The first day of Advent this year was this past Sunday, November 27, ushering in the Christmas season—the time of waiting expectantly for the birth of the Christ child.
The other day, a young man came over to visit my daughter, and he asked me if we had held Thanksgiving dinner at our house, rather than going out. We had, I told him. He then said he couldn’t wait for the full onslaught of Christmas—the music, decorations, and so forth—but then admitted that he didn’t especially like this time of year!
As conversations tend to do, this one was interrupted, and I didn’t get to ask him why he didn’t like it. I personally love Christmas—it’s always been my favorite time of year. But, I can agree with the young man about this; I don’t like the commercialization of Christmas.
And that may be why I particularly like Advent.
The Meaning of Christmas
In one Advent family worship service, the four weeks of Advent are divided across four Christian virtues. Week one stresses hope; week two, love; week three, joy; and week four, peace. After this bruising presidential campaign and the unexpected winner, we probably all need more hope, love, joy, and peace right now.
During the week, the family (or an individual) reads scripture verses that foretell the birth of the Messiah, which the Gospels describe as the events leading up to and following his birth.
Many churches light an Advent candle each Sunday of the season, and they begin singing Christmas carols.
Thinking of Others
For many people, Christmas has become about presents—as if we need another excuse to be consumerist, greedy, and materialistic! I understand that in Japan, people celebrate Christmas by buying Christmas trees and exchanging gifts, but they have little to no knowledge of the holiday’s religious context.
Yes, I like nice things, but Christmas is also about giving intangible things that mean much more than what goes under the tree and which may better represent the spirit of the holiday. Some examples of such includes giving of ourselves to others by offering them our time and attention; showing thanks and appreciation to those who serve us year-round, such as your postal worker or UPS delivery person; or taking the initiative to mend a broken or fraying relationship.
Turned off by the commercialization of Christmas? Try observing Advent instead, to rediscover the holiday’s true meaning.