ADVENT IS 5 DAYS AWAY PEOPLE! Yeah, I know. Did it creep up on you too? For me at least, Advent goes like this: Thanksgiving rolls around, the first Sunday of Advent happens, and then maybe by Week 2 I start thinking, “Oh yeah, I guess I should start thinking about how I’m going to prepare for the Divine Son of God to burst into the created world.”
I mean – if Christmas isn’t that big of a deal, then why do I need to start preparing so early?
NO, PEOPLE! CHRISTMAS IS A BIG DEAL! Can you admit that the Supreme Being taking on flesh and being made visible to the fallen world as a tiny human is a big deal?
Ok, if we can agree on that, then we have to prepare for this Big Deal. And yes, we actually have something built into our Catholic lives that is meant to prepare us for the Big Deal: it’s called Advent.
But how can you actually make Advent count? How can you make Advent truly a season of preparation? In my experience, these five steps elevated my Advent into a time that actually prepares me for Christmas:
1. Make a plan
If you’re going to prepare for Christmas, then you need to prepare to prepare for Christmas. That may sound redundant…actually it is redundant. For a reason. Sit down, open a journal or your planner or whatever you do to schedule your life, and write down your plan.
2. Make a plan for how you will celebrate Christmas
I’m a firm believer in “beginning with the end in mind”. And quite frankly, I’ve had too many Advents where I’ve mapped out and even accomplished amazing Advent commitments only to fall flat on the Big Day. What’s worse is when I fall flat on the Big Week, because let’s remember, Christmas isn’t just a day…it’s eight days (of solemnity-level feasting at least). Either way, the point of this step in your Advent plan is to not forget about where this is all leading: to the night where you will “fall on your knees” before the marvelous Baby-King. Yes, I just quoted the most overplayed Christmas song, but I’m sorry, it gets me every time. Some helpful tips for the Big Day and Big Week:
- Sing Christmas carols to Jesus in the manger after Christmas Mass.
- Sing Christmas carols every day of the Octave since you weren’t allowed for the four weeks of Advent.
- Attend a few (or all) of the Masses following Christmas Day – these are some good ones!: St. Stephen, St. John, Holy Innocents, Holy Family.
- Each day of the Octave, meditate on a different part of the Nativity. Think of Joseph and Mary welcoming their son, the shepherds arriving, and the angels glorifying.
3. Choose one added devotion for Advent – even if small
If we’re actually going to prepare for the visible entrance of the Eternal Word into human existence, then our lives during Advent can’t just be same ol’ same ol’. Luckily for us, the Church doesn’t make us do Lent twice, so during Advent we get to do joyful preparation, rather than strict penitential preparation. Obviously, you can still be penitential during Advent, but it’s not emphasized as much. The goal in this step is to do something that both reminds you of the coming joy and at the same time brings you joy. Here are some examples:
- Pray the St. Andrew Christmas Novena prayer daily. It’s simply beautiful. You can find it here.
- Do one (or all if you’re up for it) of the Liturgy of the Hours. Advent brings special antiphons that you won’t read the rest of the year!
- Read the O Antiphons during the 8 days leading up to Christmas – these are also really beautiful and can give you a nice pep-up right before the Big Day.
- Pray a daily rosary with your family or roommates. Thinking about Mary and all that led up to and followed the Nativity really can’t be beat.
4. Conduct all Christmas gift activity before Advent begins
This one may shock you, because it means you need to be on top of it…like really on top of it. But think about it: how many of the last few Advents did you spend thinking of gift ideas, researching the best places to buy gifts, coming up with a list for yourself, and finally, just buying the darn things? Doing Christmas shopping and all related activities are not intrinsically opposed to Advent or Christmas. In my experience, however, all of it just leads to more time spent thinking about things and less time spent thinking about the coming Messiah. So take advantage of the 2020-specific-30-day-long Black Friday deals, get it all done right now, and let Advent be Advent.
5. Plan when you will soak it up
Finally, just enjoy the season. I feel like I arrive at Christmas Day every year wondering, “Where did Advent go?” For too many years I’ve let the stress of Christmas travels, end of year projects at work, and Christmas party planning get the best of me. I blink and then Christmas is here…and I didn’t get to soak up the preparation. Some of my favorite Advent memories as a child were having quiet weeknights sitting by a fire and a lit Christmas tree, reading the Chronicles of Narnia. Or walking through parks and driving through neighborhoods to see lights and decorations. Or spending long, carefree weekend afternoons baking cookies for cookie exchanges (do people still do those?). There may be some stressful things we can’t get out of, but we can schedule ahead of time and pick those days and nights where we’ll let the peace of the season sink in and prepare our hearts for Him.
Luckily, it’s still November, and Advent isn’t quite here yet. Don’t put it off too long, or you might end up like me, mid-Advent, realizing you’re finally getting around to it. Start now, and you’ll realize preparing for the season of preparing will make all the difference!