When I was young, my grandmother would always invite two of my cousins and me to her house right after Thanksgiving to help her decorate for Christmas. We’d go for the whole weekend and we would be busy little elves the entire time making the house beautiful. The first chore was always to dust and clean and then drag all the boxes out of her creepy basement. (If you’ve read my children’s book, you know the creepiness of which I speak.)
Each box was like unwrapping Christmas presents. Having been stored away for the whole year, the decorations thrilled us as we pulled each one out. We’d find our favorites and place it in its special spot. Stockings were hung, lights were strung, and all the while Christmas music filled the house.
Around lunchtime, we’d stop and go out to one of our favorite restaurants. There is an old diner in my grandmother’s town that has delicious burgers, fries, and shakes. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. After lunch, we’d head back to her house to continue decorating.
My memories of those times are the stuff of warmth and love. It never felt like work to me or my cousins. It took a lot of time and effort, but when we were done the house felt so cozy and warm. It felt special. The care and time my grandma took in making the house look and feel Christmasy added to Christmas Eve when the whole family would finally gather there. If decorating was a pain to my grandma, she never let on. In fact, it seemed the opposite. She made it special for us kids and consequently those times are some of my fondest with her.
Flash forward to present day. For the past several years, I’ve noticed a growing trend when it comes to Christmas, or any holiday for that matter. Too many people see it as a bother, just another thing, another thing “I have to do.” You can hear the joy being sucked out of the air.
“I’m too busy to do much.”
“As little effort as possible is what I want.”
“I want easy and effortless.”
I get it. We’re all busy. Somedays I don’t know if I’m coming or going. However, isn’t all the gadgetry and technology in our lives supposed to make our lives less busy and less burdened?
I have a different theory. I think we’ve lost our ability to fully experience joy. I think we aren’t necessarily more busy, I think we are more distracted–mostly by technology.
So many people today view holidays as just a thing on the list of things that we have to get through. Just sludge through it. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Holiday gets its name from holy days. During holy days and holy seasons it should be undeniable that the time is important, special and worth doing well. Except that’s not what we do anymore. It’s become just a day that people feel obligated to participate in because “it’s what we do.” We go through the motions, focusing on things that don’t matter instead of the things that could truly make it joyful. We check everything off the list. Tree. Check. Lights up. Check. Christmas Cards. Eh, maybe. Food. Check. Visited family. Check.
And once the holiday is over and we’ve moved through all the expected and necessary things we tear it all down and remove it from our thoughts, never to think of it again until we must because the calendar says we should.
This mentality robs us of all the joy these holidays are supposed to bring to our lives. There was a time when holy days went on for days and days. As a break from the monotony of life, holy days were a day to really live it up and do everything to the hilt. I fear, because our lives move from one climax to the next, we are numb to the excitement and anticipation that holidays are supposed to bring.
Advent is upon us. As Catholics, this is a time of preparation for Christ. If you have a birthday, you don’t have the celebration weeks before. You don’t celebrate weddings weeks before the day. You don’t celebrate graduations months before the big day. No, we give this time to preparing ourselves, so that on the big day we are fully ready to celebrate. To fully enjoy ourselves on the day, we should discipline ourselves in the weeks leading up. If we stuffed ourselves with birthday cake everyday for weeks before our birthday, well, on our birthday the cake would just be ho-hum. In fact, you may not even want it.
Advent is a time to scale back, fast, practice discipline, and really draw our minds to Christ and His birth. I have tried very hard in our home to focus less on the secular aspects of Christmas and more on the religious aspects. We all complain that secularists and atheists are removing Christ from Christmas, but I don’t see the majority of Christians doing their best to put Christ into the season. Santa is the main focus and while not bad in and of himself, he should not be our focus. Christ has been easily removed from Christmas because we’ve allowed the commercial and secular world to decide our focus.
It’s interesting to me that most people are nearly done with Christmas like two days before. Christmas Day people are wiped out and grumpy. Don’t even think about holding a Christmas party after Christmas. People would think you are crazy. Commercialism has driven the push to focus on Christmas at the start of November. “Shop! Buy! Get your stuff!” All Christmas parties are before Christmas. Everything ramps up and then towards Christmas Eve and Day the energy starts to drop off. Once Christmas Day is over people can hardly get their Christmas stuff down fast enough. Then it’s on to New Years. This time before Christmas should be a more solemn, reflective, simply time, so that when the big important day hits, we are eager and anxious. Sadly, our holidays are driven by money instead of what is holy and maybe that’s why we are losing Christ in Christmas.
I love Advent. I love the lighting of the candle each Sunday. I love the devotional books I pick out each year to draw my mind on Christ. I love the special prayers we say together as a family. Mostly, I love that once Christmas hits, our family has been preparing for the celebration and it really feels festive. Christmas Mass is so beautiful once the churches are fully decorated. For Catholics, the celebration of Christmas doesn’t end on December 25th. We keep the party going till the Epiphany. Christ is so important, that one day doesn’t suffice.
My grandmother took days to prepare her home. She made it a special tradition that highlighted that this time of year was important. It was a great build up to Christmas Eve at her house. While we didn’t celebrate Advent growing up, my family still worked to make the season feel special, full of traditions and meaning.
This Advent season commit to slowing down. Commit to making this time before Christmas about Christ. Keep it simple. You don’t have to do all the Advent things. Our American way of life leaves us always looking for the next big thing. “What’s gonna entertain us next?” This constant state of climaxes leaves us bored with things very quickly. Scaling back, simplifying, and drawing our minds towards the most important point of this season will help Christmas to be full of joy, gratitude, and love.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”