To prepare the way for our Lord, John the Baptist withdrew into the desert to fast and pray. We try to imitate that model of self-mortification every Advent, loading ourselves down with parties, shopping, and Holiday Preparations. Surely getting the whole family into matching Christmas sweaters is the new Hair Shirt, right?
It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five things you can do – or rather five things you can not do – to trade in the frenzy and the agony for joy and peace. (I promise none of them involve eating locusts.)
If decorating feels like work, you are doing too much. Clean out your house (that will feel like work, but it’s supposed to), and then decorate just enough. If your dining room is clean and de-cluttered, a purple table cloth or candle shouts “Advent” loud and clear. A tiny tree is just as Christmas-y as a big one. If your decorations are lost in mounds of other junk, what you need is less other junk, not more decorations.
There are a few mandatory holiday events: the office party, Great-Grandma’s drop-in, Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. That’s it. You don’t have to see the Little Singers, the Christmas Parade, the Nutcracker, your cousin’s annual Reindeer Roast, and certainly not anything, ever, at the mall. Unless you truly love it, skip it.
Every holiday craft, recipe, and tradition was not made for you.
Just because Mother did it, the parish is hosting it, or the craft magazine swears the kids will love it, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Think of holiday choices like the phone book: Lots of numbers, but most of them are not for you. Choose the ones that fit with the actual life God has given you. Canon lawyers agree, it is perfectly licit to serve your family store-bought cookies*.
Don’t pray so many ways.
I love Sarah’s Advent book because she tells you not to use every single idea. Your soul is not starving for lack of variety. Dig in deep with the few prayers and devotions God has chosen for you and your family. Be steadfast. Pray them well. Leave the rest for others.
Let someone else spend your money.
You want to feel like a rock star this December? Give away some cold hard cash. It’s got to be your money, so if you are in debt, pay that off first. But if you have some money of your own, that you are free to spend however you like: Give it away. Joy is knowing someone is getting a meal today who would have gone hungry if not for your five dollars.
Jesus is coming. How do we clear a path for the Lord? By emptying it of everything that’s getting in His way.
*No canon lawyers were disturbed in the writing of this post.
image credit: Shrine Chapel