The consumer-driven culture most of us live in can be quite treacherous to our souls and our aim to guard them and remain in the state of Grace. Since so much of this consumerism is geared toward the pleasures of the flesh and not toward our basic necessities, we have to train ourselves in self-denial and keep ourselves focused on the real meaning and goal of life, to get to heaven. So often Holy Mother Church is there guiding us and calling us back to our center, to point us in the right direction and help us concentrate on the more important things. As a Catholic and a parent, I see Advent is such a time.
Advent is a time of anticipation, a time of waiting. Part of the message of Advent is the anticipation of our own particular judgment, in addition to the celebrating the anniversary of coming of the Redeemer on Christmas Day. During this time of anticipation the Church calls us to do penance and good works and to thoroughly examine ourselves to see where we are in our relationship with God. This may not be as intense or extensive period as the Lenten Season, but is a great opportunity to make a more concerted effort at self-perfection than the ordinary time of the year.
This makes for a very practical time of teaching and training in our families. Our basic Church teachings tell us to beware of the snare of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. In the Western world, the pagan society sees the time right after Thanksgiving as the Christmas season. But there again, that may not be so since they see the name Christ in Christmas. So many are now referring to this as the “holiday” season, which has the word Holy as its root, so we’ll have to see what they come up with next. I’ve often thought that we’ll soon see society revert back to the “winter season of light” much like at the time of St. Patrick, so as not to have any vestiges of anything eternal. But much of this consumer-driven culture tells us to “give in” to our flesh desires and “have it now.” Eat, drink, and be merry. So we have a mass of society that is obese, addicted to drugs, alcohol, and/or gambling, and fraught with convoluted issues resulting from sexual promiscuity. The Church teaches us and trains us to exercise self-discipline, self-denial, self-control, and self-mastery. We are to master our desires. We are higher than the animals. We can master and control our flesh instincts if we are trained to do so. It’s not so much a concept of “don’t” as much as a concept of “wait.” Much like when we may feel a little hunger to eat but we should wait until it is time to eat so that we don’t become overweight. Also, when someone who is not married has a normal healthy sexual tendency, he must control himself to wait until he is married. We are to wait to do certain things when the conditions are right, and it takes training to learn this.
So how does a family celebrate Advent with small children who are naturally awe-inspired by the beautiful lights and humorous characters decorating all the stores and front yards in our neighborhoods? Anticipation.Children love to anticipate. Just today, during Mass, when the Priest mentioned it is December 8 next Sunday, my 5-year-old Benjamin leaned over to me and said “It’s almost my birthday.” He’s excited anticipating his special day on December 9. It comes so naturally to them. So we can participate in some beautiful ancient Advent customs that will busy our little ones, help them to learn the Faith, change up the routine, and prepare for Christmas all at the same time. Some of these activities include the Advent wreath, the Jesse tree, celebrations of St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, and the Immaculate Conception, and the Christmas crib.
We have a very valuable resource we’d like to share with you free of charge—the Advent Bible Readings and Customs booklet, if you just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “Advent booklet” in the subject line. We will send you a pdf format document that outlines simple ways for you to incorporate some of these practices in your home with your family. We have such a rich heritage in the Catholic Church. This is a wonderful opportunity for our children to learn more about our Faith instead of getting more deeply rooted in consumerism. They will know that a true celebration is coming that is centered on Christ. Of course, yes they will still get gifts and have a Christmas tree with beautiful lights, but in keeping with Catholic practices and teaching they will have to wait until it is actually Christmas. Take some time this Advent season to start some new traditions with your family.
God bless you+