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Don’t give up Christmas

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"They're shutting down Christmas," she muttered as she bagged my groceries without lifting her eyes. "Simple as that. There won't be Christmas this year."

While I understand her frustration, I truly beg to differ. "They" can't shut down Christmas. Can't keep it from coming, can't keep us from celebrating. They can't shut down Thanksgiving, either, for that matter. But for now, let's talk about Christmas, and let's talk about Advent and how we need to observe it well this year, more than ever before.

I promise I'm not a Pollyanna. And I know that shutdowns loom large on the horizon. I know there is economic insecurity. I know extended families are separated. I know that access to the sacraments is limited, and might be denied altogether. That's why I think we better focus on living Christmas well at home. Like so many times this year, the forced shift in attention to things that might have heretofore been neglected can benefit our families in ways we never imagined.

This won't be an Advent where we rush from party to performance to purchasing all over town. It won't be an Advent where we are pulled in a million directions by a secular culture determined to co-opt a Christian solemnity. Last year, my daughter danced Clara in a grand production of "The Nutcracker." I loved every minute I spent sewing costumes and fluffing tulle backstage making sure ballerinas were perfectly lovely. My extended family was there to celebrate a truly glorious evening. This year, my daughters take one Zoom dance class a week up in our attic. It's not the same. It will never be the same again.

It's also not what Christmas is. And in this weird year of strange blessings, it's a blessing that it will be easier to focus on Advent. We will be home. Life will move more slowly. Waiting for Christmas will seem almost in sync with the world out there. We can approach the season with intention, and we can find the time to bring it to fruition.

Begin with reconciliation. Just as we prepare our homes, we can prepare our hearts. Put to right any relationships gone wrong during this hard, hard year. Then, if you are at all able, go to confession. Prepare your soul for graces and for challenges. Be ready.

I'm a decorate-during-early-Advent kind of person. I've had nine babies. We've never waited until the night before to get the house ready for the baby. (And one of those babies was born six weeks early. Still, we were ready for her.) This year, as you "decorate," focus on making your home a place of prayerful preparation and celebration. In the event of limited access to churches, it is more important than ever to consider our homes as sanctuaries for souls. Think about your favorite church. What inspires you to pray there? What makes God near there? We won't have tabernacles in our homes, but we can have sacred art, and we can have holy spaces set aside to ponder and pray, and we can keep candles lit and prayers rising like incense.

Make an Advent wreath for your table, bless it with holy water and light the candles every night before a family meal. This might be the first year you actually burn them down to the nibs. Similarly, set up a Jesse Tree at Advent's beginning, and take the time to add one figure a day, all the way to Christmas, lingering on each of the characters in the story of salvation history.

You don't have to be in a church to pray with the church. Advent is the perfect time to observe the many feasts celebrated universally. It's easy to find the Mass readings for the day, celebrate Mass with an online offering and lean into the lives of the saints we celebrate. If you're willing and you're grateful for something new to do with children still at home all day, the internet yields a plethora of ideas for liturgical crafts and food. You don't need to leave home to immerse yourself and your family in the fullness of the season.

Read bedtime stories every night, but make them excellent, beautiful Christmas books. And bake! We've all become adept at sourdough by now. Maybe it's time to try a different cookie recipe every few days or so.

You will miss your people. Me, too. There is no doubt that people will be missing this year. If there are people you love who can't be with you because they live outside your "bubble," set times to call. Break the "no phones at the table" rule, and FaceTime through an entire meal. Share the menu beforehand so you can even eat the same thing. Share conversation and fellowship, if not touch. If they have died, honor them with pictures, with special ornaments, with memories recalled, and stories told again and again.

Don't give up! I know you're discouraged, but don't surrender Christmas.

Our faith binds us. In every home that is a domestic church, there is a unity with the saints who go before us, with our brothers and sisters in Christ here on earth, and with the baby in the manger who came to save us. Together, we can definitely keep Christmas alive and well.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020