After seeing the startling number of full-blown Christmas decorations go up around the neighborhood and on social media, I can’t help but lament, poor Advent. Now of course, our Protestant friends do not celebrate Advent in the same way as Catholics, so I cannot expect those people to seek to learn or apply Catholic traditions to their lives. But Catholics, what are you doing to prepare for Advent? Decorating your Christmas tree doesn’t count. I was most shocked by the lack of information I—a cradle Catholic— had never gotten about the truth and seriousness of the Advent season.
What first sparked my curiosity was reading through The Little Flower Prayerbook, A Carmelite Manual of Prayer, first published in 1926. It states that the Friday’s in Advent were not only days of Abstinence (still Canon Law, by the way) but also Fast Days. The tone of keeping Advent “quiet” was very much reiterated in Kendra Tierney’s Catholic All Year (which I HIGHLY recommend!). While Kendra adds her family’s traditions in detail in the book, I will highlight the traditions my family does (or will begin) here.
To start, it is NOT YET ADVENT, FOLKS! We just celebrated the Last Sunday After Pentecost (or Christ the King Sunday for all you New Order folks) and the Catholic New Year has yet to strike! My family will be celebrating this year with a fancy dinner and movies/ present wrapping for Liam and me once the boys are asleep. We strive to get our Christmas shopping done before Advent begins so that the materialism associated with gifts doesn’t cloud our eager anticipation of Christ’s birth! This way, we only need to assemble certain toys and stuff stockings on Christmas Eve. With enough planning, this can be done! I even know some moms who are done shopping before Thanksgiving! Last Advent, I wrote on our family gift giving rules . Other than buying gifts, no decorations have been set out just yet. By this time, I usually have my Christmas cards ready to go (all about that no-stress Advent!), but will send them out the Monday after Advent begins.
Even though decorating is a joyful thing for my family and I really cannot wait (!), there is prudence in exhibiting just a little self-control in that area. When I am tempted (thank you, Instagram) to rummage through my Christmas boxes, I pause for a moment to remind myself why I am waiting to do so—preparation of my heart—silencing of my heart. You simply cannot silence your soul in a room or home full of noise (even if it is joyful!). Just like Easter, the Advent season *should* challenge us to prepare our hearts for this great joy. Waiting for Advent has also taken a ton of stress off of me and allowed me to really clean up after Thanksgiving! Liam bans any Christmas music until after the 1st Sunday of Advent so there’s that (though I will admit I sneak it in the minivan sometimes!). We decided that a good pace for us is hanging one decoration a day once Advent begins. Since the Catholic Church is so rich in Christmas tradition, most of these decorations will remain up in our home until Candlemas (February 2nd).
In addition to fasting on Friday’s (and Christmas Eve!), our family is taking a page from Kendra’s book (literally) and not eating sweets during Advent unless it correlates with a Feast Day. We already began to make our own family feast days special, and want to continue to do so throughout all liturgical seasons. Saints Nicholas, Lucy, Stephen, and the Holy Innocents are great and of course, Our Lady of Guadalupe. We decided to celebrate St. Nick’s day with a liturgical gift for the boys and also for our godchildren. We figured it would be a nice treat for them to get a little something before they are swarmed with gifts from parents, grandparents, friends, and other family on Christmas day. We found a great Mexican Restaurant to get tamales for take out on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and will string our outdoor and Christmas tree lights on the feast day of St. Lucy. This means that we will have a bare tree for almost a week, and for awhile after that, a tree with only lights. Some very traditional Catholics get and decorate their tree on Christmas Eve, but with littles and family visiting, that just is not doable for us, so we decided our tree-decorating day will be on Gaudete Sunday. The slow but steady pace of decorating our home *should* mirror the work we are doing to prepare our hearts.
A tradition my kids will begin once they’re a little older is donating three toys before the first Sunday of Advent. Since they normally get three items from us on Christmas, this is yet another way to make our lives a little less noisy and a tangible way for a child to make do with less until they are blessed with more. They already do not watch any TV but we are looking forward (in a few years) to Christmas movie watching as a family during the 12 Days of Christmas (ending on January 6th). We would like to begin more acts of service during the Advent season, and I am waiting on some other bloggers with older kids to write about their experiences. Some that I’ve heard are: making cookies for trash truck drivers and mail men (and women). For a military family, this would also include the MP’s (biased, I know), and the gate guards.
The 2019 Liturgical Year marks a very special time in the FitzGerald family. After much discernment and research, Liam and I have decided to abide fully by the 1962 Catholic Roman Missal. The liturgical abuses we continue to see (with no correction in sight) at various New Order Masses (across the country!) have led us to question the validity and competence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. We are still 100% committed to the One, Holy, and Apostolic Church but will continue to peacefully protest the grave abuses that, while merely annoying to us, surely wound our Lord’s most Sacred Heart.
So, to all my faithful family and friends, Happy Catholic New Year! I am praying for you all to have a peaceful and quiet Advent season, and a very jubilant Christmas!