advent,  Catholic Spirituality,  Family Life,  feast days,  liturgical living

Have yourself a very little Advent

In past years, in my enthusiasm to be liturgically aware and impart said knowledge to my offspring, I think perhaps I’ve been a little intense in the Advent department. We had a rigorous (laughs softly and stares vacantly into space) tree-decorating schedule involving the procurement of a real!fresh! evergreen on the first Sunday of Advent, followed by lights on the second Sunday, ornaments on the third, and the tree topper on the fourth, and a complicated formula for when Christmas music was appropriate on the radio (feast days, but only major feast days, you know? Also, do you hate younger me a little bit yet?)

This year, too swollen and too tired to fight inertia, the (fake) tree has been erected, entirely without my assistance, and is strung with scraggly leftover colored lights from our exterior decorating efforts of last weekend. They are too few in number to be considered appropriately festive, but sufficient to keep the kids enthralled. My attention to said tree involves mainly yelling at the two year old to stop unplugging it and trying vainly to communicate the dangers of live electricity to his toddler brain. Gone is the liturgically-nuanced schedule of only lighting the thing on feast days until Christmas truly begins.

My kids still know whether it’s a feast day or not, however, since this time of year that’s the one sure way to get “dessert:” a mouthful of mini marshmallows after dinner. Somebody pretended he was very, very devoted to St. Catherine Laboure last night around 7 pm and earnestly implored me to impart the story of the Miraculous Medal to him while stuffing his cheeks with pillows of high fructose corn syrup.

Anyone who tries to dissuade you from motivating your kids with sugar is just trying to make life unnecessarily difficult, I can assure you.

Outside, the strings of light are burning well into the evening hours, though we’re still 4 days away from the actual, well, advent of Advent. I’ve made vague threats about cutting off the constant stream of Kosi 101 Christmas classics on the minivan sound system once we’re firmly out of ordinary time, but we all know I’m bluffing, just like we all know dinner this evening is going to be rice + some frozen veggie + any defrosted meat for the 5th night in a row.

I came across this beautiful reflection by Michelle Chronister last night and exhaled a big, heavy sigh of relief, and maybe shed a tear or two. Because of course Advent is a time of preparation and mild penance: we’re awaiting the end of a pregnancy.

It’s joyful, it’s a little frustrating, it’s soon-but-not-yet, and there are moments when it’s really, really hard. When the rest of the world is spinning frantically into premature celebration – not unlike watching all of your pregnant friends give birth and still hanging out in third-trimesterville – it can be a little deflating.

Here are some things I’m doing to survive the intensely historically accurate Advent we’ll be experiencing in our home this year (minus the prenatal donkey ride).

A minimalist Advent bucket list of sorts:

  1. Confession. If I do nothing else, I’m at least going to try showing up for Mass 15 or 20 minutes early one Sunday and getting in line. Our parish has wonderfully convenient confession times, and there’s nothing better than heading into the Christmas season with a clean conscience and an invigorating infusion of grace.

  2. Decluttering + giving away excess toys and clothes. We started this on Black Friday (instead of doing any shopping, which was oddly satisfying) and the kids got really into it, though I later discovered their enthusiasm was partially motivated by a (false) belief that all donated toys would be replaced with newer and more desirable models. Whatever our personal motivations are, we’re bagging up excess as a family and making space in our home – literally – which feels very right as we await a season of more. Plus, the house already looks sparser and more subdued, scrappy Christmas lights and all. It feels good to make space and let go of excess.

  3. Small acts of charity. Whether they be for neighbors, strangers, or each other, we’re trying to focus on being generous in small things, like clearing away your brother’s dinner plate, or bringing mommy a diaper, or pulling in the neighbor’s trash can. We have the little manger filled with last year’s straw, but it’s unlikely I’ll get my act together enough to empty the thing out and refill a fresh box of straw for good deeds. It seems sufficient to wave a vaguely sausage-shaped finger at the little crèche when I catch someone being generous, doling out verbal attaboys to kids caught being good.

  4. St. Nicholas will come on the 6th, and he’ll collect our Santa letters and maybe even the bags of clothes and toys we’ve bagged up to donate, if I don’t drop them at Arc before he rolls up in his sleigh. I am hoping to emphasize charity and generosity over “I want I want I want” this year, especially as we’re planning on the leanest of gift exchanges.

  5. Koslig. Or Hygge. Whichever Scandinavian term you prefer. I’m lighting all the candles and cranking on the fireplace in the evenings and playing soft Advent carols (and okay, okay, Christmas music already, too) and pulling little people close to me on the couch even though the house is trashed and I’m so, so tired. I want to emphasize to them that waiting in expectant hope is more important than frantically rushing around the house wrapping and decorating and getting ready. Plus, I only have energy to do that like one out of every seven days. Coziness and lots of candles and blankets and pillows and a general slowing down of our usual evening routine will (hopefully) emphasize to our kids that this is a special time of year, and that anticipation can be delightful. Plus, I’m way too tired to do a Jesse tree.

That’s it. That’s our simple Advent plan this year. The presents are few and mostly purchased, the tiny diapers are stacked in a closet awaiting a little person to swaddle, and we’re settling in for a somewhat restless season of waiting, watching in the dim candlelight for the brighter light that is to come.

May it be enough.


  • Leslie

    This is beautiful, Jenny! I tried being a real grinch about Christmas lights and music a few years ago and I found that it ruined the season for me so now that I am more lax about everything, it has made for more joy.

    • Cami

      I totally get that! I end up policing our advent making sure we don’t burst into celebrating too soon. And it does ruin it. I’m going to try to let us enjoy gently as we move through advent without being a party pooper. A little more balance. It’s tough being countercultural and maintaining peace. I just want to micromanage it so we do it “right”. But it can really steal the joy.

  • jeanette

    I was thinking back to a little song the my children would sing for lighting the advent candles (we moved up to more grown up stuff later, but this was great when they were very little). So I figured it would be out on YouTube, and it is, so here is a link if you want to check it out for your kids:

  • Lisa Applegate

    This was such a good reminder. I’m 40 weeks and 4 Days with baby #3 and I have a feeling this baby is going to wait until Advent to make his/ her entrance. How appropriate! Thanks for always being real and giving moms like me very practical and tangable encouragement during the throws of motherhood and family life. Praying for the last leg of your pregnancy!

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