In Death on a Friday Afternoon, the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus cautions us to take Lent slowly, to not rush to Easter. A similar thought comes to mind when approaching Advent: we should not rush to the stable. Advent, the time of great expectation, should be a time when we can linger awhile with Mary and Joseph in their time of anticipation.
But what has become of Advent? Or the days before Advent, for that matter? I went shopping on November 1, All Saints Day, also known as the day after Halloween. What to my wondering eyes should appear but peppermint sticks, ornaments and a battalion of reindeer. On November 1. It is little wonder that those of us who wish to keep Advent feel not only a bit overwhelmed but just a little like Charlie Brown on his Trick or Treat rounds. OK, I didn’t get a rock in my treat bag – just a holiday surprise that was less than charming.
Yes, there is no need to rush to Christmas. And, with a little advance planning now, Advent can find its proper place on the calendar and in our hearts.
A major stumbling block for those of us who live in the U.S. is the way the Thanksgiving holiday has been almost totally subsumed into the secular celebration of Christmas. Keeping Thanksgiving as its own holiday – before Advent – is a good start. Thanksgiving is about gratitude; not the opportunity for jump starting our shopping. Decide now to bring a grateful heart into the days of Advent.
Having a prayer plan is the most important Advent planning. Whether it be a personal choice from the many wonderful resources for Advent or a plan for prayer as a family, planning ahead can lead to a more peaceful, prayerful Advent. Parents of older children may want to include them in the planning for Advent devotions. (This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. And I quickly learned that the first day of Advent is not a good time to be casting about for prayers and reflections for the season.)
Panic is a peace thief of the blessed days of Advent. Good advance planning – be it for celebrations religious and secular, shopping, cooking, cleaning – helps prevent panic. Keeping all of those plates of plans spinning in one’s head is a definite distraction. Putting plans down on paper (or electronically if that is your preference) gets things organized and out of your head. Whether you chose to use a special planner or create your own, start now with the planning that can free up your mind during the days of Advent.
Don’t forget the feast days that come in December. Among the many days for celebration, we have the feasts of St. Nicholas, St. Juan Diego, St. Lucy, Our Lady of Guadalupe as well as the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Spending some days in Advent celebrating the feasts of these holy men and women is not just a teachable moment for the family. These are tangible celebrations – not random days of the vague ‘holidays’ season. Not only are these days faith-filled and fun days, but they are also great moments for evangelization as we share the reason for our celebrations. Of course, St. Nicholas was the first of the December feast days that I remember from a very young age during my German Lutheran upbringing. Naturally, this was the first Advent feast day that we celebrated as a family and then, as time passed, more family feast day celebrations were added to our calendar.
PLANNING A FULL CHRISTMAS SEASON
Remember that Christmas is more than one day and plan accordingly. While secular media pulls the Christmas rug out from under us on the 24th of December, we know that the 25th of December is just the beginning of our Christmas celebration. Just as we should not rush to Christmas, we should ignore the cultural influences that try to rush us past this holy season.