Advent Guilt: Should You Hold On Or Let Go?

Whoever puts up their Christmas tree last wins the “Best Catholic” award! Wait, was it a competition? No one told me!

Before I stared Catholic Icing, I had no idea there were people that waited until Christmas Eve to put up their tree. The more I run in Catholic circles, I find that a lot of families take waiting during the entire Advent season very seriously. This is not something I grew up with, or something I was used to. While I’m a total stickler for keeping Lent in Lent and Easter in Easter, Advent and Christmas always felt like a grayer area than that to me. However, I couldn’t help but wonder, was I a bad Catholic if I decorated our tree too early?

Technically speaking, Advent is a time of joyful expectation. It’s not totally unlike it’s purple buddy, Lent, as we are “waiting” during both. However, there is one big difference- Advent is not a penitential season. reference

God reminds me again and again not to compare myself to others. Comparing only leads to 2 things: the feeling of pride, or the feeling of inadequacy. Both are undesirable. However, it’s so hard not to! What about all of these amazing mothers that pull off waiting for absolutely everything until the actual Christmas season? Should I strive to be more like them?

I’ve been finding that it’s harder to avoid “Christmas” things during Advent than it first seems. For instance, I listen to Christian music year round. Right after Thanksgiving, the Christian stations start playing religious Christmas music. Should I switch to secular music during Advent to avoid Christmas music coming too soon? Things like this didn’t sit right with me. Religious music over non-religious still felt like the smarter choice, regardless of the Liturgical season. And I wouldn’t forbid my kids from singing Christmas carols during July (which sometimes, they do do, by the way) so why would I forbid it in December? After all, the songs are about Baby Jesus, and we’re excited about him!

To just throw the practicalities out there- there is already a lot for moms to be doing on Christmas eve! I can’t imagine adding baking and decorating a tree to that list. Also, I want my kids to able to rejoice that they are Christians during Advent. I want them to know that all of the fun and celebrating is about Jesus! The idea of making them sit out of Christmas parties and testing the limits of my own sanity during an already crazy time of year just didn’t sit well with me. I was really struggling to find the right answer for my family.

Then finally, the other day, it hit me! Advent is a time of joyful expectation- the expectation of a baby! We are nesting for baby Jesus during Advent. So I started thinking about all of the ways that I nest when I’m expecting a baby, and I realized that a lot of them had very similar counterparts that happen during Advent. Check it out:

  • Announce the pregnancy to your family / send out Christmas cards
  • Go shopping for baby stuff / shop for presents
  • Family and friends throw baby shower to celebrate baby coming / throw Christmas parties
  • Paint and decorate the nursery / tree, lights, other Christmas decorations
  • Read books about babies / read Christmas books
  • Clean the house for sanitation / clean the house for guests
  • Make a baby registry for gifts / make a Christmas wishlist
  • Stocked up on frozen meals / bake ahead of time for Christmas
  • Play music on tummy for baby / listen to Christmas music

Keep in mind, all of the baby gifts, extra food, etc, don’t actually get used until after the baby is born, but they’re all set up and ready to go well before the due date.

On the flip side of that, when I was brainstorming the list of things nesting pregnant women do, I came up with a few things that we shouldn’t forget the “Advent Equivalent” of.

  • Go to doctor / What would you put on the Advent side of this? I was thinking maybe attending Confession?
  • Lamaze class and learning about babies / Extra novenas, Advent prayers, Bible studies, etc.
  • Putting your baby’s needs over your own (avoiding certain foods, medications, and caffine, making sure you get enough sleep, avoiding lifting heavy objects or doing dangerous things, taking prenatal vitamins, etc) / doing things for others during the holiday season in the form of good deeds, charitable donations, etc

And what of the 12 days of Christmas? Well, after you have your baby, that baby becomes your whole life.  There’s almost no area that is left unchanged. Jesus wants to be your life, too, and His arrival is only the very beginning of that. 🙂

What do you think? I would love to hear your (respectful) thoughts on this topic in the comments.

Just wanted a little disclaimer: Analogies are never going to be perfect. This is just a thought process I had last week and I felt called to share with all of you. Also, there is nothing wrong with putting up your tree last- in fact, it’s awesome! It’s just not something I can personally handle on Christmas Eve. So please keep in mind as you’re setting your family’s Advent traditions that God may be calling you to different traditions than he calls other families to.

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Comments

  1. I totally agree, and this is basically my philosophy toward Advent as well. Elizabeth Foss (who blogs at In The Heart of My Home) has a similar view about Advent.

  2. Thank you. That was wonderful.

  3. I always figure that advent is a time of joyfully awaiting and preparing for Christmas, so I prepare for Christmas by getting the house ready, buying gifts, etc. We work hard to keep it feeling like advent with extra devotionals, the penance service, etc and I don’t feel like decorating or (insert other activity here) has to take away from that. They co-mingle nicely, in my brain anyway! I love your baby shower analogy!!!

  4. I think you have the right attitude. I love your suggestions too.

  5. I agree with everything Stacy said!! And thank you for writing about it. I work full-time outside the home and I feel guilty about too much already – I’ve had to learn to temper my expectations of how much I can do and waiting until Christmas Eve (a day it have to go to work!) would be entirely too much. But we’ve done as you write – added more advent traditions to balance the tree and decorations. Now I’m loving and celebrating Advent, not fretting about how I’m doing it “wrong.”

