20 Ways to Go All In This Advent

Ask Mary to pray for our hearts to love Jesus as she did in this season of preparation.

Hans Memling, “Advent and Triumph of Christ,” 1480
Hans Memling, “Advent and Triumph of Christ,” 1480 (photo: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The silent flicker of an Advent wreath or soft hymns calling for Emmanuel may elude us in the busyness that has become a culturally hectic time of year. Unlike Jesus, who forces nothing upon us, the world gives us to-do lists. We can, however, infuse Advent into our lives with a bit of thought and planning. Even a late or lackluster start can be overcome with a willing heart.

In the end, our Advent efforts will fill our hearts at Christmas and our souls with gifts everlasting. When I wrote the book Holy Hacks about ways to integrate holiness into everyday life, I included a chapter for the holidays, which literally means “holy days.” The culture forever seeks to contaminate the holy, so striving for the holy over things that pass away is part of Catholic living. As a collector of ideas for growing in holiness, I’ve shared 20 ways to prepare for Christmas with a holy Advent.

1. Prayers and devotions are how we breathe with God. It is the very essence of our union with him — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Get an Advent wreath and pray as you light a candle every day. Add something daily to take your prayer life up a notch. 

2. Ask Mary to pray for our hearts to love Jesus as she did in this season of preparation. Plan to celebrate the two of her beautiful feasts during Advent. Dec. 8 is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrating Mary’s conception without sin, and Dec. 12 is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

3. Have a Nativity scene. If you decorate outside, include an outdoor creche to bless passers-by as well as your own family.

4. Sing and play Advent songs before Christmas.

5. Give Advent gifts preparing hearts for Christmas. For Children: Read books about the first Christmas during Advent. Two new books by Anthony DeStefano are The Beggar and the Bluebird, a modern-day fable about the beauty of giving, and Joseph’s Donkey, a tale from the perspective of the donkey that carried Mary to Bethlehem and also went to the Temple with Jesus when he was lost for 3 days.

6. Watch movies to get you in the spirit of Christmas holiness. For children, Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa is available on YouTube and Formed. There are many other Advent and Christmas movies for adults and children on Formed. 

7. Get an Advent calendar — not a secular Christmas one. Children love counting down the days. Don’t worry if you get a late start on it. They will love catching up. 

8. Get a calendar for your family or as a gift. The Liturgical Calendar poster subscription sends you four 18x24 liturgical calendar posters quarterly, with illustrations corresponding with each date. 

9. Give. This is the true meaning of Christmas. The more you give, the merrier your Christmas morning will be. Having personally visited one of World Villages Girlstowns, they are a favorite charity of mine. At World Villages, the Sisters of Mary dedicate their lives to the motherhood of thousands of children, being raised with Church teachings and powerful examples of love and care. Another good cause is Cross Catholic Outreach, providing food, shelter, medical care, water, education, self-help programs, care for orphans and emergency relief. You can find a variety of Christmas gifts here.

10. Get books for your loved ones to read as their Christmas present to you. If you have a book that you think they would enjoy and would benefit them spiritually, ask them to do it as a gift to you instead of buying something. 

11. Advent is about waiting. Be patient in all your waiting in long lines or on the phone — and pray while you wait. 

12. Be grateful for all the gifts God has already given you, starting with the basics, from indoor plumbing, heat and electricity, to the Holy Eucharist. 

13. Don’t be afraid to tell cashiers, “Merry Christmas!” But also, do not be snide if you are told, “Happy holidays!” Remember, “holiday” literally means “holy day.

14. Send Christmas cards to soldiers overseas and to prisoners. Tell them you will pray for them throughout the New Year.

15. Spend time in adoration. Just as the shepherds came to adore Jesus on Christmas morning, we can adore him in the Blessed Sacrament. 

16. Hang a stocking for Jesus. Fill it with notes and prayer intentions for him during Advent. 

17. Be a secret Santa for someone who will appreciate it, such as a struggling single parent, or a young family, or a senior citizen.

18. Enroll your pastor in Masses as a Christmas gift.

19. If you are donating toys and clothing before Christmas, do not make it your junk. Give away things you actually still like. That is true giving, and truly doing it for Jesus.

20. Buy enough Nativity stamps and Christmas envelopes to use throughout the year.

Most of us cannot do every single item on the list, but we can all try living in the time of Advent. It is a season the Church gives us specifically to help us more fully receive the Christ child on Christmas morning.