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BY Jay Dunlap
The seasons are out of whack. And I don’t mean because of
climate change or global warming. The seasons I refer to are liturgical ones,
especially the beginning of the liturgical year: the Advent, followed by the
You know that the seasons are out of whack. We’ve all seen
the Christmas decorations emerge in autumn like the changing of the leaves. By
October, the retail world is in full-scale Christmas mode, with only a thin
veneer of Halloween and Thanksgiving cosmetics around the edge. At their core,
the stores are all about Christmas.
By the time Thanksgiving has come and gone, everything —
especially in our media culture — is in full Christmas mode.
If one knew nothing of the liturgical calendar (and how many
really do?), one might think the Christmas season actually does begin the day
after Thanksgiving and lasts until Dec. 25, when it abruptly ends with the
opening of presents and the filling of trash bags with torn wrappings. Out goes
the tree, end of season.
Of course, the season that actually begins around the time
of Thanksgiving is Advent, the period including the four Sundays before
Christmas, our time of waiting for the coming of the Lord. It is supposed to be
a mini-Lent, a time of fasting and preparation to receive the newborn Lord of
Then Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, launches the real Christmas
season that lasts until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 13.
In our homes and families, how can we restore the order of
the liturgical calendar? How can we make Advent a time of spiritual
preparation, and let Christmas be Christmas?
In our home, we’ve had some success over the past few years
reclaiming Advent by fasting from all electronic media. That may sound
difficult, but the fact is it’s quite easy — certainly easier than when we do
it during Lent.
There are so many gatherings and activities and parties in
the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s actually pretty easy to do without
television, movies, the Internet.
But wait a minute — that sounds like we’re just replacing
media with other forms of pre-Christmas Christmas celebration. How does that
help the family focus on Advent?
The other key is to really celebrate Advent with its own
traditions: lighting Advent candles in a wreath on the dinner table, along with
the prayers provided by our parish. We also have a Jesse Tree, at which we pray
every evening of Advent and walk through salvation history with stops that
recall all the great moments of the Old Testament that lead up to the coming of
Many books and online resources offer great ideas for how to
put together a Jesse Tree and pray at it every day. My wife made ours out of
felt, with colorful pieces that our children pin to the tree every day of
Then, once the Christmas season actually arrives, along with
the gifts and decorations, out come your favorite Christmas CDs, DVDs and
The family enjoys them for days, making the Christmas season
special because it really is when we celebrate, not only with one another but
also with Charlie Brown, the Little Drummer Boy and George Bailey.
Best of all, we and our children have spent a month
detaching ourselves from the electronic media monster. We have renewed our
ability to interact with one another and turn first to one another in
friendship, rather than turning to appliances for entertainment.
For me, it’s almost to the point where I look forward to
Advent more than Christmas.
Jay Dunlap is the author of
Raising Kids in the Media Age.
He writes from
South Bend, Indiana.