Fighting off Advent Apprehension

Can I tell you something? This used to be my favorite time of year. Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, I looked forward to this time of year all year long. But now I kind of dread it.  And not because I’m a mom and I have more to do this time of year.  It’s because there seems to be so much pressure these days, especially on Catholic moms, to “get it right.”  To do Advent right and Christmas right.  The questions and blog posts have already started.

Do you do Santa?

When do you set up the tree?

Are you successful at keeping Advent sacred and unsullied by Christmas revelry until midnight of Christmas Eve?

Maybe it’s just my easy-going personality, but I think my McFamily did things pretty well.  We were always very aware of and into the Advent season. We had our Advent wreath and usually a paper Advent calendar and we could take turns opening the door for the day. Later in my childhood my mom found this Advent read-aloud called Jotham’s Journey that we all really enjoyed.  But, we also got our Christmas tree usually half way through the month and we decorated it right away, while listening to Christmas music. We believed in Santa Clause, but we would also get a present from Baby Jesus on Christmas morning. Some years we went to the Christmas Eve Mass and but later on we mostly went to Mass on Christmas morning, some years before opening presents if I remember correctly! My point is, I think my parents did a good job of teaching us about the true meaning of Christmas.  We knew Advent was a season of preparation, but we also were excited about Christmas coming and enjoyed the magic of the decorations, the music, the special movies and treats.

I understand the intent behind this “keep Advent sacred” movement.  We live in a world where the Halloween candy appears at stores in July and Santa shows up in September.  I get it, we all need to reel it in and recognize that Christmas is on December 25th and the season of Advent comes before so that we can prayerfully prepare our hearts and our homes.  But, maybe it’s because I’m not much a disciplined, austere person myself that I don’t see the harm in a decorated tree on December 12th and Christmas songs playing while making dinner in December.  As an adult, and especially since becoming a Mom, the darkness descending outside at 4:30pm makes the rest of life feel dark, but that month-6 weeks that we have the tree up and the other seasonal comforts really helps everyone’s moods.  Furthermore, it helps me keep my focus on Christ and embrace and share the joy of the season.

I’m not trying to poo-poo anyone who works really hard at not mixing Advent and Christmas, I’m just saying I don’t think it ruins Advent when we slowly add in merriment as we build towards the Christmas feast.

We’re all journeying to the same place, but we all have different paths.  I might change my mind, or gradually become more strict about Advent and Christmas.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit will move my husband and me to try new things as we build our family traditions and strive to grow in holiness.  It’s happened before! I just don’t like this idea that if you do certain things at Christmastime, participate in certain more secular activities and traditions, that you are doing it wrong, and you’re damaging your kids.  There’s so much real darkness and evil in the world, why are we giving our neighbors a hard time about how they celebrate Christmas and the holidays?  We are each responsible for our own families, for our children and their moral growth, and nobody else’s and we should have faith that the Lord is working in other people’s hearts and families, just like ours.

Anyway, I’m going to try not to let this apprehension about Advent take me over.  Sometime in the next few days, I need to make sure I pick up new Advent candles.  I’m going to try to finish up Christmas shopping so I have time to do Christmas cards and Gus’ stocking in December. I’m going to pull out our Christmas books and make sure we start reading about the Nativity so it’s all fresh in Sara’s mind.  I have it on good authority that St. Nicholas is bringing Sara and Gus their own Nativity scene on December 6th.  [Although, as an aside, I’m getting the feeling that some people think that the Fisher Price Little-People Nativity is not authentic or beautiful enough? No, it’s not Fontanini, but it is toddler proof. I love Melissa and Doug and all things classy and wood like any other middle class American mom, but I do get so weary of the war against plastic toys.]

I think our world is desperate for the peace and joy of Christ, don’t you? That’s what I’m going to try to focus on this Advent and Christmas.

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24 thoughts on “Fighting off Advent Apprehension

  1. Amen! I love Christmas: music, tree, lights, cookies, everything. We usually got our tree and started decorating Thanksgiving weekend. And here's how I look at Advent as "preparation": isn't getting all these things ready preparation? It's hard enough to do the simple things (tree, cookies, presents, cards) all before December 25, why wait until December 24?!? And having good books to read about the Christ Child and the true meaning of Christmas is plenty to educate our kids that this is about Baby Jesus (though I'm all about Santa, too, I mean St. Nicholas 😉 And if we have time, a may try a Jesse tree this year. Finally, I believe Advent really is preparation more than penance. It's not the long, six weeks of Lent, when the actual celebration preparations probably should wait until Holy Week. And there's should be joy in preparation, and Christmas music and cookies!

    Anyway, sorry to go on and on, but I totally agree with you. And the girls love our Fisher Price Nativity, which is awesome and was a gift from a priest.

    I hope you have a joyous and wonderful Advent, Ellen 🙂

  2. Ah the never ending Christmas saga. I say you're right on point. 🙂 Also, for the record, we are complete heathens and put our tree up Thanksgiving weekend.

    I did almost loose some friends-who-are-better-Christians over this when they found that out! Little does anybody usually think that some of us have our own personal reasons for celebrating and 'preparing' the way we choose…. As my Great Grandmother always said 'NEVER COMPLAIN, NEVER EXPLAIN"

  3. We were just talking to the kids about our Christmas traditions – which include putting up the tree on Black Friday and eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast Christmas morning (so nothing religious at all). I was feeling bad about not celebrating each special saints day and Advent like other moms, and then it hit me…these are FAMILY traditions, meaning every family does them different. Ah, the pressure is gone! I would like to do something more for Advent than just the candles, I'm looking into that this year…I'll take a look at that book you recommended. A few years ago we did the Wisemen Adventures (move the three kings to a new spot around the house each day) and the little kids loved that, so I'll aim for that too!

