As a kid, I often wondered how long it would be until the weekend, or spring break, or when we ate dinner. My mom advised me to enjoy the present moment, because she said time would fly by at lightning speed when I was an adult.
Of course, Mom was right. Again.
The holidays in particular are so sneaky! I mean, they happen at the same time each year, but … wasn’t it just New Year’s Eve a month ago??
At the very least, it seems like only yesterday we were brushing sticky summer sand from sun-kissed toes and checking items off back-to-school supply lists. And yet, here we are: pumpkin carving and midterm elections are in the rearview mirror, and Thanksgiving, Advent and (gasp!) Christmas are coming up fast. It surely doesn’t help matters that, long before we can say, “Boo!” retailers are hauling out Santa and snowmen and candy canes for purchase.
While this time of year is jam-packed with more nutty goodness than Auntie Gen’s famous fruitcake, Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, encourages us to observe one day at a time by following the liturgical calendar. First comes All Saints’ and All Souls’, then Thanksgiving, then Advent and, finally, Christmas.
As Catholics, we celebrate Advent as its own season apart from Christmas — a time prayerfully to prepare our hearts to welcome the Christ Child. Here are some ways our family observes this special time: An Advent wreath sits at the center of our dining room table, and we mark the days with an Advent calendar. I try to finish gift shopping early so it’s not my focus. I write Advent cards or wait until late December to mail Christmas cards since, it’s still Christmas, after all! In years past, we’ve waited until Christmas Day to add lights to our tree and home decor, symbolizing that the Light of the World has come into the world. Baby Jesus doesn’t appear in our Nativity sets until Christmas Day. I attend an extra daily Mass, mission, or day retreat whenever I can. I personally prefer to limit Christmas music during Advent, too, although it’s quite challenging. My point is this: Whatever helps you to prepare the way for the Lord, I encourage you to do it.
Here are some upcoming highlights from the church’s liturgical calendar, including some ways to help make your celebrations more meaningful and memorable (in a good way):
Thursday, Nov. 22: Thanksgiving Day. While not a holy day of obligation, every day is a holy day of opportunity.What better way to thank and praise God for all our blessings than to spend an hour at the holy sacrifice of the Mass? Check out the Oregon Catholic Directory for the Mass schedule at a parish near you, whether you’re home for the holidays or away.
Sunday, Nov. 25: The solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Visit pbgrace.com for celebration ideas, and download their free activity called “Who’s the Real Superhero?” Remembering that Jesus is King over everything is a wonderful way to celebrate the last Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Friday, Nov. 30: feast of St. Andrew, Apostle. Today begins the Christmas Novena, a prayer traditionally recited 15 times each day until Christmas. Our family has prayed this novena in years past; I think we’ll resume the practice this year.
Sunday, Dec. 2: Advent begins! Say a prayer before you light one purple candle in your Advent wreath. “Light the Advent Candle” and “The Whole World is Waiting for Love” are simple songs I remember singing as a child. Your local Catholic bookstore and the Holy Heroes website have a wide variety of Advent resources and activities for your family.
Thursday, Dec. 6: While not officially on the church calendar, many families celebrate St. Nicholas’ feast day. Traditionally revered as the real-life inspiration for Santa Claus, St. Nicholas fills our children’s shoes with small treats and golden coins. There’s a fun Veggie Tales movie about St. Nicholas you likely can find at the library. Find a kid-friendly story about this saint online, and share with your little saints-in-training.
In part two of this holiday series, I’ll cover ways to commemorate the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (12/8), the Second Sunday of Advent (12/9), the feast of our Lady of Guadalupe (12/12), the Third (12/16) and Fourth (12/23) Sundays of Advent, and the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (12/25). I might even write about how you can extend the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord through the 12 days of Christmas. Or perhaps I’ll succumb to a long winter’s nap. Either way, I’d better start looking for our Advent wreath. Dec. 2 will be here before you know it. But first: Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
This article first appeared in the Catholic Sentinel.
photo by Max van den Oetelaar used following unsplash guidelines