  6. Clare Sloane says

    This is a beautiful analogy, and a beautiful reflection on the seasons of Advent and Christmas! I only wish the top picture wasn’t sideways!

  7. I agree about getting ready and not waiting until Christmas Eve. If Advent is about preparation, then I feel that doing all of decorating and such is a way to help us prepare for the birth in our hearts. I try to remind myself & my kids that Jesus is the reason why there is a Christmas. This year to celebrate the Church’s Christmas season, I will leave our stuff up longer. Maybe not as long as the Church, but later than January 2. The nesting analogy is spot on. Merry Christmas! Or should I say Happy Advent???

  8. Leslie Schulte says

    I like to wait until after the first Sunday of Advent before putting up our tree. I do like your analogy and think it is a great way to think of how we are to prepare for the Christmas season. We use the extra trimmings from our tree to make our Advent wreath as a family, and when Christmas comes we take out the candles and then we decorate the wreath with reds and other colors and then hang it on our front door as our Christmas wreath. We also make ornaments for our Jesse tree and have an Advent calendar. This year we have started giving gifts to Jesus. After all, it is His birthday. 🙂 These gifts include, helping at the local soup kitchen, donating clothing and food to the homeless shelter and food bank. I know there is Toys for Tots, but I believe that giving a person food and a warm coat goes a little further than a Barbie.

  9. Lacy,
    I love how you said “Advent traditions” and “not comparing”. I have tried incorporating more Advent activities. I think we should be preparing our hearts
    for Jesus’ birthday and focusing on family traditions. I figure if it’s not a church teaching, we don’t have to be so strict about what we do or don’t do during Advent, just remember to keep our hearts and activities focused on Jesus’ coming!

  10. I agree with Advent being a time of preparation. To put off everything for Christmas Eve would be impossible for me. Right now my house is decorated with evergreen garlands, advent wreath, and manger scenes. On Gaudette Sunday (Pink Sunday, which marks a time of increased expectation and joy) I will put up the stockings and we will put up our tree and decorate it, BUT it’s our tradition not to turn on the lights until Christmas or after Midnight Mass for us. Saving that last detail for Christmas makes such a difference and keeps the “sparkle” for Christmas 🙂

    • Wow – I really like the idea of not turning on the lights until Christmas! I’d still be able to get it all up and done but wait for the “light” to come on Christmas. Awesome.

    • That’s funny, we actually do the opposite. We put up our (fake) tree at the beginning of Advent, and light it up on St. Lucy Day, but wait until Christmas Eve to hang the decorations. At least, that’s what we did for our first Christmas at home last year. This year I’m due with baby #3 on Dec. 26 and we all had colds this weekend, so no light on the tree yet.

  11. Actually, Advent is a penitential season! Find it here in the Catholic Encyclopedia and in your Missal http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06394b.htm .

    One of the aspects of this conversation that seems to be missing is that there are TWELVE whole days of Christmas. I know so many Catholics who put up their Christmas trees early only to be sick of it before Christmas is actually over. But, let’s be practical…

    A momma with little ones underfoot only has so much time to decorate for Christmas, and chances are if she waits until Christmas Eve, little will get done! So, for myself, I have adopted that which I learned while in the convent one Christmas. Begin decorating the weekend before Christmas (you may cheat if Christmas falls early in the week!) This gives you some extra time without robbing you of the family traditions that most Americans have adopted for Christmas Eve. Besides that, who wants a dead tree at Christmas anyway?

    • No, it’s actually not a penitential season at all. Historically it had penitential aspects, and we should still conduct ourselves with moderation in joyful expectation, but it is not a penitential season, particularly not in the same way as Lent. I believe Canon Law states parishes should be decorated modestly during Advent, so I take that advice into my own home and practices.

  12. Jennifer Armstrong says

    Thank you, Thank you! I love your definition and will share with family and friends. I now can explain it to my daughter and to non-Catholics I know. God bless you! Merry Christmas!

  13. Marlaina Spahr says

    Thank you so much! I needed this! I’ve been working hard every year to make our Advent more meaningful but have also been concerned about taking away family traditions. Your analogies spoke to me and put my mind at ease that as long as our intent is in the right place traditions are okay.

  14. I absolutely love this post! Your analogies are awesome and right on target in my opinion. I love when God leads us to answers like this when we struggle. What a blessing! Enjoy your nesting! God bless~

  15. Beautiful! Our parish music director has been trying to keep the feeling of joy in the advent music selections this year.

  16. This has been my attitude for years. What would you really do 8 months pregnant? For me that is slowing down and decorating for Christmas in little bits – and that is different every year! We do wait till the 3rd or 4th weekend of Advent to get the tree cause we get a real tree and I want the needles to stay on past the Epiphany. Presents, programs, and getting space prepared are all important parts of preparation and what works at this time in your home is right. And then focus on celebrating all of Christmas – even if it is only dessert every night and a glass of wine till past Jan. 6 and whatever games/outings with the kids are manageable and relaxed.

