As an intense lover of the Christmas season, I recall as a young child feeling appalled by the urges from the pulpit to “save the Christmas music for the Christmas season.” I remember feeling equally confounded by my mother’s stories of growing up in a family that didn’t decorate the Christmas tree until after midnight Mass. Growing up, I (probably like most children), wanted to skip Advent and get right to the magic and wonder of Christmas!
Praise God we mature, because there is so much in the Advent season that I’ve grown to look forward to and savor. The Church in her wisdom gives us this season, not to hold us back from Christmas, but to make us ready to celebrate Christmas to the fullest! With that in mind, here are some ways that have helped me — or hindered me — from entering into the Advent season most fully.
Prepare with prayer
Advent is a season of waiting, but it’s not meant to be empty waiting. Be intentional about the time spent before celebrating Jesus’ birth! Prepare your heart and mind to receive Christ at Christmas by establishing some helpful Advent prayer practices. Here are a few you can consider:
- Place an Advent wreath and/or calendar somewhere prominent in your home.
- Pray each night of Advent as you light your Advent wreath, focusing on the themes of each week: hope, peace, love, and joy.
- Read the daily Gospel reading to reflect on the way God has worked over time to save us through his son, Jesus.
- Incorporate a family rosary into your week, asking Mary to help you draw close to Jesus at Christmas.
- Make a trip to confession to rid your heart of anything that would prevent you from fully receiving Jesus at Christmas
Take advantage of beautiful media
Watch (or re-watch) Christmas With The Chosen: The Global Live Event. Whether you’re watching it for the first time, or starting a new annual tradition, this stunning depiction of the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Christ, paired with contemporary Christian performances of songs for the season will guide any family to more fully prepare for the reality of what we celebrate at Christmas.
Play Advent music around the house and consider saving your favorite Christmas songs and hymns for the Christmas season! The Advent of Christmas by Matt Maher is a great place to start!
Intentionally find a way to give and/or serve
The Advent season, and even the Christmas season celebrated in secular spaces, waves the flag of the “giving is better than receiving” sentiment. While it might be easy to write this off as a cliche, the season of Advent is a most appropriate time to find new and deeper ways to give of yourself. As you anticipate Christ’s coming to save you from spiritual poverty, consider how you can fulfill the needs of your neighbors. How can you give of yourself to share the love of Christ with those around you? Not sure where to start? Explore the various evangelical charity opportunities in Southeast Michigan on the Evangelical Charity Finder.
Invite someone to join you for Christmas Mass
Advent is one of the most naturally evangelistic seasons we celebrate! While we are actively preparing our hearts by entering into the time of waiting for Christ, the rest of the world is sending Christmas cards, hanging lights and listening to secular Christmas music. Christmas is on everyone’s minds, but everyone doesn’t yet have a plan for entering into the true celebration of Christ coming to save humanity.
Help someone — or a few people — in your life make that plan by inviting them to join you for Christmas Mass. Tack it onto an invite to Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas morning brunch, to create an opportunity for liturgy and fellowship!
This season of waiting and anticipation isn’t meant to be rushed. Think of the generations of Israelites who waited for a savior to finally have their hope met in Jesus. Meditate on the slow journey of the Holy Family from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Don’t try to skip this season. Even with the hustle and bustle that will inevitably come every December, find moments of slowness, steadiness and quiet to embrace the real waiting that is taking place. Consider some of these practices to help:
- Give yourself five extra minutes each morning to intentionally pause and ask God to help you to wait faithfully for Christmas
- Try to arrive at Mass throughout Advent a few minutes before and/or stay a few minutes after, to linger in God’s presence
- Pause by participating in an I AM HERE Advent Holy Hour to spend quiet time in Jesus’ presence
Be a Scrooge
While it is a good practice to hold off on the fullChristmas celebration until the Christmas season begins at the Christmas Eve Vigil, don’t shut down or vocally oppose those of goodwill who might be jumping ahead to Christmas a bit sooner than is canonically appropriate. Instead, share your favorite Advent practices with those around you and invite them to participate.
Use all of your decorations … until Christmas
Although I was troubled by my mother’s childhood tradition of decorating the Christmas tree after Christmas Eve Mass, the truth is, it’s still not Christmas! And as human beings, actively choosing to reflect that reality around us — even through something as seemingly trivial as decorations — can help us more fully embrace that truth! So maybe put a few ornaments off to the side, save the baby Jesus for your nativity scene or put aside some lights, and break them out when we celebrate the light that has come at Christmas! Happy Advent!