If you ask my family what I’m like during the holidays, they’ll tell you that I tend to go a little overboard. The get-togethers, the gifts, the good times with loved ones and treasured friends — I can’t get or give enough during this special season. My wife and kids make fun of me for it, but I think they’re the crazy ones. I think my childlike joy gets to the very heart of Christmas.
In America, it’s easy to think of Christmas as just one day. Most of us can’t wait until December 25th arrives, when we will wake up, open presents, eat a massive meal, and spend a blessed time with the people we love most. From the Christian perspective, it’s true that Christmas Day is uniquely important — it’s the day we commemorate our Savior’s birth, after all. Yet the days that precede it — what we call Advent — are also special and deserve our full attention.
Here’s why. Christmas Day transformed our world; the days building up to it are about transforming our hearts. Advent is when we prepare for the moment when the Word became flesh. When you see it like that, how could you not spend it in faithful, prayerful, joyous celebration?
Advent isn’t just a time to light a candle once a week. Each day offers us a chance to light a fire in our hearts. It’s a time to look inward, toward our own relationship with God and how we can strengthen it and recommit ourselves to His service. It’s also a time to look outward, toward the relationships that surround us — bonds with family, friends, and many others, all of which should reflects God’s love.
For my part, I’ve found that prayer is especially meaningful in the Advent season. There’s a sort of excitement that accompanies it — a powerful sense of anticipation. I think it’s the realization that the person I’m praying to is the person who came into the world on Christmas Day. God is literally coming to meet us, and through prayer, we can go to meet him. The very act of praying, which is already a conversation, now makes you feel like a participant in the celebration of Christ’s birth. Prayer and meditation before the blessed sacrament at least one hour a week is always my favorite way to listen to the voice of God.
The Mass also becomes more beautiful during Advent, at least for me. Once again, the expectation of what’s coming on Christmas Day somehow makes it come alive in a new and exciting way. I’ve attended daily Mass for decades now, and I am never happier to do so than in the month of December. Prayer and worship come together, nudging the heart toward greater charity and joy.
The joy of Advent simply cannot be contained. It needs to be shared, spread, and shown to those around you, which is exactly what happens as Christmas approaches.
Have you ever wondered why you feel the need to reach out to estranged friends and loved ones during this season? Do you find yourself thinking of others — people you may have forgotten or who you haven’t seen in quite a while? This is no accident. As Christ draws nearer, it compels us to look beyond ourselves.
It’s a beautiful gift, offered to everyone, regardless of their faith. Even non-Christians usually spend this time of year reconnecting, renewing, and repairing relationships. God, in His infinite mercy, gave us a time for people of all backgrounds and beliefs to come together in brotherly love. The wider culture may not understand Christmas, yet we all accept and enjoy God’s gift to us, whether we know it or not and whether we call Him by name or not.
This is why I go overboard in the build-up to Christmas. There’s simply nothing else like it, spiritually and emotionally. I hope that every Catholic will use this special time to pray more often, to attend Mass more often, and to focus as much as possible on the relationships that matter most. The more intentional you are about this season, the more joy you’ll find, and the better prepared your heart will be come Christmas morning.
And just remember: Advent is only the preparation. For Catholics, the Christmas season starts on Christmas Day and doesn’t end until February 2nd, the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. If we see Advent as a time of celebration, then how much more joyous, loving, kind, and charitable will we be once Christ is here, with us?