  17. We put our tree up early and leave it up until epiphany. I love the nesting analogy, and would add that just as we count down for a baby, anticipating every moment, preparing our hearts through penance, we also count down to our most blessed baby Jesus: in our family we do a Jesse tree, we do an advent wreth and ornament calendar. I don’t believe that we do the tree early simply because we are busy, but because we are excited for christs arrival and in our anticipation prepare our hearts and our homes. Every thing we do point towards Christ just as the season after points towards him too, and that is the point. I don’t get tired of our tree or decor because my “common time” decor is always up, and I only have a little over a month of the advent and Christmas seasons to celebrate and rejoice about my favorite gift from God; when he came, he became man. Pregnancy is also a penetential period in our lives and that last four weeks is the most exciting, uncertain, nesting, thrilling, joyful and impatient time of pregnancy. We wonder about our little one, how life will be like etc, we prepare our homes and hearts as Lacy said… Just as we anticipate Jesus’ arrival. And although we have a due date on the calendar, we don’t know when baby will arrive, just as although we have 12-25 on the calendar, we don’t know the day or the hour when Jesus reveals himself during this Christmas season, and speaks his message to our hearts and we openly receive that message. Or give that message to others. Our traditions point us towards Christ, but only Christ can bring us to God.

    Just some thoughts you provoked in me Lacy. Bless you for your openness and love.

  18. As a mother and grandmother, I would say “If you want to totally ruin Christmas for yourself and your family, try putting up your Christmas tree, baking, preparing food for Christmas dinner, etc. ON CHRISTMAS EVE!!! After the kids are asleep!! Young Catholic Mothers: You are taking this competition to be Best Catholic Family of the Century to ridiculous extremes. In fact, you are sucking the joy right out of parenting and almost guaranteeing that your children will run as fast as they can AWAY from the Catholic Faith when they grow up. I have seen it way too many times.
    Play that music, have that party (Guadete Sunday is a good time!), drink that wine! Praise God, all of our now (almost middle aged) children have never left the Church and are raising joyful Catholic families.

    • Thank you!

      As a new convert with young children… I am getting bogged down trying to do Advent “right”. I’m just going to enjoy our season and do the best I can to be as joyous as possible, after all… our children will learn and remember the most from their experiences and how those experiences were imprinted upon them.

  19. Thank you! I have been struggling with Advent guilt! And most of my friends and family have no idea. I did turn down an invitation to a friends Christmas party this weekend, and may have hurt her feelings, but I need to slow down during Advent. We are bombarded in so many ways, the kids’ “holiday” concert at school, shopping, decorating and more! I was thinking bout banning Christmas music and I thought why? I love listening to Raffi’s Christmas album (check it out – it’s wonderful!) and I am going to rejoice in this season of expectant waiting. So this year some Christmas celebrations have been reserved for after Christmas. I look forward to Christmas baking after the 25th, have been and I loved Laura comment about dessert every evening during Christmastide.

  20. While there is no law mandating penitential acts during Advent, I’m not so sure we should therefore say that it is not a penitential season (though it is different from Lent). It might be helpful to think about what we are doing during Advent. 1) We await the celebration of the Savior being born into the world. Why did He take on flesh? To redeem a world plunged into darkness, suffering and groaning under the weight of its sin. The readings from the book of Isaias illustrate this clearly. 2). We await the coming of the Just Judge – not only at the end of time but also at the end of each of our lives. Advent is a time for us to take a good look at our lives, make changes, and ready ourselves for that day. A great resource for all of us is the Liturgical Year series by Dom Gueranger, which can easily be found online.

    As for how to keep the two seasons separate, I agree that we do what we can and don’t stress about it. No need to switch to secular music instead of Christmas music – there is beautiful Advent music to listen to (“Advent at Ephesus” being just one example). No need to save all of the decorating for Christmas Eve, but maybe don’t light any of the lights until Christmas. That would make a bold statement to announce the arrival of the Light of the World. Consider sending Christmas cards late so they arrive during the twelve days of Christmas (kind of like a birth announcement). Also, maybe try saving the Christmas movies/books for use during the twelve days of Christmas instead of before, and use them to keep the celebration going until Epiphany. Little changes like that, along with our increased Advent devotions, can make a big impact without adding lots of stress.

    • I can see where you are coming from. But I think this akin to glass half empty or full. It is such a joyous season that why not extend it as much as possible? Yes, Jesus was brought into this world to atone for our sins. But we are called to atone during Lent. Advent and Christmas are to celebrate that God loves us so much, He gave us this most treasured gift! A gift of this magnitude needs to be celebrated accordingly.

      I guess it’s all in how you view things.

      • ‘It is such a joyous season that why not extend it as much as possible?’

        All the liturgical seasons have a purpose and there is much more to them than we often initially realise. Advent is the beginning of the new liturgical year. It is a time to take a good look at ourselves. What do we need to change? What resolutions can we make? Are we ready to meet the Lord? Do we long for Him? What can we do to make ourselves ready? (What is begun here in Advent as we make our new year resolutions we take later on to a more thorough level in Lent)
        And for a moment we place ourselves in the shoes of those who in the past longed for their Redeemer.

        Do we want to skip this step? Would you really like not to have prepared yourself?

        This is not a season we should do away with. Waiting and preparing are not empty things. They are a special gift. It is an important part of our seeking out and loving Christ. There is no half glass but a glass we shall not drink the fullness of in this life. And when the Christmas season comes… oh do we celebrate! What joy!!

        There is so much to learn about the liturgical year that it can be overwhelming. But how amazing it is, so much to discover. Take it a bit at a time.

        I pray you have a blessed first Advent 🙂

  21. I love your analogies! I am pregnant now, so they really rung true for me 🙂 Preparing for a baby is what the season is all about! And wow, what a logistical nightmare it would be to put up the tree on Christmas Eve! More stress than it’s worth for us. But if that works for other families, cool. Lacy, what are your thoughts on Santa? (Perhaps that’s a while other blog post!)

