Advent often feels too short to me. Maybe it’s the fact that the fourth week usually isn’t a full seven days because of which day Christmas lands on that year. Maybe it’s the hustle and bustle of trying to get ready for Christmas and checking everything off our Christmas to-do lists that overwhelms the quiet and hopeful period that Advent is meant to be. The secular culture we live in insists that it’s “Christmastime” as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey is eaten, that the Twelve Days of Christmas happen whenever in December people feel like doing them, that the Christmas festivities end with Christmas, and that Christmas Day is a finish line toward which we should all be sprinting with credit cards in hand.
In our home, my husband and I have made a conscious choice to incorporate more of the liturgical calendar into our daily family life. For us, this means striving to separate Christmas from Advent: Our house during Advent is sparsely decorated until Christmas Eve, and we try to focus on Advent hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” instead of Christmas carols. And while at first it may seem like we are being Scrooges or intentionally avoiding Christmas cheer, maintaining Advent as a time of preparation helps us keep the liturgical Christmastide as a true season of celebration. It’s harder to maintain a sense of joy and wonder on Christmas Day when the festivities have already been going on for almost a month.
The more difficult thing for us, however, is not figuring out how to avoid celebrating Christmas in Advent, but how to maintain the spirit of Christmastide in a culture that throws out its trees and its traditions on the morning of December 26. It’s been difficult for us to keep the party going, so to speak, when everyone else is drafting New Year’s resolutions and bemoaning all the cookies they ate. The liturgical Christmas season deserves more attention in our homes. The span of days from Christmas Day to the Baptism of the Lord is a string of feast days and holy days—including St. Stephen (December 26), the Holy Innocents (December 28), the Holy Family (Sunday after Christmas), the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God (January 1), and the feast of the Epiphany (traditionally January 6). Christmastide is built for celebration!
Every year, as we approach the end of Advent, my husband and I ask ourselves: How can we embrace the celebratory season of Christmastide? Here are some of our ideas.
Question for Reflection: How are the Advent and Christmas seasons different for you? How do you celebrate Christmastide?
"For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod's cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers' bosom, are justly hailed as "infant martyr flowers"; they were the Church's first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief." St. Augustine
Twinkling lights adorn front porches; snowflakes fall softly to the earth; jingle bells sound from every street corner; and children’s voices sing praise in memory of the Savior’s birth as Christmas comes bustling into our lives. And as I watch and listen, I’m reminded that there are many voices that won’t be joining that chorus, at least not audibly. Christmas is one of my favorite times of year, but it also brings much sadness along with it as I remember my little brother who once again will not be joining us to celebrate this joyous feast. This pain is manifested in a deep way as much joy is to be shared by many.
I don’t always associate Christmas as a time to bear my cross and follow Christ; after all, this is a joyous occasion. It’s a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth, not to mourn his death. This year I can’t help but think of the cross as I find myself remembering the deep sorrow and loneliness of losing someone so dear to me. Questions flood my mind of why my little brother, so innocent and so little, had to suffer stillbirth and die. As I reflect on this experience of powerlessness, I am reminded of those mothers who two thousand years ago lost their sons as Herod viciously sought to destroy Jesus. During the Christmas Season, our Church has a beautiful tradition of honoring those early martyrs, the Holy Innocents. Just as my own parents were devastated at the loss of my brother, I know that these mothers and fathers, too, felt the almost unbearable sorrow and sense of helplessness of losing a child.
This senseless loss is my cross, as I can imagine it is a struggle for anyone who has lost a loved one, and yet Jesus doesn’t leave me alone for long. Words of St. Augustine come rushing into my head, comforting me: “For almighty God…because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.” Hope. Reassurance. The cycle of death and life revealed. And then I realize why Christmas is so dear to me. Christmas manifests the time to celebrate life and to remember that good is ever being born into this world. Through his Beloved Son, God lovingly demonstrates His desire for good to triumph. As St. Augustine reminded me, God not only desires good but God always brings good out of evil situations, even though we might not always recognize it.
My mind is amazed as I ponder the mystery of the Incarnation. Gratitude fills my heart as I feel Christ with me a midst my joy and my sorrow. The beautiful gift of a child, of the God incarnate, sent to us to share in our life and to bring good out of evil in a truly personal way. Church bells ring; incense lifts gracefully to the heavens; angels proclaim Good News of great joy; the Body of Christ is broken and shared; and I know in my heart that my little brother lives.
Amy Winkler serves as an Echo Faith Formation Apprentice in the Diocese of Camden, NJ
 St. Augustine, Enchiridion, 3, 11; PL 40, 236 as cited in CCC #312.