Advent can actually be a very reflective season. Amidst the clutter of catalogues and glossy department store ads, unwritten Christmas cards, and unbaked cookies, there is a serene but firm little voice asking, “What really matters?” Gifts, cards, cookies, lights, and garland are all wonderful if they point us to the true meaning of Christmas. But if they become an end in and of themselves and distract us from the awesomeness of the Incarnation, it is time to let them go.
After nearly a quarter century of marriage, I have amassed quite an assortment of Christmas decorations. Every year I find “just one more thing” at the after Christmas sales. I am finally getting comfortable with the idea that not every decoration has to come out every year. Other than the nativity scene and the Advent wreath, all decorations are optional. So as Advent proceeds, I pull out something here and there. I don’t do an all out decorating blitz that dramatically transforms my home into the wonderland featured in Southern Living. Rather, my home evolves into Christmas. I also set an arbitrary deadline of December 20. If it is not out by then, it is not coming out.
I love baking Christmas cookies and my family loves eating Christmas cookies. Some years I have dozens and dozens of cookies in a wide assortment of flavors. Some years I can manage just a few sugar cookies. Yet, regardless of my Christmas cookie offerings, Christmas will still arrive and we will still celebrate the birth of our Savior. So I can’t let the “responsibility” to bake cookies become a burden. If it works out that we can celebrate Christmas with homemade sugar cookies, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, peanut butter Santa surprises and biscochitos, great! If not, that’s okay too. Christmas still comes.
Before I put all the Christmas fluff on my to-do list, I need to make sure I have put the really important things up top:
1. Go to confession—I need a clean soul to begin the new liturgical year.
2. Make time for daily prayer—Mass, a Rosary, an Advent meditation are all good options
3. Be a joyful witness of the Gospel—Who is going to believe we are celebrating the most joyful event in human history if Christmas makes me grouchy?
4. Remember both the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy—When I bring in the canned goods for the food bank, I must not forget to pray for the food recipients.
If I can get through these four items, then my heart will be prepared to sing “Joy to the World” on Christmas Day.