  22. Wow, Lacy! You are amazing! The analogies make so much sense to me. I feel like I will be able to sleep better tonight knowing that I am still preparing my family for Baby Jesus appropriately even if we listen to Christmas carols during Advent. Thank you!

  23. I love this!!! This is just so sweet! I absolutely agree, we get so excited and waiting for our own children, why not for our Savior?!?! I’ve had guilt that I wasn’t doing enough for Advent! It’s interesting to see that people wonder if they are doing too much before Christmas! I want my children to understand that we are getting ready for a celebration, a very important celebration. So while I try not to put a tree up before Thanksgiving (this year we got a new artificial tree and my husband was SO excited about it, it went up the day before Thanksgiving 🙂 ) I also am not taking it down until after the Epiphany. The same goes with all of our Christmas prep. This is the season of waiting, why not wait with joy in our hearts!

  24. I love this. I am going to share it with my husband. It always bugs him that our tree goes up so early. Just the other day, he told me how Scott Hahn doesn’t put his tree up until Christmas Eve. That is fine if it works for him, but that would never work for us.

  25. Thank you! I almost cried as I read this. This is exactly how I have been feeling, but haven’t been able to get it into words to express to some friends who seem to be looking down on me for my lack of waiting. I am glad you were able to express my feelings in a succinct and ordered way! Blessings to you in the time of joyful expectation!

  26. I think this is great! We put up our tree already, and we also have a tiny tabletop tree that my son really wanted this year. Right now it only has lights, but I just ordered some beautiful 12 days of Christmas ornaments (showing the Christian meanings of each of the 12 days), and we will hang those on the little tree. My husband is ready to have the big tree down shortly after Christmas, but the little tree will remain for the 12 fays 🙂

  27. I struggled with this too, after a homily when our pastor noted that we too often follow the commercial calendar for Christmas, not the liturgical one, I wanted to slow down the train so to speak. But I couldn’t possibly wrap my brain around setting up the whole tree on x-mas eve with everything else going on without having a nervous breakdown. So I devised a plan wherein the tree goes up on the first Sunday of advent, the lights are put on the second Sunday of Advent (but not turned on), the ornaments go on the third Sunday of Advent. On the last Sunday of Advent we light the tree for a little bit, but then it goes dark again until x-mas eve when we have a tree lighting countdown ceremony and the baby Jesus gets placed in the manger. It doesn’t always go exactly according to plan depending on what other activites are going on, but it helps build the anticipation in a managable way for our family.

  28. I try my best to prevent Thanksgiving from becoming a junior Christmas. It’s hard because the two holidays are so close together, especially with Thanksgiving being so late this year. But I make a point of keeping the fall decorations up until a day or two after Thanksgiving, and after I put them away I wait at least a couple of days before setting up anything related to Christmas (except the Advent wreath). As far as when we get the tree, that is basically determined by whenever we are able to fit it into our schedule. This year my husband started a new job and had exactly one day off in between his old job an his new job, so that is the day that he picked up my son from school and they set off to cut down the tree. I definitely consider the cooking, wrapping, and decorating to be part of the preparation stage before Christmas. I try to keep the commercialism to a minimum, and I keep my son out of stores as much as possible, including before Thanksgiving when the Christmas decorations are already displayed in the stores. It’s a tricky balance, but I agree that as long as we’re striving to honor the important aspects of Advent, we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about the timing of our preparations.

  29. I try to do one thing to prepare each Sunday of Advent. It helps my kids recognize Christmas isn’t here yet just because the stores try to say it is. The first week the tree goes up, but it stays bear, next week lights, following week ornaments, final Sunday of Advent presents under. Here’s my blog post on what we do:

    http://teachacademyhomeschool.blogspot.com/2012/12/advent.html?m=0

  30. Beth Dahleen says

    Well done! I love this post. Thank you so much. I couldn’t agree with you more. However, in my ignorance–I didn’t know some waited till Christmas Eve. How difficult!

  31. I think everyone needs to find what works best for their family. And not judge others.
    Christmas Trees: My kids are slightly allergic, but insist on a real one. We get a table top pine for our very small home (850 sq ft) but don’t bring it in and decorate it until the weekend before Christmas, or sometimes Christmas Eve!
    Advent: Our focus is Advent and we have pink and purple lights, our Advent Wreath and Nativities (with Baby Jesus “hidden”).
    Posadas: My family celebrates the tradition of Mary and Joseph looking for shelter, Las Posadas. This includes Mass, Advent songs, tamales, hot chocolate and a piñata for the kids at the home of a parishioner. We also participate in the posada my church hosts for the homeless.
    Reconciliation: Tomorrow night we have an Advent Pot-luck dinner and Reconciliation service for families (first time trying this, let’s see how it goes!) Advent is a wonderful time to reconcile yourself to God and Prepare the Way for the Coming of God!
    St. Nicholas: As a mother to a Nicolás, we have always stressed the story of the real Santa. Even though my kids are teens, now, I decided to put chocolate coins in their shoes this past Dec. 6th along with the chocolate Santas turned into St. Nick from Lacy! They loved them! But when they were little, we also watched NORAD’s cool Santa tracker on Christmas Eve. We would also sing Happy Birthday to Baby Jesus on Christmas morning when they were little.
    Fr. Paul Cioffi, SJ, my favorite Jesuit (may he rest in peace) always said that Advent was a time of ANTICIPATORY JOY. I love this time of year and wish everyone a very blessed and joy filled Advent!

