3 Ways to Reclaim the Spirit of Advent in a Secular Culture

/
December 3, 2018

Every year, I start listening to my Christmas Pandora station as soon as the last trick-or-treaters step off my porch. I break out the decorations a few weeks later, and then the tree goes up right after Thanksgiving.

On the one hand, these practices are innocent enough. After all, I don't think I would have made it through exams in graduate school without my peppermint mocha in hand and Bing Crosby crooning “O Holy Night” in the background. The holiday spirit lifts us up, brings us joy, reminds us of our blessings, and can even help us power through challenging times.

On the other hand, we have the beautiful reality of the Church and the liturgical calendar. The Church gives us a sacred separation between Advent (a season of waiting, preparation, and expectation) and Christmas (a season of joy, feasting, and celebration). This separation is essential not only to our own spiritual formation, but also to the life of the Church as a whole.

That said, should we be a bit slower to don our ugly sweaters and hang our lights? Is it okay to enjoy the trappings of the holiday season while still honoring Advent, waiting in hopeful expectation for the Lord's arrival?

Well, yes - and no.

We don't need to anathematize our secular traditions, nor do we have to wait until Christmas day to start enjoying them. These traditions are good things, many of them with deep roots in Church history. But the inclusion of Advent in the life of the Church is intentional, and there is a reason why we do not jump straight from Ordinary Time to Christmas. A season of expectation, hope, and delayed gratification is necessary for our spiritual growth.

We don't need to anathematize our secular traditions, . . .[b]ut the inclusion of Advent in the life of the Church is intentional, and there is a reason why we do not jump straight from Ordinary Time to Christmas.

In the Church, Advent is often referred to as “Little Lent,” a time characterized by increased prayer, devotion, and, in many traditions like the Eastern Rite, fasting. Whereas our secular culture treats Advent as the season of shopping and celebration, it is intended to be a time of  preparation – not for gift-giving or the arrival of out-of-town relatives, but rather for the Lord’s arrival into this world, something we celebrate anew each and every Christmas.

Catholic author Scott Richert notes, “Advent comes from the Latin word advenio, ‘to come to,’ and refers to the coming of Christ. This refers, first of all, to our celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas; but second, to the coming of Christ in our lives through grace and the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and finally, to His second coming at the end of time.” Richert goes on to explain that “[o]ur preparations…should have all three comings in mind. We need to prepare our souls to receive Christ worthily.”

When we frame Advent in terms of preparation for three separate comings of Christ, it naturally follows that being more measured in how we treat the season can help us grow spiritually and respectfully observe the clear separation between hopeful waiting and joyful feasting.

. . .being more measured in how we treat the season can help us grow spiritually and respectfully observe the clear separation between hopeful waiting and joyful feasting.  

For many of us, this may involve a radical mindset shift, but there are simple steps we can take to live more liturgically and honor the season. Here are three practical ways to cultivate a mindset of expectation and spiritual growth this Advent.

1. Intensify your prayer and devotional time during Advent.

One way to protect yourself from the distractions of secular culture is turning to prayer, spiritual reading, and reflection every day. A host of resources exists both online and offline that can aid our prayer life, such as the Blessed is She daily devotionals and Every Sacred Sunday interactive Mass journal. When you sit down to pray, intentionally create a space that you find peaceful and beautiful. Try lighting a candle or adorning your space with some beautiful Rose Harrington art.

2. Choose one of your favorite secular traditions, and create expectation by delaying them until Christmas day.

Choosing one secular tradition that you love and delaying its enjoyment until Christmas can help you cultivate a mindset of patience and expectation. This may involve opting to delay putting up certain decorations or listening to Christmas music, or saving classic Christmas movies for the 25th. No matter what this looks like for you, this can help you shift the way you live throughout the Advent season, making your routines, rhythms, and traditions mirror the liturgical calendar.

3. Adopt a non-secular tradition to enjoy with your family.

Start to slowly incorporate traditions into your family life that revolve around the Church calendar. One great way to do this is to observe feast days, of which there are many in December: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th), the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12th), and St. Lucy’s feast day (December 13th), for example. Other beloved traditions include setting out a Nativity set, lighting an Advent wreath, or taking on the traditionally Lenten practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays.

We have the power to change the cultural narrative by the way we observe Advent, and these three small steps can help us reclaim the beauty of the season from a society that celebrates excess, noise, and consumerism. By changing our rhythms, even in small ways, we can learn to embrace the joy of expectation as we wait in hope for Christ.

No items found.

Alexandra Davis

Alexandra Davis is part-time lawyer and writer, full-time wife, mother, vintage furniture enthusiast, and black coffee evangelist. When she isn't tackling seriously over-complicated recipes or rounding up friends for front-porch hangouts, she can be found writing about issues at the intersection of culture, faith, and family life. You can connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, or her website, alexandraedavis.com.

No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.
No items found.

Don't miss the Weekly Insight.

Friday updates from FemCatholic's Founder, Sam.
By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.