This year, we are throwing in the towel.
Every 12 months, we invariably write an editorial denouncing the ever-earlier arrival of Christmas music, and Christmas decorations, and Christmas advertising, all of which exhausts us by the time Dec. 25 arrives. Every year we bemoan the diminishment of the Reason for the Season, and shake our fingers at the relentless emphasis on consumerism. And what has it gotten us?
Black Friday is now a secular holy day of obligation, and Thanksgiving Day is morphing from a rare national holiday focusing on family and gratitude into Black Friday Eve.
So we are giving up. Society has spoken. Money talks and shoppers walk. “Xmas” wins. We won’t scold or nag or shame the bargain-hunting frenzy. Really.
Instead, we want to pump up Advent. We think it needs a bit of its own hype. After all, when we hear about Catholics wanting to simplify Christmas, we are worried that means cutting out all those wonderful religious practices that remind us we have our own Catholic story to tell. It is a story that has been told for centuries. In fact, although many consumers have forgotten the words to the story, we still participate in its customs.
The Christmas wreath, the Christmas tree, the candy cane, the Christmas holly: All of these have meanings that are rooted in our culture’s Christian past. The same is true for the practices of Advent, a liturgical season that goes all the way back to the fourth century.
Take the Advent wreath: It is rich in symbolism as we light the candles to ward off winter’s gloom and proclaim our hope in the Savior’s coming. The evergreen boughs used to decorate it symbolize hope in God’s never-ending love. The three purple candles are a sign of penance and the one rose candle is upcoming joy. The rose candle is always lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (Latin for Rejoice) Sunday, because Christmas is near. The circular wreath itself symbolizes victory.
Advent calendars, the Advent candle, and even Advent plays all have special meaning for the season. (For more on Advent and Christmas traditions, see the Dec. 2 issue of OSV Newsweekly.)
Want to do something really countercultural? Go to confession in Advent. Remember those purple candles? It is a time of penance, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a great way to prepare for the Savior’s arrival.
And even if part of our preparation is about scampering down aisles for the latest bargain, we can still remind ourselves that gift giving recalls the Magi bearing their three gifts to the babe in a manger. We can even get a jump on the gift orgy by giving family members and friends small gifts on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6).
In fact, we can celebrate other feast days in Advent, particularly Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12), St. Juan Diego (Dec. 9) and St. Lucy (Dec. 13). Do a little Web research and prepare something special for each day.
Sure, it would be great if we could save the Christmas carols for the twelve days of Christmas, but we can still make Advent sing: It is all about being mindful that no matter how many secular Xmas cards we get and no matter how many Santa Clauses we dodge, ultimately, this is a season of joyful expectation for the most wonderful Gift of all, freely bestowed by a loving God on all of us.