  32. Spot on, sister! We all do things differently and that’s OK. I grew up feasting on Christmas Eve but now attend the Latin mass and follow the old rules, so we now fast Christmas Eve. Also, a few years ago we started waiting until Christmas Eve to turn the lights on our tree. Even though our tree is up and decorated we wait until leaving for midnight mass to turn them on. This is really hard for the kids and us as well, but has really added a lot to our mindset of preparing for the Light of the World to come. I have another friend who turns their light on the feast of St. Lucy. Peace to all!

  33. i love all of these ideas! i grew up with santa and the reindeer and north pole, etc. as an adult i became catholic and have since always been in a panic, especially around christmas, trying to figure out how to be balanced. there are many things i can not repeat from my childhood with my kids, because they dont fit- like the north pole. but i do want my kids to see the joy and feel the same excitement. thanks for putting this out there. youre helping me find boundaries for my own family as well as yours 🙂

  34. Wow! I liked this post a lot! I thought your analogies are really relatable. I have Advent guilt too… I don’t get excited about Christmas until maybe the 3rd or 4th Sunday of Advent. But I like this idea! Is it all right if I re-blog this?

    • You are welcome to link to it but please don’t copy and paste it into your own blog. Thanks! 🙂

      • Lacy i reference you a good bit in my blog. I hope I am doing it correctly. You mean to not copy the whole post and paste it there, correct? Just want to make sure. I usually state what I have found and put a link to it there. Is that ok?
        Thanks!
        Jen

        • Yes, it’s always ok to feature and link to a blog post. In my case, I even allow people to use one of my photos per post so they can feature something. I just ask that you link back rather than giving full directions, etc. You always have to be careful when copying and pasting. If it’s just a few sentences to quote, that can be ok, but yes, don’t copy the whole post. 🙂 By the way, you have a lovely blog, and I love all your book suggestions!

  35. Love this post!

  36. Thank you so much for writing this! I am a convert and the thought of waiting on the Christmas tree never occurred to me until I became Catholic. We had already established a tradition with our children of going to a tree farm to cut our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. The last two years I have felt the guilt of this tradition! This year we decided to get some inexpensive purple and pink ornaments and decorate the tree gradually through Advent, each Sunday adding some more ornaments and tinsel. The final Sunday we will add our traditional ornaments. It has been fun watching the tree get closer to it’s full potential! And, we have always left our tree up through the Epiphany. It’s not as soft as the first day up, but still beautiful and my girls are sad to take it down even though it has been up for so long. I love your nesting analogy and I am letting go of the Advent Christmas tree guilt!!

  37. Great analogy and perspective! We too have struggled but found a way for our family to keep it Advent without saving everything for the last minute. Plus the kids get so excited and just love decorating. It is hard for them to understand if we do nothing while everything around them is lit up and covered with red/green. So, we get our tree the first Sunday of Advent and haul out the Advent bins. The lights go up as well as 3purple ribbons and one pink ribbon. It is our Advent Tree, so it gets a jesse tree ornament everyday. On St. Nicholas day candy canes/bishop’s staffs show up on the tree (as well as the goodies in the kids shoes.) I’ve been thinking of putting blue ball ornaments up on Immaculate Conception but not in our current season of life. 🙂 We haul out the Christmas bins and decorate the tree on Christmas Eve. Thanks, Lacy, for this and all of your posts!

  38. Love it!!! Totally agree. Your nesting analogy is spot on :))

  39. I only have one word – BRILLIANT !!! You are such a blessing! Thank you God for Lacy!!!

  40. So well said! I love everything about this post!

  41. I love the nesting analogy (especially as we’re expecting our first this year 🙂 I was just curious, though, if you have suggestions (maybe a post?) about how to celebrate the Christmas season fully. That’s funny – I’ve never thought about waiting till later in Advent to put up the tree, etc. as “Advent guilt” – I just thought of it as saving some of the excitement for the Christmas season itself. When you have a new baby, it’s obvious how to spend time with him and delight in him. But it doesn’t seem so obvious with Baby Jesus…if I’d done everything at the beginning of December, I think the Christmas season itself would feel a bit stale. My husband suggested going along with the Church’s increasing excitement in the last 8 days of Advent (liturgically you see this in the O Antiphons and the shifting focus of the readings) and put up our tree and start some of the other more immediate preparations (baking and such) durning that novena leading up to Christmas. I like the idea of waiting till Christmas Eve to light the tree! I’ve thought about wrapping up some of the more special ornaments and letting the kids each unwrap one each day during the Christmas season and put it up. Would love to hear other ideas on how to really rejoice in the full Christmas season!

