Don’t let the season of preparation catch you unprepared – Advent is already here, with the First Sunday of Advent (December 1) sneaking up on us on just as we emerge from Thanksgiving weekend.
The good news is that the most important thing we need to prepare for the celebration of Christmas is our souls, and we do that by tending to our spiritual life – through prayer. And we can begin that immediately.
Here, then, are several key ways to help jump-start your Advent:
Begin with a novena. Get a head start by praying the St. Andrew’s Novena, which traditionally begins on his feast, Nov. 30. The brief meditative prayer is recited 15 times daily through Christmas Day. Or start on the same day with one of the Immaculate Conception novenas, prayed through that feast on December 8. If you miss these opportunities, you can always jump in with the Our Lady of Guadalupe Novena on December 3 through 11, leading up to the feast on December 12. There also are novenas dedicated to the Holy Child Jesus that run from December 16 through Christmas Eve.
Remember your Mother. Speaking of Our Lady, have you noticed how much attention is given to the Blessed Mother during Advent and the Octave of Christmas? And rightly so – after all, it was she who gave birth to our Savior. Just looking at the major observances, we have the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (a holy day of obligation, normally celebrated on December 8 but moved to December 9 this year since the 8th is a Sunday), the new Our Lady of Loreto on December 10, Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Family (this year on December 29), and the Feast of Mary, Mother of God (January 1, another holy day of obligation). Stay mindful of Mary’s role in the Incarnation, perhaps by praying the rosary – especially the Glorious Mysteries -- more often during Advent.
Make a “Mass-ive” commitment. We are preparing to celebrate the feast of the Incarnation, of Jesus, the Son of God, coming to us in a human body. So what better time to make more of an effort to receive Christ’s true body in the Eucharist? Don’t just fulfill the minimum obligation with Sunday and holy day liturgies; if you are able, make an additional weekday Mass or two each week, or attend daily if at all possible. And while you’re at it, hit the confessional or reconciliation room at least once. You’ll find yourself better spiritually prepared than ever to celebrate Christmas and its Octave.
Don’t neglect the usual traditions. The Advent wreath on the dining table invite us to prayer, and the lighted candles remind us of the light of Christ that dispels the darkness of sin. A nativity scene points us to the true meaning of Christmas even as advertisers count down the remaining shopping days. Advent calendars, Jesse trees, and other practices can help both children and adults keep attentive to the “reason for the season.”
Celebrate with ethnic traditions. Consider adopting or adapting Advent customs of other cultures. St. Nicholas Day (December 6) is big in Europe, and so some North American families have their children leave their shoes by the door at night so they can awaken to find a small gift or candy inside them. Participate in Las Posadas, a prayerful re-enactment of the Holy Family’s search for lodging in Bethlehem that is sometimes extended across several days. Explore the various ethnic traditions for St. Barbara’s Day (December 4) and St. Lucy’s Day (December 13). Some Canadian families turn St. Stephen’s Day, or “Boxing Day” (December 26), into a day to “box up” new and used goods to donate to the poor. And you don’t have to be Filipino or Latino to take part in the “Misa de Gallo” or “Sinbang Gabi,” a novena of daily Masses, usually celebrated at dawn or late at night and followed by a feast, during the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve.
Advent is upon us. Let’s begin preparing already for the great feast of Christmas.
Gerald Korson, a veteran Catholic journalist, is a Knights of Columbus member in Indiana.
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