By Lindsay Schlegel
There was Christmas candy for sale in my local grocery store before Halloween this year.
The push to rush the season, to be on to the next thing and the next thing, is nothing new and perhaps neither is your frustration as you endure it. Recognizing the absurdity of the situation is only natural, but to dwell on it doesn’t really get us anywhere. As followers of Christ, when we see something as ridiculous as Santa candy before All Saints Day, we would do better to ask how we can help our culture see the truth.
One of the corporal works of mercy is to instruct the ignorant. The Christmas season gives us an excellent opportunity to do that. It’s a time of year when our culture really doesn’t get it, and people outside the faith tend to be willing to admit something’s a little off. Tis the season, then, for this particular work of evangelization!
(Before I continue, I’m going to be honest: I did buy some Christmas candy in early November. I have a child with food allergies, so I’ll take the holiday-themed Sour Patch Kids as soon as I see them. But then I pack them away, and practice patience until it’s time, on Christmas Eve, to fill my kids’ stockings and let the celebration rightfully begin.)
If you’ve started Christmas decorating and celebrating early in the past, it can feel strange to wait until Christmas Day to begin the festivities. The remedy is celebrating Advent as a family, which can help kids feel involved with the season without rushing into Christmas. Recognizing the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th can also allow for a little of that candy to get put to use!
The real Christmas celebration ought to begin on December 25 (or a day earlier, if you participate in the vigil Mass). This doesn’t have to mean totally eschewing your community or piling all the preparation into one short day. Rather, it means using moderation throughout Advent to save the good stuff for the proper time.
For example, our family gets a Christmas tree and strings it with lights in early December, but we hang the ornaments on Christmas Eve. We make cookies with Grandma on Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent, a time reserved in a particular way for rejoicing). We eat one or two (okay, three) that day, then freeze the rest for Christ’s real birthday. We attend and delight in our kids’ Christmas concert at school, but we don’t listen to Christmas music at home or in the car until we’ve entered into that season.
And when we do enter into that season, it really is a celebration! Every night is dessert night for the Octave of Christmas. Advent decorations in and around our home are replaced with Christmas decorations—hand towels in the bathroom, tea towels in the kitchen, various artwork our kids have made throughout their years in school. To visit us on December 15th, say, is a very different experience than visiting us two weeks later!
You might be wondering how all this instructs the ignorant, if so much is happening within our homes. For one thing, this practice teaches our children that Advent and Christmas are two distinct seasons and should be celebrated as such. For another, when we begin to make these changes in our lives, it is natural that people around us will start to notice, even without our announcing them.
We won’t be tired of Christmas cookies before the big meal—we won’t even have started yet. We won’t be able to join in conversations about being sick of Christmas decorations on December 27th—ours will still feel new. The joy that we experience in waiting until the proper time to celebrate what really is one of the most wonderful times of the year will attract others to desire the same in their homes.
The change won’t happen right away, but we can trust that in living with the seasons of the liturgical year, we plant seeds in the minds and hearts of our children, family, and friends. In witnessing to the discipline of the rhythms of the Church, rather than the whims of the world, we show the beauty of surrendering our desires to the will of the Lord. We show the beauty that comes from a yes to God’s word, and we can trust that through the Holy Spirit, in time, our efforts will bear good fruit in our homes and beyond.
Lindsay Schlegel is a daughter of God who seeks to encourage, inspire, and lift others up to be all they were created to be through writing, editing, and speaking. She is the author of Don’t Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God and the host of the podcast Quote Me with Lindsay Schlegel. Lindsay lives in New Jersey with her family, and would love to connect on social media or at lindsayschlegel.com.