As I mentioned in the previous post, we have now reached the empty nest phase of our lives. Children still come through our doors but they are visitors, not residents. Overall, I feel very blessed by my children. I know I did the best job as a mom I could do at each stage of their lives. Of course, that does not stop me from musing about "what if's". There are definitely some things I would have done differently if I had the wisdom at age 25 that I now have some three decades later.
The Advent and Christmas seasons bring this to the forefront. I did always mark the season of Advent with a nativity scene and an Advent wreath. But I was probably ten years in to this parenting adventure before I really appreciated the value of the liturgical calendar. The rhythm of the liturgical seasons with their special feasts and traditions keep a family focused on God's time, not the world's time.
So just looking at Advent and Christmas there are some things I wish I had done from the very beginning and other things I am grateful that I figured out early on. I had Christmas dishes but they stayed in storage and were brought out for Christmas entertaining and on Christmas Day. It was hard to justify the storage space for these dishes when they were used so infrequently. Then I realized that if Advent and Christmas are seasons, I can use the dishes throughout the season. So part of the first Sunday of Advent ritual was changing out the dishes. From the First Sunday of Advent through Epiphany I use my Christmas dishes. This was a daily signal to the kids that Christmas is coming.
What I didn't take advantage of were all the wonderful feast days during Advent. For example, it has only been in the last ten years that I consistently marked the Feast of St. Nicholas. The Feast of St. Lucy is the perfect day to begin Christmas baking. I wish that I had promoted a family Rosary on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to distinctly mark these Marian days.
Christmas is a season, not just a single day. Yet after putting up decorations in October the secular world stops all Christmas carols and takes down the decorations as soon as the day is done. It is not uncommon to see discarded trees on the curb on December 26. I am sorry to see so many neighbors stop turning on the Christmas lights once Christmas Day has passed. I do understand after the mayhem of Christmas morning it is tempting to quickly put everything back in order. All of those New Year's resolutions to be more organized are looming and there is an urge to get a running start on discipline. I think part of the problem is that all of the gifts are exchanged on Christmas Day so there is nothing anyone is really looking forward to after that. Christmas is defined by the material and not the spiritual.
My solution that I did not implement with my own children, but I wish I had stems from basing our celebrations on the liturgical calendar. I would begin Advent as always. I would mark St. Nicholas Day with candy or other small treats in their shoes and perhaps a small wrapped package at their dinner place.
I would try to keep the focus of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on family and on Mass. We would have our big family dinner and and attend Mass together but gifts would be de-emphasized. In the current culture it is unrealistic to make Christmas Day devoid of gifts. However, I think I would make it a stockings only gift day. If family is visiting and leaving soon after Christmas Day we could exchange gifts with them. However, all other packages would stay under the tree.
My mother told me that in her Hispanic community as a child, most gifts were received on Epiphany. I wish I had done that. The gifts given and received are tied to the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child. I also like the idea of keeping the Three Kings from our nativity scene wandering about the house throughout Advent and Christmas and having them arrive at the manger scene on Epiphany.
I don't think I failed at celebrating the Advent and Christmas seasons with my children and I don't think there was anything wrong in the way our Christmas traditions evolved. I am not even certain that doing the things I described above would be better and not just different. I just wish I had been smart enough back then to give it a try.