It’s that time of year again. That holiday time when everything seems to go a little faster. Signs in stores announce the number of shopping days until Christmas, television commercials announce the new items the family “must have” this year, and the kids are full of energy in anticipation of their favorite holiday. When all this happens within the context of a culture that is driven by efficiency, immediacy, and newness, parents can go into high gear – the holidays can be stressful.
Contrast this with what is happening in our Church year. We have reached the end of Ordinary Time and have come to a period of quiet. We hear Scriptures about being prepared, not materially, but spiritually. We sing songs about waiting in darkness and longing for the light. Could it be that the antidote for holiday stress may be as close as our Catholic faith?
St. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22 that patience is a “fruit” of the Spirit. Patience is difficult in a culture of instant gratification. We catch ourselves honking the horn when the light has been green for three seconds and the car in front of us hasn’t moved. We sigh and roll our eyes when were in line and the person behind the counter has to go to the back to get something. We even rush to end mealtime conversations with friends and family so we can check more items off the list. Could it be that in our rush to get things done, we are forgetting to really live? Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, RSV). How can we make our hearts and homes open to the life that only Christ can bring as we prepare to celebrate his coming into the world?
Perhaps this year, it’s time to truly celebrate Advent. Place an advent wreath in a prominent place. Make a special effort to have meals together, and light the candles, praying together at these times. Be conscious of, and participate in, parish observances of St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6), the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), and (if you are in an Hispanic parish) Las Posadas. Keep an advent calendar, and keep Christmas decorations to a minimum until Christmas arrives. You may even wish to save at least some Christmas gifts for Epiphany, when gifts are exchanged in many other countries. Consider doing good works as a family for the poor in your community, or help out a little extra at your parish. Spend some time making gifts for one another.
Being deliberate about our observance of Advent can send a powerful message to our children: This is not just a time to “wait it out,” but a time to grow.
When Christmas finally arrives, make it a point to share that the greatest gift of all was God’s gift of himself – Jesus Christ. Wrap the baby Jesus from your nativity scene in a gift box, and open that gift first when gifts are exchanged. If you have young children, you may wish to lead them in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.
No matter how you celebrate, now is a great opportunity to teach your children the meaning of the old adage, “Good things come to those who wait.”
“They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31, RSV).