Suggestions to Re-Advent Christmas
by Alice Matisz and Colette Lemire
In the Catholic Church, Christmas starts on December 25th and runs for 12 days, but look around and you would be forgiven for thinking the season starts the day after Halloween and ends on December 25th. In fact, for many people, adults and children alike, Christmas Day is a sad anticlimax after weeks of activities and frenzied planning. We know the birth of Christ should be the focus of our preparations but it's all too easy to make baking and shopping and decorating the focus, leaving scant time for faith and prayer. I'd like to offer a few suggestions for keeping Christ in Christmas.
Fit Faith in First
There is an often-told story of a wise man who loads rocks into a jar until the jar is full, then proceeds to demonstrate how pebbles, sand and water can still be added to the supposedly full container - the moral being that big things have to be fit in first if they are to fit in at all. The same can be said about religion/faith at Christmastime. Take a look at your calendar, the sooner the better, and mark off All Saints events. Mark Sunday Masses, mark the Penitential Service you plan to attend, mark one or two days a week to pray around your Advent wreath or crèche, maybe schedule a retreat at the Martha Centre and especially remember to mark your Christmas Day Mass. Planning a daily prayer time when the family can pray together will centralize the focus on Jesus’ coming. For the rest of the month, resist all temptation to plan other events at those times. Fit the rest of the excitement of the Season around the bedrocks of your faith.
Model Catholic Values
As parents we know there is truth to the maxim that children follow what adults do, not what they say. We routinely bow to commercialism and peer pressure at this time of year. We tell our children it's not about the presents, but we permit them to make long Christmas lists and write begging letters to Santa. We tell our children it's about helping the less fortunate, but our help consists of a single donation to a charity of choice followed by mass consumption on ourselves. We tell the story of Jesus' birth with less joy and conviction than the story of The Grinch who Stole Christmas.
I've done all of this myself and only gradually realized that no harm comes to a child who gets limited gifts, or even has to share a gift with siblings. As for charitable giving, consider a year-long commitment or a ‘living gift' through Chalice by sponsoring a child abroad, or pledge a few hours a month to an organization that will bless your thoughtfulness in February when volunteers get scarce. The rest of the wonderful abundances of the Season are good too...in moderation. If we ensure our priorities are aligned with Catholic values, our children will follow our example.
Another opportunity to share and live your faith is to cheerfully wish “Merry Christmas” to everyone you meet and make sure the cards you send say "Merry Christmas." Let others know that you are living your ‘Christ’ part of Christmas.
Spread out the Festivities
One way to avoid the Christmas Day let-down is to have joyful events to anticipate after the 25th. You could plan carol singing or family games for Christmas night. Perhaps visit with friends in the days after Christmas. Extend Advent prayer time a few days after Christmas so that the kings (Magi) arrive at your crèche after Jesus' birth, just as they did in real life. Some families even postpone gift-giving to the Epiphany in January. The important thing is to de-emphasize Christmas morning as the be-all-and-end-all of the Christmas experience.
Remember the Big Picture
God is with us, not just at Christmas, but the entire 365 days of the year. His coming was a life-changing event which we rightly recall with praise and worship, but he has been near us for approximately two-millennium now. So if the stress of the Season threatens to overwhelm you, remember that the same Jesus we await, is already at your side to offer help and support. Jesus really is the reason for the Season.
Have a Wonderful Advent-ure!