Now that the leftovers of our Thanksgiving feast may be but a memory (except for our waistlines) and the Black Friday ads are in the recycling bin, we move on — right?
In our hectic and busy world we tend to have our visible (or mental) checklists that guide us through the year, never looking back, always pressing forward.
But at this time of year it is good for us to savor each and every morsel set before us and to take advantage of the progression of events.
Take, for example, Thanksgiving. We have a long tradition of taking time with our family to offer thanks to God for his infinite blessings, which mostly stem from the people — our family — to whom we have the privilege to say, “Pass the mashed potatoes.” Thanksgiving offers us the opportunity to praise God wholeheartedly for his goodness, especially the grace he bestows on us with each precious life he created.
It is from these moments of grace that we move into Advent, the season “of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas,” according to the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The final days of Advent, from December 17 to December 24, focus particularly on our preparation for the celebrations of the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas).”
Too often, Advent is less about preparing for the Nativity than the execution of tasks: decorating the house, sending Christmas cards, finding the perfect gift at the lowest price for each person on our list, and baking special treats. We exhaust ourselves with all the preparations for everyone but Christ. And the great disappointing factor is that we then teach our children and grandchildren that Christmas is about the trappings and oh, by the way, we need to fit Mass in as early as we can on Christmas Eve so it doesn’t interfere with our real plans.
It is hard for adults and children to grasp the real meaning of Christmas when bombarded by commercials every five minutes for things we “have to have.” Even the romantic Hallmark movies barely mention faith, let alone Jesus, in their “Christmas specials.” Yet, even though something is hard, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And it doesn’t mean we can’t participate in all the traditions we love so much.
What it does mean is that we have to be more intentional — like taking time to read the Christmas story to our children and grandchildren instead of “The Polar Express.” Or taking in the events at our local parish as a family, including the sacrament of reconciliation. Or finding Advent calendars that are centered on the preparation for Christ’s birth instead of Disney characters.
One tradition we have done for many years is the Advent wreath, lighting the candles at the beginning of each evening meal and saying a short prayer.
Last year, since we babysit our 2- and 3-year-old grandchildren a few nights each week, we simplified the prayer to, “Let Jesus come into my heart.” When it was no longer Advent, those two precious little ones still wanted to light the candle. A new tradition sprang from that simple beginning, and now we light a candle at the beginning of our meal and pray, “Let Jesus come into my heart,” Advent or not.
You may wish to try other family traditions, such as the Jesse Tree (tracing the ancestry of Jesus and how all of his ancestors played a role in salvation history), doing a service project as a family, celebrating the feast days during Advent, such as St. Nicholas (Dec. 6); the Immaculate Conception of Mary (Dec. 8); Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas, unborn children and the new evangelization (Dec. 12) and St. Lucy — her feast day is celebrated with candles, torches and even bonfires (Dec. 13).
Ideas about how to celebrate these feasts plus much more can be found on the internet, searching for “Advent traditions Catholic.” You will find examples for all ages.
If the cards do not get mailed until after Christmas, or you have to put the presents under the tree unwrapped, that’s OK. Spending time as a family, learning, reflecting, praying and readying ourselves for the birth of our Lord is definitely worth it.
Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.