The holy season of Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for the “Coming” of the Lord. It is a threefold Coming of Christ for which we should prepare our souls. First, the celebration of His coming in the past, two thousand years ago, when He was born at Bethlehem, just as we celebrate our own birthday every year. Then His Coming in the present in Mass and Communion and with many special graces, on Christmas Day. Finally, His Coming in the future, when Heaven will start for us and when we shall greet Him in the bliss of eternal glory, if only we die in His grace.
Children have a keen understanding of these various aspects of preparation in Advent. Some parents, however, do not seem to be interested enough in meditating on and understanding these truths themselves, and so are not able to explain them to their little ones. Thus, the joyous anticipation of the feast is restricted in many homes to the very features that are least important, especially since their original religious meaning is no longer understood, like the figure of Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, the presents, the Christmas displays in department stores, the symbols and festive decorations in the home. All this amounts to a shallow spirit of joy and excitement.
True preparation for Christmas must he centered around the liturgical thoughts mentioned above and manifested by daily prayer. All members of the family should be acutely aware that love of Christ prayer, personal holiness and some penance are the main features of the Advent season. External customs and symbols should never disturb, but only deepen, this spiritual attitude.
It is not the multitude of practices that guarantees greater spiritual fruit, but perseverance and intensity. Explain to your children the message of the Advent wreath, then light the candles every day and have your family say some prayers in front of it, and you will achieve a better religious preparation for Christmas than by using six or seven different customs and practices all at once. There are many ways of doing such things in the home. They all are good and useful but it is better to concentrate on one or two of them which seem to fit best into your particular circumstances……
One negative demand has to be stressed in our time if you truly wish your family to observe Advent in the spirit of holy liturgy. Modern commercialism has introduced the abuse of starting the Christmas celebration on Thanksgiving Day. of displaying the Christmas symbols through all the weeks of Advent, and of presenting Christmas music on radio and television a whole month in advance of the feast. The spirit of Advent, a spirit of prayerful penance and meditation, is utterly absent from these displays. Such untimely anticipation of the Christmas festivities tends to rob the feast itself of a joyful and radiant celebration. No wonder a 13-year-old boy was heard to remark: “By the time Christmas comes I am sick and tired of it”
Christmas does not start until the evening of December 24 for, strictly speaking, until December 25 begins at midnight. After the dark and dawn of Advent it should rise like a glorious sun before the eyes and hearts of our children, sudden and fresh in all its joyous features.
What can we do about it? Since it is not possible to stop the abuses which commercialism has introduced (unless enough parents protest), you can only try to protect your family from this harmful influence. As far as possible, do not let your children listen to Christmas music and Christmas programs in Advent. Do not take them to see the displays in department stores except perhaps during the last few days before the feast. Do not allow them to go to Christmas parties long before December 25. (This abuse is sometimes practiced even in Catholic schools and organizations.) Do not decorate your homes before Christmas Eve.
Instead, try to explain to your children why they should co-operate willingly in avoiding all such premature celebration of Christmas. After all, we do not sing “alleluia” on Good Friday either, nor do we hold an Easter parade on Holy Thursday.