  4. Great post, Ellen! I have similar memories of my family- Advent always seemed really special but we still watched Christmas movies and decorated for Christmas mid-late December depending on everyone's schedules. It was always so much fun but we still focused on the true meaning of Christmas. 🙂
    I feel like children have a singular joy about Christmas and I don't feel quite right acting as the Advent police squelching that and making sure the season is utterly and completely "unsullied by Christmas revelry" (love that phrase ;). I've struggled a bit looking at our stack of Christmas books as I know there aren't many religious ones, but most of the "True meaning of Christmas/ Advent saint" books out there don't seem geared to the toddler/ preschool crowd, so I'm okay knowing that for now this is where we're at. The right way to "do" Advent and Christmas is what works for your family, I say.
    Also, love the FP nativity- we have the same Willow Tree one, so the girls need one they can play with. 🙂

  5. Ellen, I love this!! I grew up much the same as you, and I love having Christmas decorations up (after Thanksgiving, it's pretty much fair game) and music playing before Dec 25 because, for me, that's what gets me excited. I'm going to work to get Christmas shopping done ahead of time so that won't be so stressful, and try really hard not to worry about how everyone else does Advent. I'm going to try the Jesse tree thing this year, but only because my MIL made the ornaments and sent them to me so my work is basically done!
    Also, we do have a Fontanini nativity, but the kids LOVE the Fisher Price one that I set up in their room each year.

    • Yup, December = fair game for us too. I mean, it's December! I knew we weren't the only one's out there, but it's nice to see and hear from so many others that we're not alone! And I'd like to try a Jesse Tree one year and it's so nice that your MIL made you the ornaments! I'll probably wait till my littles are older. Trying to get them share their excitement with the Nativity and Santa is enough for them to handle this year I think!

  6. My family always got a tree Christmas Eve or maybe 1-3 days before. There was a bit of a thrill to it–"will we find a tree this year or will everyone be sold out??" (We always found one.) And we kept our tree up all 12 days and tsk tsk'd ppl who threw their tree out Christmas evening.. . . But my parents in their enthusiasm sometimes conveyed an attitude of , "Oh, the world is so evil for celebrating Christmas the wrong way." And I think that was misguided. . . . This year we'll put up our tree soon after Thanksgiving, b/c I want to be all ready for Christmas bf the baby comes, which will be 1-2 weeks before Christmas. . . . When I was expecting Girl 2, she was due in mid-January. I wanted to have all the decorations put away before she came, so I took the tree down *before* Epiphany. I felt all rebellious and badass. 😉

    • Taking down the Christmas tree is such a sad chore, why would you want to do it on Christmas night? There I go judging people! 😉 So much of our attitudes and traditions come from our families of origin. The other day I was having the Advent conversation with a friend and I just said "My family did things this way and I think they did a good job!" but then afterwards I realized that is a bit lazy. There are good traditions and ideas out there for celebrating Advent and Christmas; they're not necessarily better or the best, but that doesn't mean I should be closed off to other ideas.

  7. Ellen I love this! We don't decorate fully until a little closer to Christmas but that has become mostly so we can celebrate my mom's feast (December 5) without the distraction of anything else. I really want the kids to know and love their heavenly grandma and I cherish that day so much. It does help me to stay focused on the season of Advent too, but we still listen to Christmas music, and read Christmas books, and watch Christmas movies (Meet Me in St. Louis!). Like you said there are so many other more important things to worry about than how everyone celebrates and prepares. Thanks for posting this! And we love the FP nativity!

  8. Oh sigh… don't you just love it when you find some blog and you are like,' yup, yup' and a little more 'yup' to add to the 'yup'. Another thing I love about your blog that matches my thoughts is maybe I will one day evolve on the Advent is suppose to be ADVENT front- who knows? As my kids get older, 'teaching' them can be intricate, but for now, man the build up to Jesus is birthday is completed aided by the secular understanding of Christmas… it really is.

    Oh, and I love me some fisher price nativity! We do one that hangs on our wall and our kids add a piece each day. I like it being on the wall, because man… all the pieces. I hate pieces and toddlers 🙂

    • Hey Mary! I'm glad you feel me! I really hope when the kids get older that we can introduce the Jesse Tree, but right now (with a 3 year old and 1 year old) it would be mostly over their heads so… Fisher Price Nativity it is! And yeah, I'm pretty sure all the pieces will drive me nuts, but I'm also planning on taking most of the other toys out of the living room during Advent and Christmas so hopefully I won't take my clutter rage out on sweet, plastic, little, baby Jesus.

  9. We have the Melissa and Doug one and it falls over all the time. I'm planning on the FP one as a gift this year. For what it's worth.

    • I hope it works out better! Who knows, the Fisher Price one might be a flop with my kids, but with the way Gus slobbers and chews on everything, it's our best bet! Growing up, we played with our family nativity, but sadly, all the characters were glued into the stable. Except for Baby Jesus, you could take him out and that left a sharp tack in the manger which is what held Baby Jesus in. So! We survived! And we grew up with awe and joy in the season, as well as pricked fingers!

  10. How did I miss this when you posted it? Yes, we all love the Fisher Price nativity too 🙂 There's a lot of Christmas & Advent idealism I've let go of – last year I ended up feeling really bummed out when we didn't decorate until Christmas eve! This year we still haven't done much, but it's definitely more and no Advent police are knocking on my door 😛

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