  42. This is how I feel. I am infusing Advent into our already set ways as former protestants and now as converting Catholics. Your analogy makes me feel better and I can apply some of your ideas into our new journey as Catholics. Thank you

  43. Heather Zovishlack says

    It is no mistake that I stumbled upon your site(I was looking for a toilet paper roll angel craft for my MOPS group)just now!!! Every year I try so hard to make sure that I keep Jesus at the center of advent and Christmas and I try not to rush Christmas (commercialism has Christmas music and stuff out the day after Halloween and that is just too soon) But this year I feel called MORE THAN EVER by God to make sure Jesus Christ is the focus of our celebration! Well, I will get to the point…because finding your site and reading about “nesting” gave me goosebumps and I knew it was the Holy Spirit and I had to share with you! I have a large family and our house is clean enough, but during advent and the days leading up to Christmas, I find myself cleaning more and I was in my kitchen mopping like a mad woman the other day and while mopping I was thinking “Why do I clean so much this time of year? Why do I want the house in order and clean for Christmas?” Then I found myself praying while mopping….”God is this honoring your Son? Is this taking away my focus or helping?” and His answer hit me HARD! “YOU ARE NESTING FOR JESUS!!!!!!” And I thought oh my goodness! I am nesting for Jesus! This is exactly what I do when I am expecting a baby! Why wouldnt I want to nest for Jesus’ birth??? I am preparing my home and my family for the birth of our savior! Of course I am nesting for HIM! It alleviated any guilt and gave me great peace and excitement! I am so excited for Jesus’ birth and sharing his love and joy with my family in our home that will be ready for Him. Thank you for your words! I am not a cradle catholic and I sometimes wonder if I am doing things “right”….but I know as long as I am soing the best I can with what God gives me, God knows my heart and Ill be alright…I am so excited that I found you! Let’s nest for Jesus together!

  44. I love everything you said! except- Advent actually IS a penitential season. It’s just a smaller, lesser one than Lent. Purple is the color for penance. So I would find a way to incorporate that into family observance- gift-giving and charity that we already do, and making Confession during the season are things we already do, but which can be done as intentional participation in the penitential side of Advent.
    I LOVE your idea of the season as ‘nesting’, though – a beautiful image!

    • According to the Code of Canon Law:
      Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

      • It is a “little t” tradition to have a penitential advent for Latin rite Catholics. However, in Eastern rites, there is a Nativity Fast. We are Latin rite, but we do observe a penitential advent since it makes more sense for our family and helps us to focus on our family priorities. I think that a fast of any sort before a great feast is helpful in creating appreciation of the feast.

        I have never found it over whelming to put our tree up on Christmas Eve while preparing our fish dinner. Nor have I felt underwhelmed by having it up from Christmas eve till Feb.2.

  45. Thanks. I was just thinking this through as a very recent convert. It would be confusing for my older kids to change it too rapidly.I am envious of people who do Christmas super liturgically. We are moving toward more of that. We had an advent wreath for the first time this year and are beginning to talk about advent as a mini-Lent and how we prepare for our Lord to come, not just the first time, but again in His second coming. I like that you added that the Lord calls us to different ways of worshipping Him. All you families who celebrate perfectly liturgically: keep it up! And those of you like me: keep it up! Family traditions are so important and help our children love the birth of our Savior.

  46. We start with the first Sunday of Advent bringing out the manger and we take turns picking an animal to come to the manger each day. Then the feast of St Nicolas comes and I put up a beautiful display centered around a statue of him. And so it goes with prayers and gradual decorating that is how we prepare for Christmas. The last Sunday tree goes up with lights and Christmas eve we decorate it. Our big Christmas feast is on the second day of Christmas so momma can enjoy preparing it. It is all in finding what works for you family but if your Christmas celebration ends on Christmas night, there is room for improvement. The church calendar is beautiful, embrace it,

  47. What a great analogy! I’ve got some crochet ornament patterns that may start on earlier than usual, next year! I’d love to actually be able to put them on the tree!

  48. We were blessed to spend the first 10 years of our family living in Austria and Italy, with many friends from Eastern Europe. While Baby Jesus brings the Christmas tree to Czech and Slovak homes *while the family are at Midnight Mass* (I don’t know how he does it, but nothing is impossible with God), in Austria the tree is part of the advent decorations, but second to the advent wreath. When we lived in Italy we were a little sad to see no Christmas decorations anywhere, until suddenly on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Christmas lights and garlands exploded over the city of Rome (still no trees though–Italians, at least in the south, just don’t do Christmas trees, or they didn’t 14 years ago). We loved that way of marking the beginning of the Incarnation with the conception of Our Lady.

    • I enjoyed your insights about this. I am Italian and yes waiting until ‘Ammuculata’ to decorate Brough back a lot of memories.

  49. Our life circumstances (having toddlers, being very pregnant during Advent) have helped us discover some ways of celebrating and keeping the seasons separate that seem to work for us and make life easier. We wrap presents and keep them downstairs in the basement until Christmas Eve so the 2 year-old doesn’t get too curious. Christmas Eve, all we have to do is bring them up! It’s easy and dramatic. This year, we pre-baked the Christmas cookies at the start of Advent and froze them. The kids got to “test” the cookies, but most of them won’t be eaten until Christmas. I did this because I knew I might go into labor at any time in the weeks leading up to Christmas and wanted to have the cookies ready, but I think I’ll do this next year too!

  50. Thanks so much for this thoughtful article and WONDERFUL analogy!!! Our (almost grown now) family has adjusted our Advent practices over the years because of travel(We are a military family) and well- life. I was actually quite happy when I discovered that I didn’t HAVE to put up everything after thanksgiving!

    Generally, our family fishes out the advent wreath, the Jesse tree ornaments and readings, and some nice Christmas stories and films after Thanksgiving. Then EVERY Sunday of Advent (or the Sat before) we add another level of decoration to the house. Sometimes we buy a tree earlier, but we usually begin decorating on Gaudete Sunday. By the time Christmas Eve arrives, the house is fully decorated, the Wise men are about a room away from the manger, and Mary and Joseph have finally reached our Nativity set. (It is already full of many childlike mini toys- this year a few lego creations are also in attendance.)
    After Midnight Mass (or right before little ones go to bed), we put the baby Jesus in the manger and turn on the LIGHTS of our Christmas Tree.

