We are just two days shy of beginning the official Christmas season, but my house has been looking a lot like Christmas for about a month now. As we do every year, Andrew, John, and I decorated the house for Christmas over the first week of Advent, immediately replacing our turkeys and pumpkins with Santas, reindeer, and poinsettias. Our Christmas tree has been up and lit since Thanksgiving day weekend, and Andrew finished our exterior illumination about a week later (it was our first year decorating a real house, so it took us a while- don’t judge). There is Christmas in every corner of our house, and I am not ashamed. I might be considered a bad Catholic to some, but I will always decorate early for Christmas.
Andrew and I were both raised in families that decorated Thanksgiving weekend, and this is a tradition that we want to continue with our own children. Every year that I lived with my parents (and even many where I wasn’t), I have very fond memories of my parents decorating for Christmas during the days immediately following Thanksgiving. My dad would hang the outdoor lights and set up the tree, and my mom would unpack boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations. We would listen to Christmas music all weekend, and even during our busiest years (i.e., high school), we always found time to help my parents decorate our Christmas tree. Andrew has very similar memories, and now we want to share those memories and these traditions with our own children.
Decorating early is one of the visual ways that John knows that we are preparing for Christmas, right along with our Advent wreath, Advent calendar, and empty mangers. As a preschooler, John is a very sense-oriented learner. He knows that we are preparing for Christmas based on what he can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Some of our ways to help John prepare for Christmas are very traditional: we have an Advent calendar that counts out the days until Christmas, as well as an Advent wreath that we light before dinner each night. Our Nativity sets are displayed throughout the house, but the mangers all remain empty, anticipating the arrival of our Savior on Christmas morning. We are also praying daily decades of the Rosary as our practice for preparing for Christmas during this Advent season. Other traditions are a bit less traditionally-Catholic, but just as effective. John knows we are preparing for Christmas because of our decorations, because of the music, because of the freshly-baked cookies, and because of the smell of (artificial) pine that fills our house. He knows we are waiting. He knows we are preparing. He knows that Christ has not arrived yet, but He will be here soon.
In a society that celebrates Christmas beginning November 1st and ending December 25th (or January 1st, if you’re lucky), I want to find a healthy balance between enjoying the more commercial elements of Christmas and preserving the preparation and waiting espoused by the Advent season. As I mentioned earlier, our family participates in all the traditional practices of the Advent season. We light our Advent wreath, and we have family and couple practices to which we have committed ourselves in order to prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord. We do what we can to remind our children that we are in the Advent season, and Christmas has not yet arrived, but we must also acknowledge the fact that we live in a society that has assumed the Advent season (and sometimes the entire month of November) as its Christmas season. It’s rare to find Christmas-themed events in the days and weeks following Christmas Day, but there have been plenty this past month. John stayed up late so that he could attend the town Christmas parade and tree lighting. We also attended a live Nativity, walking the path of Mary and Joseph as they prepared to welcome our Savior into the world. John has met Santa several times, shared candy canes, cookies, and donuts with him, and even told him what he wanted for Christmas at least twice. It would be fantastic if some of those events could take place after Christmas (or at least closer to the day), but I’m content to participate in these events with my family rather than trying to take Christmas back.
And finally, I WILL NOT get sick of the decorations, music, or any other element of Christmas, even though I start early, and you can be sure to find Christmas being celebrated in our house until February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. We don’t stop listening to Christmas music until at least the Epiphany in this house, and our decorations stay up until the beginning of February. We celebrate Christmas throughout the entire twelve days of Christmas (December 25th-January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany) with family and friends, and we even have the practice in our family of saving a final Christmas gift to be opened by our children on the feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the Magi to worship the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. Clearly, there’s no such thing as too much Christmas in this family.
In some ways, our family really does fight to preserve the penitential aspect of the Advent season. We give things up (or add on additional prayer practices), and we pray around our Advent wreath on a daily basis. I even go so far as to try to dress liturgically for Mass, in purple and rose, as the week demands. But in other ways, you can call us bad-Catholics. We buy into the whole commercial Christmas season, singing along to the Christmas carols playing in the mall as we wait in line to force our children to take pictures with Santa (see above photo) before rushing off to get some Christmas shopping done. We decorate for Christmas in November, and we start listening to Christmas music as soon as it starts playing on the radio (usually mid-November). Our kids believe in Santa Claus, and they expect gifts from him on December 6th (the feast of St. Nicholas) and Christmas morning, and gifts from us on Christmas and the Epiphany. We don’t go overboard with gifts- a shoe-full on December 6th, a full stocking and three gifts on Christmas morning (representing the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of the Magi), and a final gift on the feast of the Epiphany, but I love buying the gifts, wrapping them, and leaving them beneath the tree to be found by our children. I might be called a bad Catholic, and normally that title would embarrass me, but in this particular instance, I’m proud. And somehow, I don’t think baby Jesus minds.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!