For as long as I can remember, the secular culture has been swept up in a "Christmas craze" for weeks leading up to the Birth of Our Lord. Over the past few years, I've also noticed that it is easy for Catholics-all Christians who observe Advent, really-to get overwhelmed with an "Advent craze." Articles abound with list upon list of activities we can complete to give ourselves and our children a "meaningful" Advent. I suppose the "do unique activities everyday" approach may work for some people, but-despite my love for liturgical year activities-I do not feel inclined to share in this busyness.
As I learn about the need that young children have for silence and space to contemplate God (the importance of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium, for example), I find myself pondering how I need silence and space to contemplate God. I've been finding that there is a very real pressure to think that "good Catholics" need to do x, y, and z during Advent; to think that "good Catholics" need to have a lengthy list of observances that they and their children are adhering to for the four weeks leading up to Christmas.
Instead of trying to do all the traditions (that come from different countries and various time periods) simply because that's what all of the Catholic "mommy bloggers" are doing, I'm finding value in stepping back from all of the noise. My children-and myself-can benefit immensely from continuing to steep ourselves in the liturgical life of the Church through practices like daily Mass and prayer together. We gleefully celebrate the feasts of St. Nicholas and Lucy with friends. We scoot together around the table with cups of tea and star sugar cookies as we read picture books for this special season. As we peruse The Night of Las Posadas (by Tomie de Paola) we take a moment to look up at a statue that adorns our home altar this month: A pregnant Mary, riding on a donkey as Joseph guides her to Bethlehem.
An Advent wreath adorns our table, and we gather to sing as the flickering candle dances before dinner each evening. Two kid-friendly nativity sets lay scattered across the floor, where my children have excitedly played with them time and time again since this season began. Our Christmas tree stands bare, a purple cloth wound around its base; it is a visible reminder of the simplicity and penitential character of this season.
We have given ourselves space to sink into Advent through simple means. I can't speak for the rest of my family, but this quiet, this stillness has aided my prayer. Especially as we anticipate travelling later this month to visit relatives, I've been meditating on the Holy Family: on their (presumably uncomfortable) journey to Bethlehem, in the uncertainties they faced when travelling, and in the upheaval of their lives as they fled to a foreign country.
The liturgical year has only just begun, and I am sure that God has many surprises coming my way, and several lessons to teach me. There is much work I have to do in my own life to prepare my heart and soul for the coming of Our Lord, both at Christmas and at the end of time.
For those of you who, like me, are overwhelmed by all of the five million Advent practices out there: don't worry about choosing the simple path-even if it seems like everyone else is doing so much more than you. There is much beauty in the quiet ways of Advent.
No matter if you do different activities each day or if you strive for more silence and simplicity, I hope that you are able to draw from the peace of Christ in this beautiful season of Advent. May we all grow closer to Christ as we prepare to celebrate his glorious birth!