In a time when “Merry Christmas” has become a political statement and Christmas itself a spending and advertising frenzy far removed from that humble Bethlehem manger, how does a Christian celebrate Christmas? We are not the first to ask. The Puritans responsible for our Thanksgiving holiday not only didn’t say “Merry Christmas,” they outlawed the holiday, believing that it was a celebration of excess, not holiness. We might sympathize.
Before we embrace the Puritan ban on fun, let’s put the holiday issue in perspective. The Christmas dilemma is simply a specific example of the struggle that confronts us daily: How do believers live in a nonbelieving world? Withdrawing into an anti-holiday Christian bubble is one possibility, demanding that the rest of the world celebrate our holiday our way the opposite extreme–let’s find a third way. Let’s celebrate in the world, but not be of the world. In other words, let’s observe Advent.
The Advent word: Prepare
An intentionally Christian celebration of Christmas requires being intentional. As we head into the holiday season, we all make plans regarding shopping, decorating, family –whatever calls to you. Do those plans include ways to make the season holy? Advent prepares us for Christmas by presenting the faithful alternative. Let’s prepare.
Advent: The Church’s Answer to the Mall
Advent is a season of anticipation and waiting, which fits any Christmas preparation. It is also a time for introspection, which goes against the spending frenzy Christmas has become. Advent invites us to consider our priorities and make room for Christ in our lives. While these themes will be present in church services, the real success of Advent takes place at home. You will need Advent props:
Advent Wreath, Calendar, Creche.
The primary Advent symbol, the wreath is usually round, symbolizing God’s love with no beginning or end. It is often decorated with evergreens, because God’s love never dies, and has four candles, representing times of waiting. Each week one candle is lit. Observing this ritual at home, along with prayers and scripture readings, will go a long ways toward keeping holiness in your holiday.
Counting the days is a traditional Advent activity, and there are many ways to count those 24 days. Look online for calendars you can create or ones with devotionals.
The first crèche scene was made by St. Francis of Assisi in order to make the story of Jesus’ birth more accessible. You can find toy creches for playtime, creches from different nations, even paper creches you can make. In addition to letting the children play with the figures, you can make the crèche part of the preparation by bringing the figures in gradually—animals first, until Baby Jesus is added on Christmas.
Christmas is all about giving, so make sure your giving includes those who cannot pay you back. Involve your children in acts of generosity. Let them see how you are giving. Choose a cause together. Shop for those in need. Trinity will have an Advent Tree to help get past the gift list.
Try reading the Christmas story or Christmas legends. Instead of the “Elf on the Shelf” use the Three Kings from your crèche scene, hiding them in the house as they travel to see the Christ Child. Read scripture. Make religious observances an intentional part of your holiday plans.
Finally, don’t do it all. Online, well-intentioned Christian blogs offer “24 activities for Advent,” as if we needed more to do! Advent doesn’t mean exhaustion, no matter how spiritual and well-intentioned. Do what it takes to enjoy the season. After all, we are celebrating Christ’s birth. That’s worth some joy, so let’s make faithful joy our priority this holy season.