Christmas is undoubtedly most people’s favorite time of the year. Even our favorite seasonal songs proclaim it! It’s a time for family, a time for giving, celebrating and feasting – what’s not to love!
It definitely seems to start earlier and earlier every year, barely waiting till after the ghouls of Halloween have been laid back to rest. Corporatism, consumerism and materialism have subdued the real joy of Christmas in exchange for a counterfeit happiness of receiving the latest and greatest things our day has to offer.
It’s so easy to forget what Christmas is all about, or the fact that we humans could use some time to prepare our hearts for such a momentous day.
This is where Advent comes in. It begins 4 Sunday’s prior to Christmas, and is a season marked by an inward-turning, a time where we purposefully recognize the things in our lives and hearts that may prevent us from embracing the true joy of Christmas – that God, out of love for us, became a humble babe and was born of a woman that we may have eternal life.
Every year, my parish priest preaches on the need to observe Advent, calling his congregation to even hold off on setting up their Christmas trees in order to fully invest in the season of Advent. I have yet to follow that part of his advice (hello cozy evening lit by twinkle lights!), but there is wisdom in recognizing that preparing for Christmas on the inside is far more important than making sure the tree is trimmed.
So I guess the question is, how do you have your cake and eat it too?
That’s where this post will hopefully help! I’ve got a few ideas of how you can put up your tree in full regalia, blast all your favorite Christmas music classics, and still use Advent to prepare for the joy of Jesus’ Birthday.
1 Read the Gospel of Luke a chapter a day starting December 1. This is totally not my idea, but I did it last year, and it was a perfect and easy way to prepare for Christmas. Luke is 24 chapters long so this reading plan will have you read through the life of Christ by Christmas Eve. Each chapter takes about 5 minutes to read, so even adding 10 minutes of reflection makes this a busy-person’s dream.
2 Go on a Handel’s Messiah Scavenger Hunt. We’re all familiar with this angelic masterpiece that becomes popular this time of year, but have you ever really listened to the words? Most of GF Handel’s lyrics are verses taken directly from the prophetic books of scripture, all pointing to Christ. The oratorio has 3 parts, the first part being focused on the Birth of Christ. Go through Part I and find all the verses in your bible. Read around the verses as well, to take in the full context of Scripture. It’s a beautiful way to take in the magnitude of the birth of our Savior, that his coming was the fulfillment of so much longing and so many prophecies.
Edit: After I posted this, my friend Genie over at Barefoot Abbey sent me this amazing book she wrote to take your study of Handel’s masterpiece up to the next level! She has the whole oratorio broken down to be absorbed week by week.
3 Turn off the TV and dive into a good book. This season is notoriously hectic and stressful, and if we allow the busy to take control, we can easily miss the joy of Christmas Day. Take advantage of the early sunsets and frigid temps to allow yourself time to breathe this Advent. Take at least one evening every week (maybe 2) off from all the “busy” noise – TV, online shopping, meal planning, etc. Light up the fireplace if you have one, or a seasonally-scented candle if you don’t. Pour yourself a warm cup of tea (go ahead and make it hot tottie, wink wink) or an adult hot cocoa (also wink), and curl up with a good book or prayer journal. Pro tip: do this after the kiddos are nestled all snug in their beds.
4 Make the Advent Wreath a centerpiece in your home. This can be the literal centerpiece on your dining table, or the center of your day as your family gathers to say the Advent wreath prayers. I have a couple of ideas of how you can make your own that will last year to year. For a beautiful centerpiece on your dining or coffee table, wrap pillar candles in purple and pink ribbon and arrange on a pretty charger plate with trimmings from your tree. If you have limited surface area out of reach of little hands, check out this post where I share how to make your own hanging Advent wreath. (If you’ve never had an Advent wreath but would like to start this year, here’s a little more about the meaning behind it.)
5 Set up your Nativity Scene – halfway. This is a fun, tangible way to teach your kids about preparing for Christmas. Set up your stable with the animals and other figurines, BUT make Mary and Joseph travel to it. Talk about the journey Mary and Joseph took as you move them to different places in your home, closer and closer to the stable each week. On Christmas Eve, put them in the stable building, and on Christmas morning, place Baby Jesus in the manger. This is also fun to do with the Wise Men after Christmas, making them travel around your home until Epiphany on January 6.
Bonus: Get your shopping done early! This may mean keeping gift lists short and simple, and that’s ok. Consider making – or having your kids make – gifts for family members and friends, adding homemade ornaments to bottles of wine, or putting a fresh batch of Christmas cookies in a pretty tin for special delivery.
The joy and the wonder of Christmas doesn’t come from the latest gadgets, and it has never had a pricetag. The reason Christmas captivates us over and over again is because it marks the overwhelming reality that we are loved infinitely and perfectly by a God who would stoop to becoming a baby just to prove it. The joy of this season will come for us when we radiate that same kind of love back out to all those we meet. Advent is the time to make that our reality.