Bringing Back the Simplicity of Advent
When I was a kid, the Reed family’s “Christmas season” began right after our Thanksgiving dinner. After our second helpings, we’d head over to the North Shore Shopping Center in Peabody, Massachusetts. This was not a Black Friday scramble! The North Shore was the one place you knew would be decorated by Thanksgiving night — the whole mall, inside and out. It got dark early, but that only made it more special to see the Christmas tree, the giant Santa, the lights, and the huge nutcrackers.
Our neighborhood got lit up too, of course, but in those days, you wouldn’t decorate your house too early, and if you did, it consisted of a light in every window or a string of lights around your front door.
Today, people drive around and see whole neighborhoods lit up, sometimes looking like Times Square.
The simplicity that marked the holiday season in the past seems to have given way in many cases to extravagance. The demands of shopping, cooking, decorating, and attending holiday parties have not left us much time to slow down and prepare ourselves spiritually for the mystery of the Incarnation.
If we’ve lost a sense of that simplicity that Advent had in decades past, I’d like to offer a few ideas about how we might recover some of it.
If we are to have a fruitful Christmas, we would do well to imitate the merchants, who depend so much on holiday sales. Having a financially successful holiday season takes planning. So, too, does a fruitful anticipation of the Savior’s birth.
So, what might that Advent plan consist of? Here are just some ideas. You probably have plenty of your own. The important thing is to keep it simple.
Make your own Advent Calendar
Behind the little doors in the calendar, you might write the names of people for whom you will pray each day. It might be individuals or families in your neighborhood or at school or church, or people you know who are having struggles of one kind or another.
Write the word "Emmanuel" in chalk over your front door
This is a practice that’s similar to the traditional chalking of the door on the feast of the Epiphany. Putting the name Emmanuel over the front door is a reminder to everyone in the house that “God truly is with us” in our family and in our home. And that is essentially the message of Christmas — that God has come to be with us.
Wear something purple to Mass each Sunday
If we wear green for St. Patrick’s Day and red for St. Valentine’s Day, why not wear the penitential color of Advent — purple — in imitation of the priest’s vestments and the purple candles? This is a joyful season, true, but it’s not all “Deck the Halls.” We are waiting for Christ to come again in the end, to bring about the fulfillment of his kingdom.
Honor Mary on Dec. 8 with a small shrine in the house
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception comes in early Advent, but it’s kind of a break in the middle of a penitential season. On this holy day of obligation (not in 2019; moved to Monday, Dec. 9), we remember the special role Mary has in saying “yes” to God’s plan of bringing Emmanuel into the world. You could simply put up an icon or statue of the Blessed Mother and lead the family in the rosary on her feast day.
Read the Gospel for the next Sunday as part of grace before a weekday meal
Perhaps one day during the week when the whole family is present for dinner, let someone read the Gospel aloud so that when you go to Mass on Sunday you will have a deeper understanding of it.
Put only lights on the tree until Gaudete Sunday
If you’re going to put up a tree right after Thanksgiving, as many people do, try to “fast” from all the decorations until this special Sunday, the Sunday of Joy, when the priest’s rose-colored vestments and the rose candle in the Advent wreath signify that the coming of Christ is near. This is also a reminder to kids that we are waiting — and that we can wait.
Dine by candlelight or the Advent wreath candles
This could be one night a week, or it might be on Gaudete Sunday, when the Light of Christ begins to draw closer.
I hope that these simple suggestions will help you prepare for a more spiritually fruitful Advent and a richer, more joyful Christmas, and that when the big-box stores put away the gift items and decorations, your preparation will help you keep the true spirit of Christmas in your heart well into the new year.