I love my husband. I know that as a newlywed and wife in general, that sentence should always be able to roll off my tongue without a drip of sarcasm or irony. But in this season of Advent—the season of hope, joy, faith, and peace—I am reflecting on the blessings that I’ve been given this year.
I met my husband, got engaged, married him, took a super-fun family vacation, learned that my best friend is a bad ass in every sense of the word, saw my husband through the lens of his closest friends and family, and witnessed people come together for an unforeseen tragedy—in some cases the people didn’t even know those whom the tragedy befell.
The world grieved the losses of talent through the deaths of countless actors and musicians such as Alan Rickman, David Bowie, Prince, Florence Henderson, Kenny Baker, and Gary Marshall, to name a few. I also lost my last living grandparent just after she celebrated her 94th birthday and in the early fall, the sudden loss of a cousin, without any warning.
I know that many on my Facebook feed are ready for this year to end. It hasn’t been a great one for the United States. The entertainment industry has been decimated and we saw the ugliest election in my lifetime. Yet, in the midst of 2016’s wake, I can still honestly say: I am so grateful for 2016.
I am grateful that my husband and my daughter and I are making new family traditions. I am grateful that my small nuclear family has expanded and that my extended family has more than doubled through my in-laws.
In this Advent season (and the upcoming Christmas season), it’s easy to get caught up in everything the world tells us to. The world tells us that we’re supposed to sing gimmicky song after gimmicky song (I see you, ”I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and “Dominick the Donkey”) and buy cheap trinkets that will not only NOT hold our loved one’s attentions more than 15 seconds, but may not even last that long to begin with.
We’re supposed to decorate our homes for Christmas before Thanksgiving, start listening to Christmas music on November 1, and leave our family behind at the dining room table so that we can get in line to grab the hottest technology piece on the market (which is already outdated and will be replaced by Super Bowl Sunday). It’s about having gifts. All the gifts. It’s a season of keeping up with Joneses.
In the Catholic world, we know better.
We know that Advent is a season of waiting. We’re patiently awaiting the coming of the Messiah. God’s gift to us. His one holy begotten son. It’s easy to get caught up in the world. But we’d like to challenge you to not be of the world. You are of Jesus, living in the world.
Here are my top five tips on making Advent a reflective, holy season in your own domestic church.
I love Christmas decorations. I love the lights. I love the Nativity scenes. I love garlands and bows and banisters, yard art, those little projections on a house simulating snow. I love it all. Loving all things Christmas is almost hereditary in my family, and it’s a dominant gene. Therefore, I always decorate the house and put up the tree in Advent, well before Christmas. But this year, we decided to be a little more simplistic. We have a tree, homemade garland on our mantle (and stockings!), and a lovely sign that has a silhouette of the Nativity on wood that says “Oh Holy Night.” We also have multiple Nativity scenes throughout our home and a Christmas village. Not every wall needed adornments. Some years, it’s looked like Christmas threw up all over our house. We chose instead to focus this year on small, intentional decorations that reflect our personality, the fact that we’re celebrating Jesus, and that add to the homey feel of our home.
We have an Advent wreath that was the easiest DIY of all time. It’s a small wreath from the Dollar Tree. Inside the wreath are four small glass votive candle holders holding three purple candles and one pink candle (all from Wal-Mart). As a little extra for this year, in the center of the wreath is a lovely statue of a pregnant Virgin Mary. It was my Mother’s Day present this year, and it really helps us to focus on what Advent is all about. On Christmas Day, we’ll replace the statue with a white candle (also in a small glass votive candle holder). We light the appropriate candles on the appropriate Sunday and say a prayer. On December 5, we leave a shoe out and wake up to small gifts, reminding us of the kindness of St. Nicholas (whose feast day is December 6). December 8, we go to Mass as a family. On December 13, the feast day of St. Lucy (one of my daughter’s favorites), we drive around looking for lights.
“The tree is a pagan thing!” they scream. Maybe. But, in the words of my friend Brittany, “God made the trees before they were used as a pagan thing.” She has a good point. The Christmas tree is an example of God’s creation, as are we. Its branches, which form a triangle, are almost like an arrow, pointing us toward Heaven. It is an evergreen and is called such because it is always green. This reminds us of life eternal. See? Since God is in everything, it’s not a stretch to see his son in everything. Wreaths are round (eternal, unending) and also made from evergreens. Stars on the tree? Heaven. Angels? They announced Jesus’ presence to Mary, shepherds, and the three kings. Christmas lights and fire? Jesus is the light. Use known objects in the world to teach the truth to your family.
This post began with me talking about being grateful for this year. We’ve been totally blessed in my family. I imagine many of you have been as well. Not everyone has, though. I want to give back to those who need it the most. In preparation for the aftermath of Christmas presents, my daughter went through her things. She decided to donate five Build-A-Bears to a local children’s hospital. She wants to donate her Disney Princess castle to a little girl who wants a dollhouse. She donated 37 new toys to her school’s Toys for Tots drive. We selected three children and three seniors from the Salvation Army Angel Tree. I donated to a homeless family. We are always called to be the light of Christ to others. Especially in this season, when it’s all about materialism and the gimme-gimmes, it’s nice to be the odd family out and remember what Christ preached. It’s nice to remember what made St. Nicholas the world-wide symbol for holiday giving. It’s nice to be Jesus to the least of these.
Advent is a great time to rekindle a prayer life if yours is not where you’d like it. I think of the Blessed Mother, pregnant, not really sure how her fiancée is going to feel about it, knowing that she’s bearing the begotten son of God (which would be enough to stress anyone out) and then TRAVELING ON FOOT to serve her pregnant cousin. Was she stressing out on the road? Was she having the crisis that I’m sure I’d have had? No. She prayed. The Magnificat is a beautiful prayer and it has a special place in my heart. We could all look to Mary’s example of how to deal with the things life throws your way that you aren’t expecting. Especially with the stress the holidays often bring, be like Mary. Pray.
I hope your Advent is an amazing journey of family, memories, prayer, and the true spirit of Jesus. Look for Rachel’s top five tips on keeping Advent holy soon!