Advent 2010 starts November 28, which is ten days from now. Do you know where your purple candles are?
No? Me neither. In fact, I think I have to go buy a set of purple votives for my Advent...er...candle thing. As it's in a straight line on our fireplace mantle, it would take an extremely charitable person to call it a wreath. But we decided against a wreath years ago when one of our enthusiastic little girls almost knocked the candles over for the umpteenth time, and though our young ladies are long past the age when candles are dangerous for them, we have, in the meantime, added cats to our home. Emmett, our Main Cat, is so laid back and cautious and incurious that were I a believer in reincarnation I would suspect he was some Republican Senator or other come back to life in a more suitable form; but Smidge, our Auxiliary Back-Up Cat, probably has some of Kipling's mongoose in him--except that Smidge's motto is not "Go and Find Out!" but "Go, Find Out, Attack, Destroy, and Neutralize!" which makes him more like a modern-day military industrialist.
Which is why, when Kitten, our oldest girl, handed me some Advent music to take to last week's choir practice (Kitten is extremely organized and fond of keeping track of our music schedules--yay!), my first and second thoughts were, "Oh, gosh. I wonder where I put the Jesse Tree last year?" and "I wonder if we should actually hang up the Jesse Tree, or if Smidge is going to see it as a large brightly-colored felt challenge and good shredding practice for the Christmas Tree Demolition Derby?"
Were it not for regular choir practice, my first indication that Advent was upon us would be either Father's purple vestments or the congregational singing of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" on the first Sunday of the season. In fact, when the girls were little, that usually was my clue to start running around like a maniac looking for candles and wreaths and recipes and activities and wherever the heck I'd put the Jesse tree the year before, in preparation for my annual Christmas stress, on the one hand, or Christmas disappointment, on the other, when I failed to pull off any of the cute and clever and deeply liturgically significant and delicious and lovely and charming and Scriptural things all the other Catholic women out there were doing to celebrate this beautiful time of year.
But that was back when I was younger, and my children were younger, and I wasn't yet comfortable enough in my own skin to realize that my gifts and talents, such as they are, simply aren't the sort of thing that produces hand-crafted yet lavish and useful Christmas gifts, or whips up whole freezers full of delicious treats, or designs and creates an Advent-appropriate decorating scheme that can be magically transformed, at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, into a Christmas wonderland. And attempting to do these things had an unfortunate tendency to take a toll on my sanity (which, regular readers know, is never at a terribly high ebb anyway). And that it's perfectly okay to see some blogger's really creative and clever Advent preparation idea, and even to admire it, without feeling pressure to duplicate it in one's own home--particularly if the creative and clever idea involves a) a glue gun, b) a sewing machine and/or iron, or c) anything requiring truly precision scissor-use.
There were times when this made me feel like a domestic Church slacker (and no, I'm not talking about pants again). There was a temptation to believe that all of these things, or at least the staggering majority of them, were required in order to ensure one's children a meaningful Advent followed by a spiritually significant and holy Christmas. Oh, sure, they weren't technically required. But if you didn't want your children to grow up and become bitter ex-Catholic media types who grudgingly went to Mass at Christmas only because they didn't want a prolonged Christmas lecture from you, then you had to get cracking on everything from the Advent Alphabet to the Nativity Zoo (in which animal crackers might be used to represent symbolically how all of the animals from Noah's Ark were present in spirit with the cows, donkeys and sheep in the creche), and everything in between. [Nota Bene: as far as I know I just made both of those up. If there really is an "Advent Alphabet" craft, or a "Nativity Zoo" craft, let me assure the creator(s) of either that I'm not in any way dissing either idea, or anyone who chooses to do them.]
Now, that wrong impression I had was mine, and only mine. And as I grew up a bit, I realized that our ability to do different things each liturgical season--but especially Advent and Christmas--was going to vary. Travel, illness, other obligations, could and did get in the way of planned daily or weekly Advent activities. Yet my children have grown in the faith, and in their appreciation of these seasons, not by any effort of mine, but by the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, nourished by our usual habits of prayer and worship.
So, if this year Advent is approaching you unawares, or you can't find your purple candles, or you have either a cat or a dog or even, by God's great gift and blessing, a rambunctious toddler around whom some activities (glitter!) are a Really Bad Idea--prepare your heart anyway, and rejoice anyway, and celebrate anyway. What you can do, do with love and kindness and attention and patience and peace; what you can't do, let go, and be at peace. The most important thing the domestic Church models to its members is Love--the Love of God, the Love that is God. The rest is negotiable--yes, even the Advent Wreath and the Jesse Tree.