Thursday, December 4, 2014

Overcoming the Advent Grumpies...

Our Christmas Visitor by coblat123. In the Creative Commons.

My favorite Advent was the year my second was born. She was due the second week of December and I decided to do all of my shopping and card writing in November so that I could just rest and not worry about the physical Christmas preparations. The Saturday after Thanksgiving I decided that we had to finish everything for the baby even though we were still 12 days before the due date; I had a hunch. And sure enough, I woke up in labor at 4 am on the First Sunday of Advent. My daughter was born before dinnertime, and because I had been so well prepared, I spent all of Advent not worrying about the physical Christmas preparations and just contemplating Our Lady waiting for her newborn baby.

There was something nice about not being apart of the busyness normally associated with Advent. I sat on the couch, nursed my baby, read to my toddler, napped all the time, and watched it snow almost everyday that December in Buffalo, NY, and was readying my heart for Christmas day. I was free from the pre-Christmas craziness.

Without a due date to motivate myself to do things early, I am not usually done by Advent, but I do get most of the shopping and card writing done by the first week of Advent. I do not see it as getting caught up in Christmas early, but preparing for Christmas in all the many ways that we have to. We also have a number of family Advent traditions, such as the Jesse Tree, an Advent Wreath, an Advent calendar, and not decorating until closer to Christmas.

But how are we supposed to deal with the neighbor across the street who has a huge Santa Claus plastered across her door the day after Thanksgiving? Or the house with the lawn covered in light up residents of the North Pole by mid-November? Or the Christmas trees and lights all over stores with the blaring Christmas carols?

I used to be a huge grump about these things. I suppose one could call me an Advent purist. I still cringe a little thinking about putting up the tree on Gaudete Sunday, though my husband and I decided it would be best since we always travel over Christmas. I found myself not able to enjoy Christmas music when Christmas came because I spent all of Advent critical of the music being played. When I spent all of Advent not joyful, it made it hard to become joyful when Christmas arrived. Then my daughters started noticing decorated house and stores before Christmas, and I had to change my attitude.

I learned to not be so grumpy by explaining the early Christmas festivities of others to my children. When it came to music, we discovered some great Advent music, but also noticed the large number of secular Christmas music that is actually about wintery things and could be considered Advent songs themselves. Certain hymns I prefer to save for Christmas, but others I have given myself permission to enjoy in Advent. Christmas lights on houses we explain as people’s way of getting ready for Christmas. The lights can serve us as a reminder of what Advent it for, preparing for the light of Christ to come. I think that December 13, the Feast of St. Lucy whose name means “light” would be a good day to light ones lights. As for the stores and shopping, we just view everything as a way to prepare for Christmas. If stores did not have things up early, then we could not get ready in time. And sometimes we just explain that a lot of people do not wait for Christmas day to celebrate Christmas, but we do. We wait to celebrate birthdays and open birthday presents until the actual day, and we do the same for Jesus.

And then there is Santa Claus. My children just call him St. Nicholas. We do St. Nicholas day, but we don’t do Santa on Christmas. I know there are lots of opinions here, but we simply think the recent Santa Claus tradition to be unnecessary for us to celebrate Christmas seeing as it is a big detraction from Jesus’ birth. The presents on Christmas are in honor of the Christ child and the Jesus that dwells in each of us.  As for St. Nicholas day, my children put out their shoes on December 5, and eagerly look to see what we put in their shoes “in honor of St. Nicholas.” They do not care that we do not pretend that the small gifts and candy are brought by the great saint himself. We have traditions for other and feast days throughout the year, and St. Nicholas day has its own special tradition. They also know that some children think Santa comes of Christmas, but that does not change their enthusiasm for Christmas morning or presents.

I discovered that when I stopped being critical all of Advent that it made my Advent a more prayerful experience, and that sometimes the early Christmas music helped me experience the joy of Christmas day more fully. It is not everyday that we celebrate the anniversary of our God’s birth. Advent and Christmas are both beautiful seasons, and I love all of the decorations and lights. I am glad that I am able to appreciate them all more fully now.

Whether you are an Advent purist or not, grumpiness during Advent is never helpful. Don’t let the early secular Christmas be the Grinch that stole your Advent, just find a way to make it part of Advent, and you can enjoy the waiting and preparation that Advent really is about.

Originally published in full at Truth and Charity.

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