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Keep Christmas in Christmas by remembering Advent

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Stegeman_generalAs a young child, my older sister and I would battle for the right to blow out the Advent candles after our pre-dinner prayers. Mom and dad would handle the lighting, but the kids got to blow it out. If It wasn’t our turn, we’d fight until mom and dad put a stop to it.

That’s hardly what the spirit of Advent should be about, but despite the nonsense my sister and I wreaked, my parents still made a point of incorporating Advent into a season that commercially gets lumped in as an early extension of Christmas. We had Advent calendars too, and my parents took the time to teach us what each candle was about and instill a spirit of anticipation that fit the season.

Now, from the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas music abounds and with the exception of O, Come, O, Come Emmanuel, it isn’t as though most crooners sing to the joyful waiting of Advent. As Catholics, the Christmas season doesn’t arrive until Dec. 24 and while there’s no harm in enjoying the sounds of Christmas music or an early office party before the blessed date, if we skip on Advent we deny ourselves.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes advent as follows:
“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.'”

Though still new at parenting (our boys are two-and-a-half and 10-months), my wife and I would encourage our fellow parents to instill that Advent spirit in their children. To a child, the wreath and tree are just decor, if not explained. An Advent calendar is just a way to score a free piece of chocolate, if you don’t give it deeper meaning.

We didn’t always take Advent seriously before my boys were born. But we try to now. Since our children are in the climb-and-destroy-everything stage of life, the Advent wreath isn’t on the dining room table (which they can reach) but up on our mantle near the creche. There’s a fairly non-liturgical Advent calendar too (a Santa with a cotton ball beard. Gimme a break, the kids are little). In the chaos of parenting young children, we’ve only managed to light the candles and pray as a family a couple times, but we’re committed to keeping it going.

It isn’t too late in the season to start either. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a great resource of Advent prayers and suggest family activities. (CLICK HERE)

The connection between a child’s longing for the presents from Mom and Dad or Santa Clause and our spiritual longing for Christ’s coming provides a perfect opportunity to teach patience and hope.

No son, you may not open a present today, but the day is coming when you can!

Just so, we cannot solve all the problems in the world today, but a day is coming when Christ will come again! And he will!

My older son knows we tell Jesus we love him and that Jesus often seems to be a baby, and other times he’s a man on a cross (which in a uniquely toddler way he calls “Jesus’ ouchie”). Certainly he can’t understand theological or liturgical concepts yet, but he can learn that as a family we celebrate this season a little differently than others he may meet.

Christmas is coming, and that’s something to celebrate when it arrives. But don’t skip the season we’re in now. Christmas is worth the wait, and Advent has its own blessings.

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