer a program of Advent Lessons and Carols on Dec 5. And the NC Symphony will fill the new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral with Music for A Winter’s Eve on Dec 9.
- Remember those who are in need this Christmas. Most parishes and local organizations (e.g. police departments) collect gifts for local shelters and children’s homes. When you’re shopping for loved ones, consider picking up a new toy or other item to donate.
There’s no need to fast forward to Christmas in order to fully appreciate the joy of this holiday season. Advent, instead, allows us the time to immerse ourselves in the rich traditions of our faith. And by taking the time to contemplate what is to come, we will be better disposed to receive the full measure of grace that is available to us come Christmas.
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