The need for Advent

The need for Advent

When I was a kid, I could have sworn that time slowed down in the week before Christmas. Especially on Christmas Eve itself. It’s as though the hours before Christmas moved in ways different from the ordinary passage of time.

The sense of expectation was as thick as the scent of the Christmas tree. (I think we did have an artificial tree one year, but that was never repeated.)

I could never imagine then what I have sometimes experienced as an adult: Christmas Day is a day not all that different from other days. There’s Mass, and a big roast dinner (typically served two or three hours late), followed by carols and the exchange of gifts. But the festivities are diminished by Christmas fatigue.

I haven’t (yet) reconciled myself to the spectacle of “post-Christmas” sales on Boxing Day (the second day of Christmas!), and the discarding of Christmas trees and decorations soon after. But I can see how that is consonant with the experience of Christmas Day as a day of respite – a day of deliverance from the silly season of Christmas parties and last-minute shopping. By the time the Christmas season actually starts, some people are over Christmas!

It’s a long way from children’s experience of Christmas. But I don’t think the problem is the loss of childhood. The problem is the loss of Advent. I’ve heard Advent described as a “Little Lent” – there are the violet colours; the call to extra prayer; the invitation to self-denial. But more importantly, Lent and Advent share a focus on the Last Things. Lent begins with a focus on our mortality; Advent begins with a  focus on the Second Coming.

This focus, and the prayer and sacrifice of Advent, stills us. It fosters hope and expectancy. It reduces the stress of the silly season and magnifies the grace of Christmas. It magnifies the magic of Christmas.

It’s fair to presume, I think, that the saints lived the spirit of Advent. It’s remarkable how many of the saints – normally pious and respectable – resembled excitable children at Christmas time. So many of them – especially in modern times – were remembered by their contemporaries for singing carols with gusto, studiously admiring Christmas decorations, spending hours in front of the nativity scene, and nursing the image of the infant Jesus. In other words, the saints sustained the enthusiasm, the excitement, the wonder children have for Christmas.

One of the things I’ve resolved to do this Advent is drive one kilometre per hour below the speed limit. (Normally I sit three or four kilometres above the speed limit, because I’m pretty sure my speedometer exaggerates my real speed.) It’s only day one, but I’m surprised how much this has cost me. I really hate being overtaken. If sitting on the limit isn’t self-denial, nothing is!

Hopefully this will foster the sort of peace and recollection Advent is designed to advance. (Hopefully, too, it won’t provoke impatience and road rage in the people who overtake me!) I want to experience the Christmas of my childhood. Or better, the Christmas of the saints.


  • Well written and rings true (for myself at least!).

    • Thanks Davie. Whatever happened to your blog?

      • As it happens, I’ve recently started a new blog I’ve called “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” / Glory to God in the Highest – and been posting pretty frequently to make up for lost time!

  • MuMu

    Thank you Fr John for a great post and a graphic which brings tears to my eyes.

    I’d be deliriously happy if the Church proclaimed that parties before Christmas are a mortal sin. Apart from anything else, they make attempts at self-denial almost impossible. If we celebrate something that hasn’t happened, it is inevitable we are cheated of the joy which awaits us at Christmas.

    (My erstwhile PP often proclaimed that eating hot cross buns before Good Friday evening was a mortal sin. We were both just making a point….)

    • “Deliriously happy.” I laughed out loud at that MuMu. I suspected that was the intended reaction even before reading the parentheses.

      Have a fruitful Advent. (I’ll save the Christmas greetings til later!)

  • Mark Gliddon

    Thanks for a most thought provoking article Father. I said that as an Anglican Priest, Advent was one of my favorite times of the year to minister; I could focus more on the mystery of Mary our Blessed Mother and the paradox of time that you mentioned in your article. It was wonderful to remind the people (and myself!) of the importance of taking time to ponder the implications of the Incarnation (just as Our Lady did when the Scripture states that ‘Mary pondered these things in her heart’) As you have rightly said we must also prepare ourselves through acts of penance that as it were prepare the way of the Lord. Thanks again and my wish and prayer is that we take the time to consider time so that we may we joy anew meet our Savior in the sublime glory of Christmas. God Bless one and all.

    • Thanks Mark. I’ll let you know next time I’m in Warrnambool . . .

  • Joel

    Just stick in the left lane and you’ll be fine.

    Now get outta my way!

    • Yes . . . Well . . . Every resolution needs qualification!

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