Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Some Advent thoughts

Well, I'm back!

To tell you the truth, I had really planned on blogging yesterday. But I forgot about it being Cyber Monday. I avoid Black Friday sales like the plague, but when my email inbox fills up with free shipping offers from retailers who almost never offer free shipping unless you spend more than some utterly ridiculous amount of money, I find myself incapable of ignoring these offers; in these economic times, it would be foolish to wait until later to buy from these same stores and pay extra money for shipping if I already know I plan to shop at these places, and can have the items I'm purchasing sent out for free.

We do, however, try to keep Christmas relatively simple. By "relatively," I mean that the girls give us a three-item wish list (and one of the items for each this year was a book), and we then get a few small surprises of the art and craft materials variety (sketchbooks are popular this year). Rounding out the Christmas gifts are such things as practical clothing items and a few girlish stocking stuffers (such as hand lotion--hugely appreciated in dry Texas--and perhaps some Christmas candy).

To me, that's a relatively simple, but joyful and fun, Christmas. But I've learned not to call it a "simple" Christmas without the qualifier, because some person who has adopted a much more minimalist style than I'd ever be capable of doing is sure to come and set me straight. A truly simple Christmas, some say, can't involve any gifts under the tree--or, if a gift is presented, it ought to be a block of wood with some nails for each boy, and a brightly colored ball of yarn for each girl. Anything else is much too materialistic, say the truly crunchy minimalists out there.

I'm not denigrating those who chose such a lifestyle; there's much that is admirable about it. And certainly in our culture which is so surrounded by materialism, it's hard to know if one is falling for the siren song of the cash registers and setting aside any judicious plans for restraint. In America, Christmas has almost become synonymous with commercial excess, such that it's difficult at times to know if we're crossing the line from joyful celebration to insane explosions of colored lights and equally colorful plastic.

But like so many similar things, I think the challenge we have is to live in the world while not being of the world. It is difficult sometimes, let us say, to drink in moderation--but unless we have a real problem with alcohol, it is perhaps wiser to cultivate the ability to drink in moderation than to avoid all alcoholic beverages lest we fail to drink moderately. It is difficult, sometimes, to eat in moderation; but it is good to practice asceticism on occasion but be capable of joyful feasting as well, than to be abstemious on principle, and eat the same meager fare regardless of the occasion. It is difficult, sometimes, to select carefully among leisure activities or opportunities for entertainment--but it is not especially wise to avoid all leisure or recreation on the grounds that these things are always bad for one. And so it may be difficult to avoid getting caught up in the consumer hype that rains down upon Christmas; but it is a worthwhile thing, I think, to determine the proper limits of one's family celebration while still enjoying some of the traditional ways in which we celebrate Our Lord's birthday.

However our families choose to celebrate Christmas, the one thing that can help set us apart as Catholics is how we choose to celebrate Advent. Instead of looking at Advent as the time to begin the feasting and partying and celebrations that come with Christmas, we can remember that it is a solemn season, with penitential undertones and a great deal of subdued restraint, which is slowly replaced with the joyful anticipation which fills Gaudete Sunday and then reaches its heights on Christmas Day. The practice of lighting Advent candles, putting up a Jesse Tree and doing the corresponding readings, and engaging in little acts of prayer and sacrifice as we move toward Christmas will all help keep the focus where it should be.

To be honest, my endeavors yesterday in the world of online shopping will also help me to do this--because as every mother knows, it falls mainly to us to take care of the work of planning and preparation for Christmas. The less time I have to take away from Advent thoughts and activities to spend on Christmas shopping, the better! :-)

What are you doing for Advent this year? How are you planning to make Christ the center of your Christmas? I'd love to hear!


JMB said...

Just as in Lent, I'm going to Daily Mass everyday.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think that because the mainstream culture has little idea of fasting and restraint, some Christians overcompensate and forget the idea of feasting.

Scott W.

Willa said...

My son told me that his tutor in college would say "You can't practice temperance if you are a teetotaller." I guess you are making the same sort of point in regard to living Advent and Christmas as Catholics in our thoroughly secular society.