A minimalist guide to the last week of Advent
Today marks the beginning of my absolute favorite period of time of the whole year: the O Antiphons. It’s the beginning of the end, the final countdown till Christmas. Advent’s last hurrah.
I have not strictly observed the Advent action items – or inaction items, as it were – which I laid out for myself back in November. I never did quite get up the self discipline to cut off the Christmas tunes in the car, so we’ve been thrilling in hope and wearily rejoicing all these past long weeks. I did limit our options to the Christian station and the 24 hour Christmas station, so we were at least constantly being filled up with positive noise, if indeed we had the radio on at all.
It has been glorious. No toggling between NPR and catchy-yet-slutty pop music that my kids probably don’t understand yet, but that I honestly shouldn’t even be listening to myself. No negativity streaming into my ears from another breaking news world report detailing some heinous atrocity half a world away.
I’ve also been steadfastly abstinent from social media, save for a brief click on Facebook to drop a link to a new piece of writing I’ve published, or to highlight some truly interesting and important bit of information.
I don’t flop down at the end of a long weekday of mothering and writing depleted beyond all recognition, capable only of streaming and scrolling. I’m still very tired, but it’s the normal kind of tired from caring for people and performing the day’s labors. I’m not overstimulated and hyperactive, looking to my teeny screen for my next dopamine hit.
So if I could make any sort of suggestion for you, gentle readers, as we cruise into this last week of Advent and preparation for Christmas day, it would mostly revolve around reducing your screen time.
Leave your phone plugged in on the counter at night. Crawl into bed with a book – electronic or otherwise – and leave the notifications and blue light downstairs/in the kitchen/far from your sleeping quarters.
Turn off the radio in the car, or, if you must drown out the ambient noise of screaming children (and I must) turn it to K-love or pop in a Christmas CD. Matt Maher’s new Advent album is phenomenal. These two tracks in particular.
Take a fast from social media from now until December 26th. Nothing bad will happen. You will not miss anything. Anyone who desperately needs to get ahold of you already knows how to do so, using the numbers connected to that tiny screen in your pocket that you’re going to plug in downstairs tonight.
I have missed literally zero important things in my month and some change fast from Instagram and Twitter. I’m more present to my family, have enjoyed connecting intentionally with friends and neighbors, and have been forced to confront some lazy habits which were preventing me from investing in relationships with people in my immediate physical proximity.
I’ll never abandon Voxer and the digital connection it allows me to enjoy with far flung friends and relatives, but social media is only a one-dimensional substitute for real connection. Anyone who has ever had a heartbreaking conversation with a friend and then experienced the cognitive dissonance of scrolling through their cheery Instagram feed later that day knows exactly what I mean here: social media only tells one side of the story, and a curated side at that.
Pull away from the 24 hour news cycle. If you absolutely must stay up to date for your job’s sake, then pick one or two trusted sources and go directly to their homepages to check the news, once a day. Declutter the dozens of apps and any and all push notifications. You do not need to know when a new related story pops up, or be alerted every time you receive a text message. If someone needs you badly enough, they will call you. Obviously work is work, but the average Joe or Jane probably doesn’t need to be 24/7 available and plugged in. Be honest with yourself in this regard.
Commit to a nightly family rosary/decade/reading of the scriptures associated with that day’s O Antiphon with your family or roommate(s). The Hallmark movies you haven’t watched yet will still be there when you’re finished. Dim the lights, light some candles, and make space for quiet reflection in defiance of our frenetic culture.
Stop buying stuff. Seriously. You probably have enough gifts for everyone in your life already. Your teachers/principals/service workers/coworkers/neighbors/distant acquaintances don’t need anything from you that you can find on Amazon. If gift giving is your love language and you are horrified by this suggestion, then go to Trader Joe’s and buy some nice dark chocolate and a few mid range bottles of wine and pass them out. Nobody needs another cheap (insert item here) in their home. They just don’t. Give a bottle of wine, a nice chocolate bar, some homemade cookies, a coffee gift card, or a great hug. Let each other off the hook to partake in the frantic consumption cycle. Make a donation to a morally sound and meaningful charity in someone’s honor. Pray a rosary for someone and present them with a beautiful hand-lettered card letting them know about it. It is so good for our hearts to stop shopping before Christmas. (And I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t want a bottle of wine or a gift card for coffee or burritos.)
If you’re still really itching to shop, try a decluttering spree instead. Grab a couple trash bags or discarded Amazon boxes and fill them with broken toys to recycle or toss and gently loved or new toys + clothes to donate. It never ceases to amaze me how similar the surge of happiness is between buying and giving away. It’s the novelty that fires the good feelings, I’m sure of it. Plus you’ll have a beautifully pared down playroom/basement/garage/living room come Christmas morning.
Give something up for this final week of Advent. Maybe it’s chocolate. Maybe it’s wine. Maybe it’s one of the above mentioned practices. Make a little space in the inn of your heart for the baby savior by pushing something aside, even – and maybe especially, a good something. The king is coming. He is coming to personally enter into each of our hearts, and He will come again in glory at the end of time, when we won’t have the luxury of a season of preparation to ready ourselves.
He is coming.
Matt Maher’s CD is my favorite–it’s the only thing we’ve been listening to in the car. Our 3 year old repeatedly asks for the Angel Gabriel song. It has been one of the only Advent-y things we’ve done this season but it has sufficed in my heart’s preparation. Matt is a master lyricist!
Hi Jenny; Just reading a previous column you wrote about Catholic Feminism. Our two oldest are back from The College of St. Benedict and wow am I having fun debating them! A bit outnumbered 6-1 in topics from global warming to feminism, it’s been a great Christmas break already!
The O Antiphons can save Advent when all my good intentions proved to be a bust. I love them too. And the history!
I love to hear the joy within you. One of the beautiful parts of family life during Advent is that build-up of excitement generated by the various sights and sounds around us, the activities we engage in with our children, the traditions we develop, etc. It all starts to change when your children “age out” of your home, going off to college etc. and miles might separate your family as each adult child makes choices to live and work and pursue life in their own unique path. The larger the family you have, the longer the process, and if you are big enough, you might not ever see that “empty nest” as the older ones marry and start families before you last one ever leaves home (one of the upsides of big families!). If you have a small family, though, it happens very quickly! So, you are at a unique time in the life of your family, and you are able to relish that for many years. Be blessed by that gift of family which surpasses all of those other ones wrapped and laid beneath the tree.
There is the other side of this season in life for many. Unexpected illness or even death in the family. Loss of job. Loss of home. Separated by great distances from family. Economic worries. Family rifts. Military service. Divorce. The harder parts of life that come unexpectedly sometimes. It makes it so much harder to enter into the kind of excitement that define this season. It sometimes makes it hard to share outwardly in the festivities surrounding the season.
Yet in the end, it is still the same Jesus who is coming, and we can receive Him into our troubled heart, our broken heart, our sad heart, our empty heart, our lonely heart, our yearning heart: whatever difficulty we are experiencing during this time does not diminish His ability to enter our life on Christmas morning. Maybe not with the same intensity of celebration externally, but with the same interior disposition of receptivity to God’s gift of His Son. We can receive the newborn babe and rejoice that He came into this world for our sake, and comes to dwell with us right where we are at. And don’t forget, Joseph and Mary are right there with Him, inviting you to come and adore their newborn child.
Have a blessed Christmas!