It’s the most wonderful time of the year — or is it? I really, really love Christmas — and if you’re anything like me, you have really fond memories of Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and the building anticipation of wonderful things to come — but hold your horses, it’s not Christmas yet!
I know, I know — it’s hard to not jump right from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It is especially hard because the days are getting shorter, the mornings are getting harder — I’m hitting snooze at least 3 times on most days — and we want a little Christmas cheer to get us through the darker days.
But I’m going to suggest something that might just make Christmas a little more special — a little more meaningful. Why not take the cue from our Church and practice the “active waiting” of Advent this year? I know it’s hard at first, but now that we have gotten into the habit of Advent, it actually is a really beautiful time of year for us.
And you know what, it helps to ensure that you won’t be in Christmas overload before the day actually arrives. If you start listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies and having Christmas parties on the day after Thanksgiving, you are probably going to be a little burnt-out before Christmas Day.
There’s nothing worse than an anti-climactic Christmas Day — okay, actually there are many things worse than that — but still, building slowly to the actual day of Christmas can be a really joyful experience for you and your kids and it can make Christmas a more profoundly joyful celebration.
And what is beautiful about our Church is that if Christmas Day is a flop for some reason or another — you burnt dinner, everybody is exhausted from Christmas Eve Mass, you realized you are missing a gift, whatever it is — the Church actually gives us multiple days of Christmas to feast, to celebrate, and to make up for lost time. Woo, hoo!
So, here’s a few ways to make Advent more meaningful for you and your family.
1.Use the Advent Wreath.
This is a really easy way to remember that you are in the season of Advent. There are 3 purple candles reminding us of the time of penance and sacrifice that is supposed to be part of Advent. And there is one pink candle (my personal favorite) that reminds us of the joy that is to come on Christmas Day.
Light it at dinner, during prayer, or whenever you are all gathered together. As the weeks go on, it gets brighter as more candles are lit — symbolizing the joy that should be growing in our hearts at this time.
And it only took one day for the Advent candle to be out for my 4 year old to break the pink candle — that says something about our family — and something about a 4 year old’s inability to resist pink things — but no worries, I did an incredible patch job. You can barely notice it’s broken. 🙁
2. Put Out the Nativity Set.
It’s worth investing in a Nativity Set for your family. It’s also worth sharing a little bit about it’s origins — St. Francis had the first living Nativity — google it and share it with your kids and it will bring a lot of richness to this practice. But don’t put baby Jesus in the manger until after Christmas Mass (Christmas Eve or Christmas Day) and maybe sing a “Happy Birthday” or “Away in a Manger” to Him when he finally arrives!
And the 3 Wise men don’t arrive until the Feast of the Epiphany — when Jesus message of salvation was made known to the Gentiles. We always have the 3 wise men travel around our house on the window panes — otherwise they won’t survive our littles and their desire to put things in bags, never to be seen or heard of again. 🙁
3. Prepare Your Hearts.
Make this a time to allow Jesus to grow in your hearts, like a little baby grows in his mother’s womb. What’s the best way to allow Jesus to grow in our hearts — the same way we get to know anybody — by spending time with Him. Practically speaking, this is a wonderful time to get to know Jesus in His Word, His Real Presence, and His Church. This is going to look different for each family, but maybe just add one of them to your Advent — or all of them — whatever works for you.
Maybe take time to pray quietly in a church and adore the Real Presence of Christ in Adoration or hidden away in the tabernacle. I have already mentioned it, but a number of you have let me know you’re joining me in the 30 Minutes of Adoration Challenge. That’s a great way to prepare our hearts.
4. Make Joy Sunday (Gaudete Sunday) Really Joyful!
Okay, if you are actively holding back the hands of Christmas, this might be a great time for a little reprieve. On Joy Sunday, we get our Christmas tree, we decorate the house, and we usually put on some great classic Christmas music — you know Bing, Ella, and Frank — our house is filled with joyful sounds!
