Six Simple Ways to Safeguard Your Advent from Secularism
The holiday rush seems to come earlier every year.
Our family observes this phenomenon with a mingled sense of amusement and disgust. We share a mutual roll of the eyes at the glittering displays bombarding shoppers from the day after Halloween.
Instead of “holiday spirit,” we find ourselves filled with a sense of sickness by the unbridled Christmas commercialism and the flood of Christmas songs on every radio station long before Thanksgiving. Even the premature downtown decorations have lost their charm in our eyes.
These attacks on the heart of Christmas are a serious reality during Advent, especially when they strike our own homes. The world is trying to steal away this precious season by perverting it at the heart, turning a time of patience and preparation into a chaos of noise, greed, and commercialism.
That is why, during Advent, we must refuse to surrender to the sirens of secularism. We must close our ears to them, bind ourselves to the mast of the Cross, and stay on board the ship, no matter how high the waves rise around us.
Over the years, I have received and learned so much from my parents and their efforts to preserve our Advent from secularism.
The various traditions have been better suited for some years than others, but the spirit of Advent is something we can all cultivate any year, even in the busy, noisy, and at times chaotic atmosphere of the home school.
Below are six ideas for Advent, six simple “knots” to keep your family fastened to Christ, and help you hold on to this precious, counter-cultural season of waiting.
1. Use the Rope of the Rosary
Perhaps the most important decision a family can make to preserve their Advent is a determined refusal to sacrifice family prayer time for anything. Prayer is the armor and life of the domestic church.
Persevere in prayer (and pray for perseverance), and you will never be overcome. Keep up with your daily Rosary, or start a new tradition if you haven’t been in the habit of praying the Rosary.
2. Silence: Drown out the Noise
If you burst into tears or gave a crazed laugh when you saw the word “silence,” I understand! Back when our family was younger, silence was nearly impossible during the daylight hours (and often long past bedtime).
As a student, it has often been easy for me to let opportunities for silence during the day disappear in the noise and activity—especially during Advent.
But I’ve found that even on the craziest of days, there are chances to hide in the bathroom or outside for a minute and find silence of heart in prayer. This is important, because it’s in that chapel-like quiet of our heart that we can encounter and embrace God.
One tradition our family has kept for years is the lighting of the Advent wreath in the evening, often with the lights off, while we sing Advent hymns. The quiet candlelight in the dark and the reverent singing of hymns can do a lot to encourage silent, heart-felt prayer.
Small efforts to make Advent a little quieter and more contemplative, in opposition to the cacophony of a secular Christmas, are not difficult. But they are powerful enough to drown out the world and all its noise.
3. Stay at Home
Why is it that the start of our liturgical year, a deeply significant season of preparation and symbolism, is always the busiest, most hectic time of year? We have to suspect this is a tactic of a familiar enemy.
By caging us like a hamster into a wheel of activities, this unchecked busyness not only has the power to erode our energy, family time, and peace, but it draws us out of our homes and our hearts. But it is precisely in our homes and our hearts that we must prepare for the coming of Christ.
The problem is made more complicated by the fact that there are certain outings we can’t avoid, some that are truly worthwhile, and some that are hard to categorize.
We can’t, practically speaking, refuse to go anywhere at all during Advent. But at the same time, we have to guard our hearts and homes against that unchecked busyness that can steal our Advent away.
It can help to step back and take an objective look at the calendar. Ask yourself questions like: “What are we giving most of our time and energy to this week? Are we doing too much? Is there something we should sacrifice in order to slow down a bit?”
These questions hopefully will help you to keep the month of December in perspective as, first and foremost, a road to Christmas.
4. Less is More
We all enjoy receiving gifts. Exchanging gifts can be a joyful, holy symbol of God’s generosity. Yet, commercialism has run rampant in our society’s Christmas. Instead of giving, some people see Christmas as nothing more than an occasion for getting presents. Materialism forgets about God being born in a barn.
There are simple cures for this. One that we are trying for the first time this year is to draw names as a family, and have each member give a gift to the one they drew. Some years, my parents have given each of us three gifts in the tradition of the Wise Men.
Over time, we’ve also come to the realization that making wish lists can cause us to focus too much on what “I want for Christmas,” and so we’ve dispensed with them this year, leaving the choice of the gift up to the giver.
Practices like these have the potential to really downsize presents to the place they are supposed to occupy.
5. Make a Manger
Advent is traditionally a penitential season. If we try to cultivate a spirit of self-denial in our hearts and homes, we’ll find ourselves living the liturgy, readying the stable of our heart for the Lord Who humbles Himself to come down and be born in our hearts at Christmas.
One great reminder of this spirit of penance throughout Advent is the practice of keeping a little homemade manger in a prominent place, along with a supply of “straw” (we use strands of golden yarn or pine needles).
Each time anyone in the family makes an act of self-denial, he or she can place one straw in the manger.
The goal is to make a soft bed for Jesus, both in the manger and in our hearts, by the time Christmas comes.
6. Wait for the Birthday Guest
Ever since I can remember, my dad has led our family in singing “Happy Birthday” on Christmas morning, after placing Jesus in the manger and before opening gifts. This small action always points us to the Reason we are celebrating.
One brilliant Advent tradition is to delay turning on any Christmas lights until the return from Christmas Mass. Our family is looking forward to trying it for the first time this season.
I can already see how this simple idea will change the mindset when we decorate; instead of celebrating already, we will simply be preparing our home for the Guest of guests. After all, who lights the candles on the cake before the birthday guest arrives?
Baking a birthday cake for Jesus would also be a wonderful thing to do. If you have young children in your family, you could also replace letters to Santa with birthday cards for Jesus from each child. The cards could ask Jesus what He wants for His birthday, or list the extra prayers and good works your children are offering as gifts to Him.
Simple choices that we make as families to honor Advent and to wait for Christmas until Christmas begins are more important than they may seem at face value.
They are the choices that will, little by little, bring our families closer to God and one day reclaim Christmas for Christ.
About Lena Donellan
Lena Donellan,is a happily home-schooled senior who dreams of her own future family and building a domestic church as beautiful as the ones her parents have built. She spends her days loving her family, singing Gregorian chant at the Traditional Latin Mass, waltzing around the kitchen with her siblings, putting the stories in her head to words, and marveling at the will of God as it unfolds. She enjoys thwarting her parents' attempts at healthful eating by baking as often as she can.