One of the best ways to experience the joy of Christmas is to have a good Advent, the time of preparing for our Savior.

Amid a culture that wants to mute religion, now is especially an important time to intentionally make Christ the center of our Christmas preparations. In the book Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith and Get to Heaven, I included a chapter for the holidays — the name itself is derived from “holy day.” Just as life hacks are clever ways to make life easier, holy hacks does so with an eye on eternal life.

Here are a few holy hacks to experience Advent in a deeper way by filling our hearts with the love of Jesus so that it overflows to everyone around us.

1. Advent is about waiting. Be patient in all your waiting such as in traffic and long lines. Pray while you wait.

2. Be grateful for all you have. Contemplate your many gifts from indoor plumbing, heat and electricity, and all that surrounds you from comforts to people.

3. Don’t wince when the cashier says: “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Holiday literally means “holy day.” (The word was first recorded around the year 950, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.) Joyfully return the greeting with, “Merry Christmas and happy holy day to you too!”

4. Don’t make an issue if someone uses “Season’s Greetings.” Just warmly say thank you give them a cheery Merry Christmas!

5. Simplify. Do less in the spirit of the first Christmas. If Jesus wanted to promote consumerism, the nativity would have unfolded in a shopping plaza.

6. Have a nativity set. If you decorate outside, include an outdoor creche.

7. Get an Advent wreath. Light it each day and pray around it.

8. Sing and play Advent songs before Christmas.

9. Watch movies about the real Christmas story.

10. Sing Christmas carols.

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

12. Have everyone add pieces of straw in a manger every time they do a good deed so that Jesus will have a soft bed to lie on Christmas morning.

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

14. Be a secret Santa for a struggling single parent.

15. Find ways to be generous as a family at Christmas baking, giving and doing.

16. Don’t forget a gift for your pastor.

17. 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 for Jesus.

18. Buy enough nativity stamps and Christmas envelopes to use throughout the year.

19. Keep some money aside for the big after-Christmas sales to buy a tree, wreath and decorations to give “Christmas in a box” to a refugee or other family next year. Also keep an eye on the late winter sales to afford even more or better-quality seasonal items that can be given away such as flannel pajamas, coats, hats, mittens, boots, etc., which go on drastic sale by February. Sometimes schoolteachers in poor neighborhoods will gladly give these items to students who would appreciate nice warm clothing.

20. Give to the Poor. The more you give, the better you feel. Perhaps get others to join you and in some cases even agree not to buy each other gifts or limit the amount spent. Here are some wonderful ways to help impoverished children:

  • Cross Catholic Outreach, a ministry that provides food, shelter, medical care, water, education, self-help programs, care for orphans and emergency relief. You can find a variety of programs here.
  • Food for the hungry - Send lifesaving supplies of Vitafood to starving children and their families. $27 can feed a family for a whole month.
  • Toys and gifts for a needy child - Let Cross Catholic Outreach pack your Box of Joy with toys and gifts and send it to a child. For $34, Cross Catholic Outreach will pack your Box of Joy and send it to a needy child overseas.
  • Mosquito nets - Send a gift that will effectively help prevent malaria in Zambia. A gift of $26 will provide 3 mosquito nets and help prevent malaria.
  • Bicycles - Send one of the most useful gifts for the poor that you could ever send. $66 provides the gift of a bicycle.

21. Ask the Holy Family to help your Advent to be holy.

Dear Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, pray for us to grow in holiness this Advent. Jesus, lead us closer to you as we prepare to celebrate the day of your birth.