Even if you decide to get a tree earlier in the season, you could just gradually decorate by starting with lights and waiting to decorate on Joy Sunday — or even Christmas Eve, if you can wait that long. For us, it would be really hard to pull all that off on Christmas Eve and we’d probably lose the peace that is supposed to be part of this season. But for all you purists out there who wait until Christmas Eve — I tip my cap to you. 🙂
When Joy Sunday comes, it may also be the time to start things like Christmas cookies so you can get them off to friends or prepared for your own celebrations.
5. Prepare Your House.
This doesn’t always happen over here, but this year I am hoping to do 2 things to prepare my house. The first thing is to try to clear out all the junk that accumulates in our house faster than I can get rid of it! Oh the clutter that is surrounding me on a regular basis. Every few months I try to get a few bags of clutter out of my house.
We give away what can be given away and we toss what needs to be tossed — but honestly, we are descendants of celtic warriors so most of the toys are beyond saving. Ahh, the feeling of looking at the bags of clutter that are leaving my house — I can breathe more easily with every bag that leaves my house!
The second way I like to prepare the house, beyond decorating, is trying to tackle one or 2 of those deep cleaning projects that never get done. Usually it’s in the public spaces so that our guests can enjoy the difference — taking off inches of dirt on windows, polishing the stainless steel, reorganizing the front closest so guests can actually fit their coasts in there — that type of thing.
And you’re more likely to be happy to welcome guests into your home if you tackle a few of those things ahead of time. And if you have a child with particular skills in this area, they might be all for making a few bucks on their Christmas break and tackle it for you. Win-Win!
6. Celebrate St. Nicholas Feast Day on December 6th.
Sometimes Santa Claus can be a problem. Check out this post to read more about our approach to the question of Santa Claus. In our house, everybody lines their boot up outside on the evening of December 5th and finds simple treats or gifts have been placed inside of them by morning.
For us, this helps to keep the focus on Jesus and family on Christmas Day. But hey, there have been years where we forgot entirely and Saint Nicholas left a gift on Christmas — no biggie!
7. Focus Less on Things and More on People.
There are many years when I suggest to my family that we don’t do gifts at all for Christmas. I know — bah humbug! I think part of the reason I keep suggesting it is that I don’t want the focus to be on “things.” But I am also not a big gift-giver. Apparently, gift-giving is actually a big part of some people’s love language — it really is — and so I think that I have sometimes not understood the importance of gift-giving.
Honestly, I think it is a very nice thing to give thoughtful gifts to your kids and also to important people in your life — especially because gift-giving might be their love language. So, this is a fine balance. Just because we get disgusted with all the materialism doesn’t mean we have to react so strongly that we turn our backs on gifts altogether. I’m telling myself this as much as I’m telling you right now because it is a struggle for me!
One way to keep the focus in the right place is to make sure you make Christmas Eve Mass or Christmas Day Mass the cornerstone of your Christmas celebration! And hey, it’s actually a Christmas Octave and usually at least 12 days of Christmas — I know it’s confusing — so maybe even try to get to Mass on a few of the days of Christmas to really keep the focus in the right place.
Maybe sweeten the deal with cocoa and fun to follow after Mass at your local church on all the days of Christmas — or a few anyways. Hey nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas with a little more cocoa.
And by the way, these are all just suggestions — not the law of the land. You might be recovering from sickness, the loss of a loved one, or some other event that makes anything beyond living life impossible right now. I have had some advents where I was recovering from having a baby and I watched Christmas movies and listened to Christmas songs all the way through — I needed to find little ways to keep the baby blues away.
So don’t feel bad if you inject Christmas earlier in your Advent. Really — don’t feel bad — just remember it’s the spirit of Advent which is most important here.
So that’s about it. Hope this helps to make your Advent more meaningful and your Christmas more joy-filled. I’d love to know what makes your Advent more meaningful!
Linking up with Kelly.