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 Christmas Season.
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 Lords.
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 the Christ.
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 Advent.
Then, once the Christmas season actually arrives, along with the gifts and decorations, out come your favorite Christmas CDs, DVDs and videos.
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.