  51. Hi Lacy!
    Enjoyed this post and your insights very much! It got me thinking about how many celebrate Christmas as a Day vs. a season so I tried to use analogies in my post and I linked back to your post here: 🙂 Please feel free to share my post if you’d like 🙂 Merry Christmas! http://www.asliceofsmithlife.com/2014/12/why-celebrating-christmas-as-season.html

  52. Thanks for the post. We’re new Catholics and this is our first Advent in the Church. We have friends that attend TLM, we do occasionally, and have found a great deal many people telling us this is not the season for lights, parties, decor and music. This is a somber occasion bc Christ had to be born in order to die. No trees until Christmas Eve. That I’m trying to hold onto that Protrstant version of a secular holiday. This has always been my favorite time of the year and lately I’ve been feeling like that has to change. That somehow I’m going to offend God bc my tree goes up in early December, if not Thanksgiving weekend. We were married Dec 21st because we live Christmastime so much!! And being Catholics- WOW! What an amazing gift that is to have this great faith and to be able to fully celebrate the birth of our Lord!! I’m not going to tell someone they can’t have Advent how they’ve been called to celebrate. But I can’t stand walking into the grocery store and feel like I need to tune out the Christmas tunes and avoid the gingerbread house kits. It’s making me anything but excited with anticipation. I’m adding special prayers, a novena, we’re making our own advent candles (rolled beeswax). I think I’m just tired of the “best Catholic” games period. No matter what I do I’m either too much of a traditionalist or not enough. I follow the wrong calendar no matter it seems. I read the wrong catechism or sing the wrong hymns with my girls, I can’t win for losing. Someone will always do “it” better, differently, etc. pretty much just deciding that we’re going to do “us” and the Holy Spirit guide. And if I’m wrong, let God correct me- it’s no one’s business when my tree goes up, what day I bake or I’m listing to Big Band Christmas in Dec 1st. Thanks for the post!! Cheers to all the other “mediocre” catholic moms and families just trying to keep the faith in an increasingly hostile, anti-catholic world.

    • Amen! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the post!

    • Julia, I wish I could give you a hug! I converted 5 years ago (although I grew up with a lot of Catholic traditions without realizing it.)
      Reading your comment brought me back to my first “Catholic Christmas.” I felt torn in all directions. What worked for me was to bulk up on our advent traditions. It wasn’t too stressful because anything we didn’t get to just became something to do during Christmas.
      How you observe Advent is between you and God. My guess (& prayer) is that you will settle into something that feels good for your family.

    • I’m a convert from atheism ( just before my marriage 19 years ago). I had to work out our Catholic family traditions from scratch. Very slowly over the years I discovered bits and pieces and added them to what we do. I would try not to compare my family to others but just look at what they were doing and if they had something I felt would work for our family, that would follow Catholic traditions and help us have a greater connection to the liturgical year through it, then I would add it in. Sometimes I couldn’t get it organised in time and so it would be for the next. Sometimes we would try it and it wasn’t for us. Some years we just didn’t do things because of life events.

      I’ve now reached a point where I feel settled in our family traditions. The main frame is there. I might change little details but we have the same things now that we repeat. There is no need to continually expand. When you pull out the same nativity set, sing the same hymns, eat the same foods, read the same books, you teach through repetition. You only have a short time to share these moments with your children. Your children want to share these moments with you, not the family down the road, or on the internet. Don’t feel worried, or guilty, or jealous, or sad. Do what YOU can for your family and do it with love! Long after cakes and activities are forgotten, the love of a parent and their love for God are remembered.

      There are so many different traditions it can be confusing when you are first starting out. For my family the Christ Child brings the Christmas gifts, for other families Santa or St.Nicholas. We give our gifts on Christmas day but others choose Epiphany or the feast of St. Nicholas.

      The important thing I think is that what we do helps both us and our children enter more deeply into the mysteries of Christ in the liturgical year. There can be lots of little variations but the same basic pattern is best followed because it has developed to help us understand truths. The further we get away from that pattern the harder it becomes to see this truth.

      A beautifully decorated Christmas tree is a treasured part of my childhood memories that I have enjoyed sharing with my family. Some families don’t have Christmas trees at all. Our family does.

      Christmas will not disappear. Maybe the timing of your celebrations will be different but I think you will find yourself celebrating it more deeply and longer than you did before. That’s certainly what I have found.

      ‘I’m just tired of the “best Catholic” games period. No matter what I do I’m either too much of a traditionalist or not enough.’ Yes, it’s best not to worry about that. Build from where you are. It most likely will not be exactly the same as other people you know. Try to learn more about the liturgical year a little bit at a time.

      Sounds like you are making good preparations for Christmas.
      And I’ve always wanted to make rolled beeswax advent candles…. hmmm, maybe next year 😉

      I pray that you build beautiful Catholic traditions for your family, but most especially that in them you find Christ.

      God bless you!

