Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary — Juneau, Alaska
I’m a last minute kind of person. For the first 4 years of being a parent I fell into bed exhausted on the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas (December 6th), realizing that I had nothing to stuff into little shoes. For a moment I would consider what was in the cupboards (leftover Halloween candy? unwrapped Ivory soap?) and then roll over and close my eyes thinking, better luck next year.
Then, two years ago, I realized I didn’t have to wait until December 5th to make a mad dash to the store in search of candy canes and chocolate coins. In a moment of rare foresight I grabbed the necessary supplies the first time I saw them on display the weekend after Thanksgiving and shoved them deep in my closet in a brown paper bag marked, “OPEN DECEMBER 5TH.” Of course, on the Eve of St. Nicholas’ Day, my daughters had an exceptionally hard time going to sleep and one of them wandered out around 10pm to discover me stuffing shoes. But no one’s perfect. At least we had chocolate first thing in the morning.
So, as I continue this journey into parenthood, I’m slowly discovering the power of planning ahead. It’s mid-November and Advent will be here in only 2 ½ weeks. Here’s my plan for celebrating this season with minimal stress (and plenty of chocolate):
1. Cut the clutter. One of the things I love most about Advent is the simplicity of it—the calm before the joyful chaos of Christmas. It is a time to sweep all the corners of our lives clean in preparation for the great feast. Before the Christmas decorations come out, take a moment to go through the items that have accumulated over the past year. Perhaps it’s time to send some toys, clothes, or household supplies on to St. Vincent de Paul or the Salvation Army. Invite your children to go through their closets and drawers as well. In going through our possessions we can realize how blessed we are and how much we have to share.
2. Pray more. Symbols and rituals for celebrating Advent abound in our Catholic tradition. The most common of course is the Advent wreath with four candles (three purple and one pink). One candle is lit for each Sunday of Advent. Use your candle lighting time (at dinnertime or another time when everyone is gathered together, like before bed) to pray. You can pray simply with young children, “Come Lord Jesus. We are waiting for your Birthday.” Or choose something more complex such as singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or reading the Gospel for the day—(find it at http://www.usccb.org)
3. Make things together. A great way to celebrate Advent and bond as a family is with shared work. Make children a part of preparations for Christmas by baking cookies together, practicing carols, making decorations and gifts, and sending Christmas cards.
4. Do less. As adults, so many things compete for our attention that it’s easy to neglect the season of Advent and all the rich ways we can live it with the children in our lives. In order to make time for the work of preparation—prayer, baking, decorating, making gifts, just being together—we need to cut other things out. My mind boggles at how much time I could gain by giving up a few television shows and playing Spider Solitaire on the iPad (don’t try it, it’s addictive). What superfluous activities could you give up to enter more fully into Advent?
Now, if all my plans fall through, here’s the good news: in an unscientific poll of all 8 year-old girls in my house, two out of two said the Advent tradition that mattered most to them was the lighting of the candles around the Advent wreath. It wasn’t the cooking or making gifts, prayer services, or even chocolate for breakfast (no adults were surveyed), but the simple practice of lighting a candle each night and then two, three, four until all are lit. Time to head down to the garage, find the Advent box, dust off the golden wreath and buy 4 new candles. The Light is coming into the world. Let us celebrate!