Waiting in Joyful Hope

Advent is a tricky little season. On the one hand it’s a kind of “little Lent” inviting Christians to enter into the hush and mystery of God – God! – becoming a tiny baby boy, laid in a manger where animals eat and birthed in conditions no first-world woman would consider laboring in.

On the other hand, it’s the last 4 weeks before Christmas, the end of the calendar year, and jam-packed with more parties, social obligations, and family traditions than the previous eleven months combined.

As parents the balance can be especially tricky with excitable small people who are rightfully enthralled by blinking Christmas lights, a giant evergreen tree shedding needles and the scent of heaven itself in the living room, and a shortened school calendar punctuated by plays and festivals and parties. Their little voices cry out in delight at the mere glimpse of the Christmas aisle(s) at Costco, and they develop a disturbingly insatiable thirst for hot cocoa.

But Advent. Peaceful, expectant waiting. Austerity, even.

Enter the brilliance of the liturgical calendar.

Isn’t Holy Mother Church so generous to pepper this short little season of expectant hope with a multitude of fabulous feasts? I have never appreciated it more than I do now, as the mother of three young children, these multiple opportunities she presents us with each week of Advent to kick up our heels and celebrate a little.

After one particularly harrowing afternoon involving lots of laundry and lots of craft glue, I was able to fire a happy little text to my homebound husband to swing by and procure a bottle of nice Spanish wine for dinner, because St. Francis Xavier! (And don’t worry, we also watched the CCC movie of his daring evangelistic efforts in the Far East and talked about the Jesuits.)

We try to use our party days well in Advent, confining the necessary tasks of preparing Christmas for a family to those days which are supposed to be filled with joy and merriment. So, the Christmas tree comes home on the first Sunday of Advent. St. Francis Xavier’s Spanish heritage is toasted to (and mommy finishes addressing the Christmas cards). Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day may find us drinking margaritas and pencilling in commitments on our social calendar for the season, and the feast of St. Lucy might be an occasion to cruise the neighborhood with hot chocolate and admire all the incredible Christmas lights before putting tired little sugar plums to bed and getting a head start on the gift wrapping.

And of course, St. Nicholas will show up to fill shoes with chocolate coins and take the kids’ letters to Santa. Two for one.

It doesn’t have to be a time of teeth-gritting and culture wars. I think it’s more than possible to embrace Advent while still living very much in the present world. It’s exciting to gradually introduce the pomp and circumstance of Christmas into our hearts and homes, adding layers of beauty and decoration each week as we light another candle and draw a little closer to Bethlehem. Mary did plenty of prep work in the days and weeks leading up to His birth. She knows well the endless to-dos of motherhood and homemaking.

What are some practical and fun ways you can contrive to combine the more worldly (but still necessary) tasks of gearing up for Christmas to coincide with the beautiful liturgical rhythm of Advent?

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Jenny Uebbing is a freelance editor and writer for Catholic News Agency. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband Dave and their growing army of toddlers. She writes about marriage, life issues, politics, sociological trends, and traveling with kids here.

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