I'm not referring to marching on city hall to ensure the town Nativity Scene stays up, in spite of the best efforts of your local grinches.
I don’t mean indulging your inner contrarian by responding to the clerks’ “Happy Holidays,” with a decidedly old-school “Merry Christmas!”
I’m not even speaking of praying your way through Advent. Nor am I speaking of simplifying your celebration by focusing on worship and family togetherness instead of piles of presents.
By all means do those things! Wear your “Jesus is the reason for the season” buttons, use Madonna & Child stamps on your Christmas cards, light your Advent wreaths, decorate those Jesse Trees, bring on the “kneeling Santas,” give to Toys for Tots and other drives for the needy, never pass one of those red kettles by, go to Mass a few extra times during the week, pray the St. Andrew Advent novena. Those are noble and worthy things to do.
But if you really want to be radical… enjoy Advent & Christmas.
Have you noticed how few people seem able to?
It’s the third day of Advent. How many Christian Scrooges have you already heard complain that there is too much to do? How many times have you heard them say that they are stressed out and overwhelmed by all the preparations? (How many times have you said that yourself already? Be honest.)
How many columns have you read so far trotting out the annual denunciation of Christmas excess and commercialization?
Yes, of course, let go of rituals that have run their course for your family. There’s no reason to run ourselves ragged just for show, or to break budgets on useless gew-gaws for people with no real connection to us. That’s not letting go of Christmas, but of our own vanity. By all means, good riddance!
Certainly commercialization, materialism, consumerism and excess are blots on our holy celebration and must be resisted.
But doesn’t it strike you as a bit sour for Christians –who presumably know better than others what there is to celebrate this time of year – to respond to every external expression of the inner joy of this season with whining about how hard all that decorating and wrapping and cooking are?
Is the cure for consumerism really surly criticism of everyone elses' way of doing things? Is the witness we wish to give an increasingly secular age that deep down Christmas is a pain in the neck (or even lower) that no one ever gets right?
How about spreading a little cheer this year for a change?
Surely there is some part of the Advent preparation season we do enjoy. Why not talk about that and why it gives us pleasure instead of ticking off the onerous list of chores we have to accomplish by Christmas Eve?
Perhaps the key to living a successful Advent isn’t dropping all the bothersome chores we don’t have time for, like writing out personal greetings on cards, decorating, homemade baking, choosing and wrapping gifts. Perhaps it is calling to mind and heart the reason we do those things. And perhaps the key to living a successful Advent is done by doing those we choose to do with love and a sense of humor.
Our continuing economic downturn has afforded us all a window into how unstable financial security is. The only trustworthy hope is found in Christ…and He has come. Indeed, through the liturgy, which makes the events of salvation history present to us anew, He is coming again –and to us! Soon the graces that flooded the shepherds of Bethlehem will be ours. Is that not Good News, wonderful news, glorious news, enough to lighten any burden and cheer any heart?
Perhaps the consumerists among us would be more apt to mend their ways if believers gave them the witness of a joy that transcended the material instead of an annual chiding?
So here’s an Advent challenge: this season, don’t utter one complaining word about Christmas. Instead, to the world that “needs a little Christmas, right this very minute,” let’s show ‘em how it’s done.
Rebecca Teti is a wife and mother who writes for Catholic Digest and other publications.