This year, Christmas came early for my family. My six-year-old daughter who lives in Maine visited us during her Thanksgiving break. Her mother and I rotate who has custody during Christmas vacation. That means my daughter and our Pennsylvania family celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day one year, and the next year we celebrate it before Advent has even started.
The day after Thanksgiving, we visited the Grandparents, opened presents around the tree, had a festive holiday dinner, and even put on the Yule Log. Back at home, we decorated the Christmas tree, hung the stockings, listened to a holiday radio station, and watched our favorite Christmas movies. We made it as close to December 25th as we could for my daughter. It was a strange Thanksgiving, indeed!
Afterward, this caused me some whiplash. I have found myself this year listening to Christmas music earlier, worrying less about the importance of Advent as a distinct season, and generally taking part in more holiday cheer a little sooner than I might have otherwise.
I have had to remind myself of the importance of celebrating Advent. Christmas is so wonderful that it’s hard not just to give into full-blown Christmas before you have even lit the second Advent candle. The danger of losing that distinct season is that it makes Christmas more tame, more safe, perhaps more Hallmark, you could say. Advent reminds us of the connection of Christmas Day with the entirety of the Christian life and our vital calling to testify to the world of the Light who has come and will come again. Advent teaches us to be prepared for Jesus Christ to be in our midst, not just in our memories, in our daily living. Advent fills us with hope of the life of the age to come.
Remembering to celebrate the distinctiveness of Advent has helped remind me of the importance of passing along this season to my children. In many ways it is incredibly difficult to teach Advent when the rest of the world focuses so strongly on Christmas. Danger lies in swinging the pendulum too far in either direction. If you remove Christmas altogether, you risk creating resentment and jealousy with their peers. If you go completely the other way, they lose the incredible value of Advent. Finding a minding ground is a tough line to walk, but there are many ways to capture the spirit of Advent without encapsulating them from Christmas cheer.
Simply taking the time day to day to light the Advent wreath and say prayers is a wonderful, time-tested practice of faith at home. The collects for each Sunday, found in the Book of Common Prayer, make a wonderful seasonal prayer at mealtime, and many congregations print them in the bulletin for you to take home. Advent also provides a great opportunity to discuss issues of consumerism and greed in the context of God’s kingdom and Christ’s coming again, and so can be a wonderful corrective to the secular Christmas season that surrounds our children on a daily basis this time of year.
My strange, early Christmas experience has also been an important reminder that not everyone celebrates this holiday at the same time or in the same way. This is true of many families, who so often end up finding creative ways to celebrate Christmas with different familial configurations. This seems especially true of blended families, who often struggle to make the Christmas season work in their situation.
This will be the first Christmas in my life I did not spend with my daughter. While I do not know yet what that experience will be like, being apart from her on that special day, I anticipate it will be difficult to celebrate. My heart breaks for those who will be apart or estranged from their loved ones this year on Christmas for a whole variety of reasons.
Christmas may have come early for my family, but we continue to celebrate the richness of the season and its role in the entire Church calendar. The answer to many of the issues this time of year is found in intentionality, when we as parents consider thoughtfully and prayerfully how we would like to form our children as future adults to celebrate Advent and Christmas. I pray that all of us become more mindful, both to how our families practice faith this time of year, but also how we recognize the diversity of how others keep this season, and the challenges it can bring.
Happy Advent, Merry Christmas, and may you find joy in however you are celebrating with the ones you love this year!
When are you celebrating Christmas?