We need holidays. Holidays fill us with joy and deepen our connection with God and with each other. Moreover, the breaks in the year give the rest of our days more meaning, purpose, and direction.
But we have to be deliberate in how we celebrate holidays. Otherwise, we let the careless forces of commercialism and trendiness determine that for us. We have to look to the wisdom from which the holiday came, and we have to be willing to embrace the more difficult traditions from that wisdom along with the more immediately appealing ones. We have to be willing to embrace the fast along with the feast if we really want to be changed by both of them.
And so, a truly transformative Christmas requires a waiting time of Advent. But how do we keep a waiting time, a time of patience and penance, in a world that greedily grabs at the feast? I don’t think we have to be total outcasts during the month of December. I think we can participate in the “cheer,” just as long as our cheer is more anticipatory and doesn’t reach it’s full potential until December 25th (and beyond!)
Here’s how we do it at our house:
* Before Advent: We clean the house, organize, and donate things.
* First Sunday of Advent: We put out Nativity scenes (without the babies,) some lights, and other wintery/seasonal decor.
* In the meantime: We begin listening to an Advent playlist. (No, this isn’t all penitential chant. Any song that is anticipatory of Christmas counts as an Advent song! You can find one of my Advent playlists at the bottom of this post).
* Feast of St. Nicholas: We fill each others’ stockings with treats and little gifts.
* Feast of St. Lucy: We turn on more lights!
* Third Weekend of Advent: We wrap gifts to put under the tree.
* Third Sunday of Advent: We put up our Christmas tree– but don’t necessarily fully decorate it.
* Fourth week of Advent: We try to keep a more Spiritual focus amidst the craziness.
* Christmas Eve: We finish the tree, put the babies in the mangers, and put up any remaining decor.
* Christmas Day: We turn on the Christmas music, spend time with our family, exchange gifts, go to Mass, eat, and rejoice!
* Feast of the Holy Innocents: This is the feast day for the children of the house. They reign as little queens and kings!
* Epiphany: A mini Christmas! This is a great time to have a Christmas party (and most people are back in town and not busy).
* Baptism of the Lord: All our decor comes down except the Manger scenes. 🙁
* The Presentation: Manger scenes come down and we prepare for the drudgery of Lent.
The first time I made some of these adjustments was quite difficult. The celebratory spirit is inherently communal. Holidays beg to be enjoyed together. It can feel very lonely when you’re the only family holding off on some things and it can feel lonely again when you’re the only family continuing to celebrate after the New Year.
But I’ve found that we are all quite adaptable. It doesn’t take many people to create that sense of community. If you can commit your own household to a intentional celebration of a holiday– really commit the whole household– you’ll eventually feel that sense of communal spirit. You’ll really feel like it’s Advent on December 1st and you’ll really feel like it’s Christmas on January 5th. Moreover, the spirit is contagious when you share it. The people who really like celebrating won’t turn down your invitation to celebrate just because the mall already took down its decorations.