Before I read that follow-up post, though, I had started thinking about what advice I’d give other people (and myself, come to think of it), when it comes to Advent. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the things that can be done and feel like they should be done. It’s easy to focus on Christmas and forget that we’re preparing, not celebrating. In short, it’s all too tempting to put ourselves in a losing feeling-overwhelmed state of being.
There’s a lot of DOING that is a necessary part of Advent preparation. Let’s not add to it and make ourselves dread this season of joyful anticipation. Let’s savor the moments and keep things as simple as we can. There’s always next year…and if there’s not, what is there to gain by making this year a rat race?
Pick one thing.
There’s no shortage of ideas, suggestions, and great ways to use Advent to prepare yourself and your family for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Day. Picking one might sound underwhelming, but that’s my loud advice to everyone. What will work best for you? That’s a conversation you need to have…with your spouse, your children, yourself. You might only be able to handle a small prayer every day, and that’s okay. Change your before meal prayer to something Advent-themed; add a character to your nativity set every day; use an Advent calendar to count down the days. ONE THING. That’s it.
You probably already pray, but this is something special. I’m not suggesting that you do something complicated. I find myself drawn to the Praying Advent website year after year, though the amount of time I can spend with that varies. This year, I might pick one of their prayers for each week and pray it in the morning and the evening. I want to be ready for the Christ Child, but I know myself well enough to know I have to plant the seeds every single day. Maybe what works for you will be something like an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be while you’re in the shower or in your car, followed by a request to Jesus to guide you to Him throughout Advent.
Set the tone with Advent music.
You’ll probably have to do your own searching, because what’s on the air right now is Christmas music. There’s a place for that, though I find that by the time the Christmas season gets here, if I’ve been listening to Christmas music, I’m so burned out and bah-humbuggy that I have nothing nice to say about the sounds of the season. The season coming up, though, is Advent. Use music to set the tone in your house, to remind you of the season, to calm you when you feel yourself losing your mind.
Here are some of the suggestions I’m adding to my Advent playlist to help me prepare (with special thanks to Michelle, our parish’s music minister, and my Twitter and Facebook pals):
- The Advent of Our King
- Alma Redemptoris Mater
- Christ the Light is Coming
- The Coming of Our Lord
- Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
- Comfort, Comfort My People
- Coventry Carol
- Drums, Bells, and Chimes
- Joseph’s Lullaby
- Jubilate, Deo
- Lift Up Your Heads
- Mary’s Song
- O Come Divine Messiah
- O Come O Come Emmanuel
- Oh How a Rose E’er Blooming
- On Jordan’s Bank
- People Look East
- Prepare, the Lord is Near
- Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord
- Ready the Way
- Save Us, O Lord
- Savior of the Nations Come
- Sing of Mary
- Take Comfort My People
- A Voice Cries Out
- Wake, O Wake
- Ye Mighty Gates
- You Clouds of Heaven Open Wide
A few of the other suggestions I received:
- Gregorian Chant for Advent & Christmas
- Advent Suite (JM Talbot and Terry Talbot)
- On the Stella Maris album produced by the Daughters of St. Paul, there are some titles appropriate for Advent, including ‘Virgam Florem,’ (verses about Mary’s pregnancy) ‘Mary the Dawn,’ ‘Ave Maria (Desprez)’ (both about Mary’s role in the Incarnation)
- George Winston’s ‘Autumn’ and ‘December’
- Music for Advent by the Choir of Men and Boys at Grace Cathedral
- The Music of Advent and Christmas Vespers, available through Madonna House
- A review of A Season of Hope by Brotherhood of Hope at CatholicMom.com
- Pandora (how have I NOT tried this before?!?), though their Advent music is mostly Christmas music, so you have to enter in selections you already know
Wait to decorate.
This is pretty easy for me, because I have a natural tendency away from any sort of decorating. I find, though, that if I can keep the decorations from going up until the third or fourth Sunday of Advent (there is just no waiting longer — my husband loves Christmas decorations and so do my kids), I have a visible bareness in the house (because of course I have clear out room for the tree and all the rest). There’s room to discuss this non-decorating with my family, and especially as my oldest gets old enough to notice the discrepancy between our lack of decoration and the plethora of green and red everywhere else, and to point out that we’re still getting ready and preparing ourselves. It’s not time to celebrate yet.
Another approach I’ve thought about relating to decorating is doing just a little bit each week of Advent. For someone who is overwhelmed by things like decorating, this approach could work (as long as I have a spreadsheet with the rollout plan fully organized, that is). And, with a new baby sure to be changing the way our household runs during Advent, this might be the year I try it.
Last year, I experienced, for the first time, doing NO Christmas shopping during Advent. None. Nada. Zero. And it was GRRRRRREAT! For what felt like the first time in my life, I understood Advent as a totally different experience, and it was filled with a peace I had never before found in the weeks leading to Christmas.
This year I’m not going to accomplish that goal, but as I thought about it, I realized that shopping less during Advent can help me to keep my focus. Sometimes, shopping is just as much a part of the preparations as anything else, and you can’t avoid it altogether (much as those of us who lack the Shopping Gene hate that fact). But maybe shopping less will help you. For me, this involves both shopping less often and shopping for less stuff.
Focus on YOUR preparation (not what others are doing).
You will be able to find someone who manages to do it all. They have an Advent wreath, daily celebrations of the Advent saints, an interactive Advent calendar, family devotions, and three other things on top.
Which is all wonderful.
Do not, however, be tempted to compare yourself to this person or family. If you find yourself shaking your head and suddenly tempted to reexamine your own Advent observations, STOP. Say a Hail Mary and remember that Mary, holy and perfect though she was, did not do it all either. Jesus isn’t asking you to be a wonderworker. He’s asking you to make yourself ready for His coming…which you can’t do if you’re busy beating yourself up for what you’re not doing.
Breathe. Accept. Smile.
I’m writing this advice for myself. In two weeks — or possibly sooner — I’m going to to need it. Christmas will come, whether I’m ready for it or not. But, by God’s grace, I’ll be closer to ready than I am right now, and it is my prayer — for you and for me — that I can cooperate with the grace He sends my way to help me on that journey through Advent.
What advice do YOU have for Advent?