Take back Christmas by preparing your heart to receive Christ.
Like homecoming weekend in a college town, there are currently no vacancies. Everything, it seems, is occupied. Occupy Wall Street. Occupy San Francisco. Occupy DC. Begun as Occupy Dataran in Kuala Lumpur in late July, the Occupy movement has spread around globe like wildfire in just over three months. “The 99%” seem intent on taking back financial and government institutions that have apparently been corrupted by the minority who presumably control them by their concentration of wealth. The majority are fed up with their interests not being represented, so they’re moving in and taking over.
This is neither to ridicule nor affirm the Occupy movement. Simply put, however, this sentiment is not new. Much, if not most, curmudgeonly grumbling and hand-wringing is about how we need to take back things that have been corrupted: marriage, education, authority, devotion, piety, etc. The list goes on and on and often expresses valid concerns about the direction of society, one microcosm at a time. The commercialization of Christmas is one such microcosm.
Every year, it seems to get just a bit worse and begin just a bit earlier. Over at Headline Bistro, Dr. Pia de Solenni recently joked that trick-or-treaters may have actually received candy canes this year. Would anyone really be surprised? For my part, I recently received my first say-Merry-Christmas-not-happy-holidays email forward, assuring me that the “Put the Christ in Christmas” movement is still alive and well. Good to know. However, if we run around from store to store in the early morning hours of the Friday after Thanksgiving (I refuse to acknowledge its colloquial name) fighting crowds to get the best deals on the hottest toys and electronics, wishing Merry Christmas to everyone we elbow, are we really doing any good?
No, we’re not. In fact, we may actually be doing harm, because we’re acting just like everyone else even though we allege to be somehow representing the true meaning of Christmas. “See, those Christians are no different than us; we’re not missing anything.” Putting Christ in Christmas has to begin with each of us individually and has to extend deeper than simply our words. How does the hymn based on Jesus’s words in John 13:35 go? They’ll know we are Christians by our…words? No, by our LOVE! Yes, that love of Christ and one another has to transform our hearts and be put into action. What are we actually doing to put Christ in Christmas in our homes, in our families?
One way is to Occupy Advent. Rather than just making lists, baking cookies, hanging stockings, and wrapping presents (none of which is actually bad), we might also spend some time preparing our hearts for the birth of our Savior. Here are some practical suggestions.
- Wait – If you have only one decoration in your entire house, it should be a crèche (nativity scene); it will keep your family focused on the coming of Christ. The USCCB has a prayer for blessing your nativity scene. If you have small children, get an age-appropriate one for them, too. They’ll enjoy playing with the pieces and figures, and you will have abundant opportunities for gentle catechesis. Finally, ratchet up the anticipation by waiting until Christmas to put the Baby Jesus in the manger. You may even want to build the scene gradually, piece-by-piece throughout Advent.
- Count down – Get an Advent wreath. The progressive lighting of the candles symbolizes the expectation and hope surrounding our Lord’s first coming into the world and the anticipation of his second coming to judge the living and the dead. The USCCB has some nice Advent resources, including a prayer for blessing your Advent wreath. In addition, daily Advent calendars can be lots of fun for kids whether purchased or homemade.
- Read the Daily Mass Readings – What better way to prepare the way of the Lord in your life during Advent than to immerse yourself in the story of the coming of Christ as told in sacred scripture? A good tool for this is the Magnificat Advent Companion. You can also buy the Magnificat Advent Companion iPad app at the iTunes Store for only $0.99.
- Limit spending on gifts – You knew this was coming, right? You don’t have to be a scrooge; just don’t allow your spending and shopping to overwhelm your spirit. For children, a fun idea is to give three gifts, each representing one of the gifts of the three magi (another opportunity for gentle catechesis). Another idea to take the focus off gift-giving is to put Santa Claus in his rightful place. Leave him out of Christmas and instead celebrate the legendary generosity of St. Nicholas, 4th-century Bishop of Myra, on his feast day of December 6 with small gifts.
- Go to Reconciliation – This is perhaps the best way to prepare for anything. Advent is a pronounced time to experience our longing for the presence of Jesus in all the places we need him most. During this time of year when people’s thoughts and actions are absorbed with gift-giving and gift-receiving, remember that God has left us an amazing gift, the gift of reconciliation, and it provides great joy, freedom, and peace.
- Volunteer – Use the Judgment of Nations gospel reading from Christ the King Sunday as a springboard for service during Advent. Preferably, serve as a whole family if you are able. You don’t have to start a new service project. During the winter, service opportunities usually abound among the elderly, poor, and homeless. Prepare your heart to receive Christ by showing Christian charity to those less fortunate.
- Unplug – Proclaim a day of fasting from the noise of technology, as best you can (don’t compromise your safety in inclement weather). Bask in the peace of Advent by going Old School. Spend the day reading, praying (find your nearest adoration chapel if not in your parish), volunteering (see above), playing outside, ice skating, hiking, playing cards or board games, etc. You get the idea. Take time to slow down in what can otherwise be a season of busyness. Don’t let it pass you by. Occupy Advent!
What time-tested traditions have you established to keep Christ in your family Christmas? Are you planning something new to Occupy Advent this year? Please pass along your stories and suggestions.