Advent is, by its very nature, a season of waiting and anticipation, not a destination. But to me this year, it does have a sense of being a “grand finale.” It was after last Advent, after all, when a month of festive celebrations, a handful of extra “Christmas mornings” to accommodate different family travels, and Advent candles that were just as tall when we packed them up as they had been when we pulled them out of the box led to a post-December 25th burnout...and the conviction to spend the following year paying attention to the liturgical calendar.
Advent was where it all went wrong for me last year, and this Advent, I’m anxious to find out if all we’ve been doing this year has been worth it.
But even before Advent begins, I know deep in my heart that it has been.
In the Rhythm of the Church
Being mindful of the liturgical calendar, commemorating feast days, truly fasting and truly feasting, and digging into the rich history, legacy, and universality of our Faith has drawn me to Jesus this year in a way I never anticipated. As an adult, a wife, and a still-somewhat-new mother, I needed a path for my personal faith life that didn’t rely on my parents guiding me or my university providing the resources.
This, the very calendar the Church has used for centuries, has been it. I hope and pray liturgical living will continue to be a lifelong adventure for my family (and for you, too).
How to Live Liturgically During Advent
Perhaps you’re nodding your head as you read this, heart filled with slightly nervous anticipation to celebrate a “real” Advent. One that doesn’t just look like Christmas arrived too early.
Or perhaps you’re where I was last year, when I first heard the concept of saving Christmas traditions for actual Christmas...and that sounds anything but appealing.
Wherever this Advent finds your heart, my invitation to you is to bring it to Jesus. Prayerfully ask Him what He is calling you to this Advent, in your specific season of life, and in this moment of your faith journey.
Whatever traditions you end up adopting, setting aside, or rearranging, start with a simple surrender and the offering of your days to the Lord. Allow Him to guide you toward Him this Advent season, just as He guided the shepherds to the side of His manger. He longs for your presence and will never deny this request.
In my own family (and I know each is beautifully unique!), I’m the one who decorates our home. I’m the one who either fills our calendar or intentionally carves in blank space. With the full support and unbridled enthusiasm of my husband, I’m the one who has been leading our family’s celebrations of the liturgical year. It would be easy for me to, consciously or unconsciously, “blame” him if our Advent doesn’t look the way I hope it will. But right out of the gate, I’m refusing to do that.
If your specific role in your family, your gifts and talents, your time availability, or whatever the case may be mean that guiding your family through Advent is largely your responsibility, take ownership of that and thank God for this opportunity! Trust that He will equip and use whatever you can offer Him. No matter how DIY-challenged you may be (hand raised over here).
Adopt Advent-Specific Traditions
Let’s resist the temptation to believe that observing Advent means we’re missing out on something. Time and time again, throughout our lives as Catholics, we are called to purposefully wait on something (even something as joyful, good, and beautiful as Christmas celebrations) in order to experience it in its fullness at the specific time God appoints.
The waiting may not always be easy, but that doesn’t mean it is empty. On the contrary, the USCCB says “Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight” (source). Delight? Yes, that is something I desire more of.
To set Advent apart from Christmas, it needs its own traditions, prayers, and sources of holy delight. Ones you look forward to in their own way, but that always orient your heart toward the celebration to come. Here are a few to consider:
Join the Blessed is She community in praying through the 2018 Advent devotional, Bearing Light.
Do your best to create a peaceful opportunity each day to use it, whether that means setting your alarm earlier (Advent is supposed to be a little bit penitential too, after all!), fasting from social media or TV until you’ve made the time to read and pray, or asking your husband to help you carve out time amidst your family’s busy schedule (don’t forget to return the favor for his devotional time, too). There’s also an Advent bundle available, which includes a beautiful candle and wristlet to serve as additional reminders to go to God in prayer.
Don’t have the devotional? Don’t worry! Choose any other favorite devotional or spiritual book that feels appropriate for this season, and join us in prayer through that.
Decorate your home in a special way.
Especially if you’re a visual person, refreshed decor can serve as a powerful reminder of a new liturgical season. Don’t hesitate to “deck the halls,” but intentionally differentiate your decorations from what you’ll use for Christmas. This will look different for everyone. But for me, it means focusing on greenery, twinkling lights, and candles (while ornaments, stockings, and pretty much anything red stays packed up until Christmas Eve).
Another easy twist: set up your Nativity, but leave the manger empty until the appropriate day.
Include your family.
If you have children, consider setting up a Jesse Tree, adding a few Advent-specific storybooks to your shelves, or letting your kids “earn” hay for baby Jesus’ manger in your nativity set by doing good deeds for one another.
If you’re engaged or married, pray the St. Andrew Christmas Novena out loud with your husband/fiance.
If you’re single, invite family members or friends to attend extra daily Masses or Holy Hours, or to work on a service project with you. The Christian life is even more beautiful when we walk through it in community!
Decide what to save for Christmas.
Yes, this part is challenging in our culture and in our hearts that so longingly crave the joy of Christmas. But sisters, the wait will be so worth it. Prayerfully consider what you feel called to reserve for the specific season of Christmas and commit to waiting on those things. Maybe that means holding off on certain movies, not listening to Christmas music, respectfully declining invitations to Christmas parties during Advent, not baking cookies or special treats until Christmas Eve, etc.
I cannot emphasize enough that living Advent in such a counter-cultural way may not always be popular amongst loved ones. So we must approach delicate situations with charity and gentleness. This isn’t about a set of rules. It’s about prayerfully and appropriately anticipating the celebration of our Savior’s birth. Stirring up a family feud because you decline to attend the 20th annual Christmas cookie exchange probably won’t help cultivate your peaceful season of prayer. So use your best judgment and discernment when needed.
Sisters, I would love to know: how do you make Advent a meaningful time for you and your family? Please share your tips, tricks, and traditions in the comments below so we can learn from one another.
Beloved, now is the acceptable time spoken of by the Spirit, the day of salvation, peace and reconciliation: the great season of Advent. This is the time eagerly awaited by the patriarchs and prophets, the time that holy Simeon rejoiced at last to see. This is the season that the Church has always celebrated with special solemnity. We too should always observe it with faith and love, offering praise and thanksgiving to the Father for the mercy and love he has shown us in this mystery. - Saint Charles Borromeo