Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Keeping Christ in Advent: 7 Ways to Prepare for a Peaceful December

After reading this post where I lamented my inability in previous years to stay focused spiritually during Advent, a dear friend of mine suggested that I compile a list of practical ways to get ahead of the busywork that needs to happen in order to prepare for Christmas, so that we have the time to be free to really enter fully into the Season of Advent. I am so grateful for her suggestion, because it has given me a good reason to get all these things on my list done - nothing like a little accountability to get the ball rolling! My goal is to have these tasks completed before the first Sunday of Advent, which will be celebrated this year on November 30.

1. Prepare for Advent first. 
For the past several years, the order of my planning and preparation goes like this: Thanksgiving, December festivities (all those parties, concerts, shopping trips and other things happen in December), Christmas, Advent.  See anything wrong with this picture?  I sure do. In my world, Advent has become an afterthought - something that I scramble to focus on around the time we light the pink candle. Here's a few ideas to prepare, in advance, for Advent. 
  • Get out your Advent wreath and make sure that you have fresh candles - If you need them you can get some here...Mega Candles - Unscented 10" Advent Taper Candle, Set of 4.
  • Have on hand a daily devotional that you can use for prayer during the Advent Season. I am planning to use Advent and Christmas With the Saints (Advent and Christmas Wisdom). I love this series, which contains volumes for Advent from St. Padre Pio, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, GK Chesterton, St. Augustine and more. 
  • Make a plan with your family to set aside time each day to light the Advent Wreath and spend time together in prayer. Pick a time that works for all of you - it could be dinnertime, or first thing in the morning, or right before bedtime. Advent is a penitential season, so this may require a sacrifice to fit in. However, as with all sacrifices, God will not be outdone in generosity and the blessings will flow. 

2. Purge.
One of the things I dread most about Christmas is the influx of new stuff that invades my house. While I am immensely grateful for the generosity of friends and family, I stress every year about where to put new toys, new clothes, new ornaments and that new 17 Piece Nativity Cookie Cutter Bake Set that I just had to buy.....

This year I am resolving to spend the next few weeks of November purging the house of old toys, clothes which have been outgrown or worn-out, kitchen gadgets that never get used, broken ornaments, used books, dusty trinkets and more. You name it -it's going. Advent begins the new year in the Church and I am aiming for it to begin a new, tidier, more organized year in my home. 

3. Make a list, check it twice and get it done.
As a wife and Mom, the list of things that need to get done to prepare for Christmas seems endless and seriously overwhelming - especially when you have left the majority of it until mid-December.  Here's a Christmas to-do list that I am aiming to finish prior to the first Sunday of Advent. Everyone's list is unique, so I encourage you to make your own and knock the items off as early as possible!
  • Buy, write, address, stamp and seal Christmas cards - I won't mail them till Dec. 20 but I sure don't want to be addressing envelopes that day. 
  • Send Christmas wish lists to grandparents and family of the kids sizes, likes and dislikes and any banned gift items (please Auntie, no Electronic Voice Transformer this year)
  • Pick up Christmas outfits and pj's for the kids and for yourself and hubby too! 
  • Buy all Christmas gifts - including a few spare gifts (I am thinking of mugs stuffed with Hershey kisses) for those unexpected, unplanned, or (heaven forbid) forgotten people. 
  • Stock up on wrapping paper, labels, tape and bows. 
  • Wrap a few gifts each day, as opposed to power-wrapping for 8 hours straight. 
  • Plan ahead for Christmas cooking and baking - making as few trips to the grocery store as possible - better yet, find a grocery store which delivers and save yourself the trip. 
  • Cook and freeze as many healthy meals as possible. 

4. Plan to try a new Christ-centered activity.
Advent is a special time in the life of the church and most parishes offer wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth during this season including Advent missions, penance services, concerts of sacred music, evenings of lessons and carols and more. Before Advent even begins, scout out an event sponsored by your parish, a neighboring parish or Diocese that you believe will help you focus on spiritually preparing yourself and your family for Christmas and put it on the calendar.

