Advent is here and soon enough Christmas will be upon us! It has always been the aim of the Church to cause her children to reflect and prepare in a special way during this holy season.
Mothers can sympathize with the secular mythology surrounding Ol’ Saint Nick–that of a fairyland workshop bursting with harried elves who tinker away on toys and dolls, working themselves ragged until Christmas Eve, when all at once, the big guy flies off with everything they have to show for their months of toil.
Makes you wonder if they ever get a share of the milk and cookies.
I’d argue, though, that Catholic mothers today have an even harder plight than said elves: Mothers produce the bulk of the domestic bliss that pours out in a family’s home at Christmas, but simultaneously, they’ve also got to make sure Advent gets a fair shake.
It’s a tall order (and that’s not a pun about short elves.)
Consider this: A mother with many littles at home commits to playing only Advent hymns on the family wireless speaker until getting to Christmas Eve. Wonderful! The children can recite all five verses of “People Look East.” But when Christmas Eve dawns and Bing Crosby buh-buh-bums along with “Silent Night,” and Nat King Cole’s baritone begins “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” the kids have blank faces. They haven’t heard these songs at all this year–and they’ve got no clue how to sing along.
Or this: Wanting to keep Christmas firmly in its place, a mother keeps all the red-and-green decorations at bay until December 24. And on that day, she realizes… not only does the tree have to go up and be wrapped in 800 of lights, but the stockings need to be fished out of storage, gifts for her small army of children need to ALL be wrapped tonight, the table needs to be set for brunch in the morning, and oh–no big deal, but the baby needs a nap and every single present is being stored in his room.
Or even this: Scrolling through social media, a mom sees so many Advent resources she can purchase to enrich her family’s preparation for Christ’s birth. Dolls for the mantle. Custom wreath kits. The newest and cutest Advent calendar. Sew-it-yourself ornaments! And much, much more. She clicks “add to cart” a few times, and suddenly–her Christmas budget looks like Advent took a big bite out of it.
Do I seem scarred? I am. I’ve been in each of these situations, and the snow-flocked struggle is real.
Between the marketization of Advent and the pressure to completely bar Christmas from the home until the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, mothers are caught between a rock and a hard peppermint.
But this isn’t what Christmas, nor the preparation for it, should truly be about. (Cue Linus on stage: “Lights, please. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them… and they were sore afraid.”)
The name “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus which means “a coming, an approach, an arrival.” And as the first Sunday of Advent is the start of the Church’s liturgical year, it seems a fine time to clear the decks, so to speak, and truly prepare for the arrival of someone very special.
And so while we’re not blasting Andy Williams loud enough to shake the window panes, we are learning more verses to all the treasured religious hymns–because we want to be prepared for the arrival of the Infant Jesus on his birth. We want to honor him with the music written to celebrate his glorious Nativity.
We didn’t put a tree up after Thanksgiving dinner, but we did put it up on Gaudete Sunday. The stockings will follow on the fourth Sunday of Advent (provided I can, God-willing, unearth them from some box in the closet).
We did buy a new paper Advent calendar this year–and that small novelty has brought great joy to our first grader, who has the task of reading to us a little reflection from the calendar each night, all by herself, with her newly-acquired reading skills. Her little face glows with the rightly-ordered pride of being able to tell her family something about Jesus, born in a manger, worshipped by shepherds and kings.
On the subject of Advent, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (524)
At the home and everywhere else in our lives during Advent, we must decrease the pressure to make our Advents some sort of dread-filled race to keep Christmas out–and instead, increase the joyful hope that makes the arrival of December 25 a glorious feast.
And that’s something that every mother–and elf–can do.
Used with permission from the author.