Thanksgiving has passed and already I find myself turning on my favorite Christmas songs and dreaming of decorating the tree. Christmas decorations have been selling in stores for weeks and lit up houses have been speckling neighborhoods since well before Thanksgiving. But as I stand here with arms open wide, ready to embrace the season, I find myself wondering, am I forgetting something?
In our eagerness for Christmas, something equally as beautiful often gets lost. That something is Advent.
Advent, often called a “little Lent,” is the Catholic season covering the four Sundays before Christmas. It is considered a penitential season, a time of prayer and fasting as we eagerly anticipate the coming of the Christ-child at Christmas.
As a whole, most of us are terrible about the penitential part of Advent. I even venture to say that most people don’t even consider it. But this is not the only problem.
In today’s world, we are very good at “eager anticipation.” So good in fact, that our waiting is no longer waiting as much as it is an extended period of celebration. We are not waiting for Christmas with bated breath — we are extending it weeks before its time, and crowding out the quiet beauty of Advent in the process.
Advent should be a time of quiet prayer. Of candlelit nights, where we hold our families close and soak in their warmth against the harsh chill of winter. It is a time for slowing down, not speeding up. And yes. It is a time of penance.
The question then becomes, how do we accomplish this? How do we celebrate Advent as a season separate and unique from Christmas — especially in a world that begins Christmas too early and ends it too soon?
I’ll admit I don’t know the answer.
In the past, I was convinced I wanted to hold off decorating or doing any Christmas related activity until Christmas Eve, and then keep up my decorations and listen to Christmas songs through the Christmas season, all the way until the Epiphany.
I’m not sure this is the answer anymore. I still want to make a clear distinction between Christmas-time and Advent-time, but some of the magic of this time of year would dissolve if I waited until everyone else’s lights were out before I turned on my own.
And maybe that’s okay.
Maybe walking through Christmas shops, decorating the house, and cozying up with some peppermint hot chocolate while listening to “White Christmas” is, in a way, preparing my heart for the holiday.
Maybe I can find other, smaller ways to make the distinction. Like waiting to turn on the Christmas tree lights until Christmas Eve, leaving the manger empty in my nativity set, lighting an Advent candle during Sunday night dinners or making small sacrifices each day. The important thing is to be intentional, and to do our best to avoid the noise that permeates this time of year.
I will be thinking about this a lot over the next few days, as Advent rapidly approaches. Now that I have a little family all of my own, it’s more important to me than ever to start making these choices. I want to be intentional about them because I’m not just making meaningless traditions. I’m putting together moments that will teach Clark about his faith, and about life.
Clark won’t remember this year, which is good because it will give Brian and I time to practice. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to this season. To reviving old family traditions — mine and Brian’s — and to coming up with new ones of our own. There’s a lot to think about and figure out.
I can’t wait.
How do you make the distinction between Advent and Christmas? Let me know in the comment section below!