5. Just say no.
December brings with it a flood of invitations and opportunities for celebrations. While those are generally all fun and festive times, they can also easily and quickly lead to burnout, exhaustion and in some cases, depression. It really is OK to say no to holiday events and even to certain "traditions." Pick an evening in November and sit down with your spouse, a calendar and a glass of wine if you think it will help and plan out what events you will attend and what you will not. Having a united front, well in advance, is essential to winning the battle for time in the month of December and will help to eliminate a lot of stress, hurt feelings and arguments.

6. Keep it Healthy
My December diet consists of the following 5 food groups:
  1. Cookies
  2. Eggnog
  3. Wine
  4. Holiday dinners - Italian style 
  5. Holiday leftovers - Italian style
If I graphed my December sleep and exercise schedule, in comparison with my stress levels, you would see one soar while the other two plummet.  Folks, this is not good news. This year I am determined to be kind to myself by making a concerted effort to eat right, exercise, sleep and stay sane. How will I accomplish such an amazing feat? I have no clue. I certainly can't give up the eggnog or the cookies.... In all seriousness, like everything else, my plan is to schedule in time for exercise and to cook ahead as many healthy meals as possible. As for the lack of sleep, I am hoping that keeping our schedule manageable and completing the majority of Christmas errands ahead of time will minimize the late nights. 

7. Offer it up.
December stress happens - to some extent it is unavoidable. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around last year my behavior more closely resembled Attila the Hun than any great saint. If you find yourself getting tired, grouchy and just plain Scroogeish, take a deep breath, find a quiet spot, meditate on the blessed peace and silence that must have accompanied the Lord's birth and offer all your struggles up to Him. Pray for those who do not yet know the name of Jesus; pray for the person who is bugging you the most at that moment; pray that the world experiences the peace that the Savior brings. In the end, there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas celebration - only the perfect Christ. Let's all keep calm and focus on Him this Advent.

Read related posts here:
7 Ways to Celebrate Advent With Your Family
Our Advent Book List
Christmas Gift Ideas For Kids: Catholic Style

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  1. It's funny, Debbie,I was just spending a bit of time this AM, realizing that advent is a mere 3 weeks away, to organize my thoughts and our family's activities! Im loving this. How timely. I'm def pinning. I know many will appreciate it and get great tips.
    I'm loving that devotional AND I'm really taking your advice on the de- stressing aspect. Love the Attila the Hun comparison. So like me too!!! I've eliminated many things for this more greeting cards and gifts for extended family. It was either that or my sanity! :) Family doesn't get it, but that's ok.

    Take care...I look forward to more of your posts throughout advent! ( and beyond )

    1. Thanks so much Chris! I am so determined not to have a repeat performance of last year's Attilla the Hun insanity I would love some of the peaceful silence of that first Christmas!

  2. I rejoice to see Advent getting its due. Years of working retail taught me to value the season and long for it, as Christmas carols played throughout the shop beginning in mid-November. That plus sales goals makes for soul-deadening stuff - but add Advent, with its prayers and preparation, and it's a different story. God bless you!

    1. Thanks for commenting - working in retail must be especially challenging during this time of year! Praying you have a blessed Advent!

  3. What beautiful ideas and I thank you for sharing! Would you please allow me to share this with our families here in our Faith Formation program at Saint Marys?

  4. Feel like I am doing the same ...tree went up tonight, Christmas shopping is done, and you may just get a card this month! Looking forward to spending more time celebrating Christ, and teaching our kids more about Him this Christmas.

  5. Thanks, Debbie - We too have found that it requires a conscious decision, and prior planning, to observe Advent properly. Thanks for a thoughtful, and very practical, post.

  6. I love your number 8! It's one I forget!

    1. So easy to forget that one with all the goodies around. Thanks for visiting!