In the words of the popular Christmas song, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year …” But for many of us, the weeks leading up to Christmas can also be the busiest, most stressful and downright challenging time of year for our family to grow in holiness.
With all the demands of the season — the shopping, the shipping, the baking, the decorating, the entertaining — it’s all too easy to take our eyes off Jesus, the reason for the season.
So, how can we make this Advent any different?
First things first. Give Jesus the first place by scheduling on the calendar a few simple but poignant activities to remind you and your family what this season is all about, and then schedule the rest of the celebratory rituals.V
Having raised four boys, I’m all about solutions that are simple, attainable and easy to remember. That’s how I developed my six ways to keep the Advent season holy: by using the six letters of Advent to keep me and my family on track each year:
A is for Adoration. The Three Wise Men were the very first adorers of Jesus, traveling from afar to worship the Newborn King as he lay in the manger. We do not have to travel far at all to imitate this gesture. We can adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament at our own local parish, where he waits patiently for our visit. Sometime before Christmas, make a date with Jesus. Choose one hour, at your convenience, when it’s just you, your family and him. Simply rest in his presence before the tabernacle and soak in how much he loves you and wants to be with you.
D is for Divine Word. Give your family a 10-minute break each day of Advent. Carve out those precious minutes when it works best for your family — at dinnertime, at bedtime or in the evening before watching a Christmas movie. Curl up with the greatest book of all: the Bible. Read a small portion of the Gospels, and let the words enter your hearts and minds. What are God’s love letters trying to say in a special way to your family today? Ask each of your children to share their thoughts.
V is for the Virgin Mary. We all need companions for the journey. No one is meant to go through this life alone. The Blessed Mother is the perfect Advent companion when we allow her to wrap our family in her mantle of protection, model the virtues for us, and intercede for all our needs. There are two special Marian feast days that occur every December: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. Make plans to attend these Masses, if possible, as a family. Make the days extra special with a party for Mother Mary, a family Rosary or a Mexican-themed dinner.
E is for Examination of Conscience. With the Holy Spirit’s assistance, reflect on where you need to make straight your ways for the coming of the Lord. Invite the whole family to do the same. Then treat yourselves to the ultimate unburdening: the sacrament of reconciliation, or confession. Feel lightened, relieved, refreshed and, most of all, joyful to receive the beauty of the season. There is no better way than confession to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ coming. Go as a family to receive this sacrament and then go out afterward for ice cream or to see holiday lights. Christ’s forgiveness is truly cause for celebration.
N is for Neighborliness. What better gift to give Jesus for his birthday than a little extra TLC for our neighbors, particularly the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the lonely and the marginalized. December is chock-full of opportunities to donate gifts to less fortunate families, work at a soup kitchen, or visit a shut-in, bringing with you some fellowship and cheer. It presents a great teaching moment for your family to learn about the works of mercy: Choose one of them that your family can do together, extending Christian charity as a domestic church.
T is for Traditions. Give your family a daily reminder of the sacredness and holiness of Advent by incorporating some special family traditions in your home. There are lots of them to choose from: the Advent Wreath, the Jesse Tree, the Advent calendar and decorating the house with purple, just to name a few. It’s a great way for your family to stay bonded and grounded, while at the same time building anticipation and excitement for the Incarnation of the Lord.
And the last tip: The best way to protect and enhance your family’s Advent is to plan early and have reasonable expectations. Gather the family together (Thanksgiving weekend is a great time to do this) and talk about the upcoming Advent season. Come up with a family plan of action to honor and celebrate this unique liturgical season. Put those ideas on the calendar immediately, so you are well prepared and your well-intentioned plans do not come to disappointing results.
May your family have a blessed and meaningful Advent!
Elizabeth Ficocelli is a Catholic author of 15 books for adults and young people, a speaker and radio host, and a voice-over artist. You can learn more about her at ElizabethFicocelli.com.