With Christmas fast approaching you may be feeling like we tend to get Advent wrong in our rush to Christmas. Maybe you have developed some Advent pet peeves that leave you feeling like you want to offer some Catholic Christmas clarifications to keep the season feeling “Merry and Bright” (and penitential – after all, Advent is a penitential season!)
Here are some of our pet peeves that surround the Christmas season – what would you add to the list? Share in the comments!
1. The song “Mary Did You Know”
This song seems to never go away. Not only is it repetitive, it is theologically inaccurate. Mary did know. The Angel Gabriel told her! Just in case we need to be reassured that Mary understood what her “yes” to God meant, she makes it clear for us in Luke 1:46-55 – also known as the Magnificat. Not only did Mary know her Son was destined to rule the nations, but she knew that all generations would call her “blessed!”
She absolutely knew that she would “kiss the face of God” because she knew she was asked to be the Mother of God! Perhaps Mary did not know that her Son would walk on water or what blind man He would heal. But she knew that the Savior to be born – her Son – would fulfill the prophesies in scripture and literally save the world. She would have known what these prophesies foretold. So the next time you hear “Mary Did You Know” come on the radio, feel free to yell “Yes! She totally knew!”
2. Advent Calendars that start on December 1st (and have nothing to do with Advent)
Living the Liturgical Year can be difficult. Trying to find an Advent calendar that actually begins on the first Sunday of Advent? Virtually impossible! If your children have decided to forgo sweets as a small penance leading up to Christmas, the calendars with chocolate surprises are just cruel! Maybe they need to be called “Countdown to Christmas Calendars” and not Advent calendars.
Jesse trees are a great (and candy free!) alternative and a fun way to count down the days until Christmas as you journey through Salvation History by hanging a special ornament on a little tree each day of Advent. These ornaments correspond with Bible verses that tell the story of Jesus’ lineage and God’s saving actions throughout the Old Testament.
3. When people think that the 12 Days of Christmas is a Christmas countdown
The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is a popular choice for pageants and sing alongs, but it is not a countdown! The Twelve Days of Christmas come AFTER Christmas! They are twelve days of celebration that lead up to Epiphany. These twelve days traditionally are a time to reflect on the great gift of the Incarnation and to feast after the penitential season of Advent. We Catholics take our penitential seasons seriously, but we also take celebrating seriously too!
4. When people say that Mary had an unplanned pregnancy
Some pro-life groups have been sharing a meme that claims that the conception of Christ was an unplanned pregnancy. The trouble is, Mary’s pregnancy was far from unplanned. Mary’s role in the redemption of mankind was very planned – so planned that she was preserved from original sin at her own conception in preparation! So planned that the Old Testament is full of biblical types that allude to Mary! Mary also consented to her role as Mother of God. She said “yes.” Because she had free will, she could have said no. In other words, she knew that if she said those words, “Let it be done unto me as you have said,” to the Angel, she would become pregnant. It wasn’t a surprise, and it wasn’t unplanned! One might even say this was the most planned pregnancy of all time.
5. When you’re encouraged to celebrate Christmas before Christmas day
Hand in hand with advent calendars that don’t actually begin when advent does is the anachronistic celebration of Christmas time. Our culture tends to consider “Christmas-time” to be the days in between Thanksgiving and Christmas day (or in some places, the days after Halloween!). But Christmas Time refers to the Liturgical Season of Christmas and secondarily to the Traditional 40 days after Christmas of Mary’s purification. Just as ordinary time refers to, well, ordinary time.
Actual Christmas Time begins Christmas Day and continues through the Baptism of Our Lord. Traditionally the Christmas and Epiphany Season celebrations continue on until Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of Mary, on February 2. This tradition is more popular in historically Catholic countries in Europe and the east. This is why Saint Pope John Paul II began keeping the Vatican Nativity scene set up in St. Peter’s Square until February 2nd. The time before Christmas, beginning four Sundays prior to Christmas, is called Advent. It is a penitential season and a time for preparation, of expectant waiting.
6. When you’re told that Christmas is just about what you do for others
We have all heard it: that this time of year is about giving. To an extent this is true, but Advent and Christmas are much more about receiving than they are about giving. In fact, you can’t be a good “giver” if you aren’t first a good receiver. Advent is about preparing our hearts – our own hearts – for the coming of Christ. If our first priority during Advent is not to spiritually prepare for Christ’s coming in our own lives, then we have missed the entire point of this season.
What we do for others must spring out of the self-reflection, preparation, penance and the gift of charity. God gives us these gifts as we try to prepare for His coming into our hearts and lives during the season of Advent. We give because we are prepared to receive. That which we receive isn’t a “what,” but a “Who” and He comes on Christmas.