  53. Commenting & then excited to go back and read all the comments.
    I loved your post and I 100% agree. That’s how I’ve explained it to my kids. Just like we would prepare our home and hearts for a new baby, Advent is a time to do the same, in preparation for our Lord.
    I LOVE the addition of the things we shouldn’t forget to do in the baby analogy.
    With my kids I had my nursery ready to go by 7 months – it gave me peace of mind to focus on my family in the weeks leading up to and following the birth of each child. For Christmas I like to have that same peace of mind. Getting things done early, including decorating, gives me time to focus on others and on the “reason for the season” rather than scramble around in the last few days before Christmas begins.
    We do plenty of advent things during advent… Advent Wreath, Jesse tree, Penance service, Dec. feast days, etc., and our focus is on advent and anticipation. We also link some Christmasy things to advent activities – for example we always see Christmas lights on the feast of St. Lucy and my kids leave their letters to Santa in their shoes the night before St. Nicholas day. (St. Nicholas always writes back pointing to the purpose of the season.)

    I’m glad you shared your way of doing things Lacy! It is reassuring to know that I’m not the only Catholic mom who’s rocking out to Christmas music before 12-25.

  54. I liked this. I liked your analogies. Practical and common sense to me.
    Well said, Lacy.

  55. Nice post. I agree with you. Your perspective on this is refreshing. I can relate to your questions about what to do/not to do during Advent. I like how you also pointed out that comparison only leads to feelings of pride or inadequacy. It seems we women especially have a tendency towards this toxic habit in so many aspects of our lives. I am saddened when I experience the divisiveness present in our church today. There is a lot of pride and judgement going on about what actually constitutes a “good” Catholic today and it isn’t good for any of us.

  56. Love this post and your analogies….thanks for putting it into such great perspective. I don’t think God wants us to be involved in trying to be the “best Catholic” contest. Just always remember that Jesus is the reason for the season and do everything with love for HIM. Thanks so much for your wonderful take on a beautiful advent season!

  57. I’m so glad you posted this! I reference Strega Nona (thank you, Tomie de Paola!) who takes Advent as a preparatory exercise. You mentioned preparing for a baby in pregnancy. We ARE ALL preparing for baby Jesus and thus need to get our houses in order. We usually set the tree up Thanksgiving weekend or the first weekend of Advent. However, we stretch the decorating of said tree and the rest of the house, completing bits and pieces, until it is finished on Gaudete Sunday. We rest, read, grocery shop, and accomplish what cooking and baking we can in that final trimester (or week and a half). God bless your efforts, Lacy!!

    I see there are other moms who share our view and I applaud the ‘average’ Catholic moms.

  58. Thank you so much for this refreshing post! Sadly, I face more judgement in my Catholic circles than anywhere else in my life. However, the older I’ve gotten, the less worried I am about trying to meet the approval of others or expend energy trying to win their respect. I need to spend that energy keeping my eyes fixed on God and doing my best to keep my heart (and my family’s) directed toward Him. I think we should spend a little less time comparing and frowning upon others and a little more time building each other up and encouraging one another.

    I absolutely LOVE the Advent and Christmas season and try to extend it out as LONG as absolute possible. In our home, the music, celebrations, decorating, etc. only add to the feelings of joyful anticipation during Advent and to the celebration of the gift of our Savior throughout the Christmas season.

    • Me too with the judgement! And literally with my Catholic life on display here, I face quite a bit of scrutiny when I do something that knocks someone’s nose out of joint. However, to the very best of my knowledge, everything I post here is within church teachings, and it is literally impossible to please everyone. So at some point you have to do what’s right for your family and have a staple “Oh, it’s so great how God calls our family to different styles”. Keep on keeping on! Don’t let others get you down! 🙂

  59. Jane ritchie says

    Our priest says that the Christmas Novena is the time for the tree. Advent is the time when we think of the second coming for the first 2.5 weeks. Jesse tree and advent wreath in the house at the beginning. Christmas tree during the nine days. No carols til Christmas.! As you cant say the A word in Lent , not a carol must pass our lips until midnight on Christmas eve. The children love the suspense …still. Always brings tears to.my eyes !!

    No baby showers for Jesus

  60. Lacy, thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas.
    We always decorated before Christmas.
    But, for a few years We have been trying to wait more closer to that special moment. I remember long time ago seeing a Christmas tree decorated with purple lights, and all this years I always wonder till last year I was reading a book “The Season of the Nativity “ by Sybil MacBeth. And I liked what she wrote.
    This year we are decorating our mantle first with PURPLE lights (yes, I got them on sale after Halloween), then we will get our Christmas tree with Purple lights to remind us that we are still waiting for the arrival of our Lord. Also, we set under the tree a small empty wooden baby crib with a little blanket where baby Jesus will lay down on Christmas Day and will bring the presents for the kids and family. (Our son always writes a thank you letter to Jesus for what he got for Christmas )
    I know it is not easy to wait, but we are praying to not rush and wait for our
    beautiful baby Jesus, Lord and savior.
    Have a blessed day!

  61. We put up our tree on Christmas Eve, but our tree is a live one in a four-inch pot. When my husband and I were dating he had the thought of getting a tiny tree because Jesus came to us as a baby. That tradition has been a part of what will be 30 Christmas celebrations this year. Our children knew about taller trees from family and friends, but accepted the fact that we were going to have a tiny, usually non-decorated tree.

    The focus of our Christmas Eve with our children has always been setting up the Nativity Scene and reading the Christmas story from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

    I really like your thought of the baby preparation/Christmas preparation. Thank you for sharing!

  62. We are close to having 5 children ages 7 and under. The way I’ve slowed down during advent is to get the tree (fresh) perhaps mid advent. (Years we’ve waited too close to Christmas Eve, trees were sold out. ) Then it’s just in water smelling nice for up to a week. Then the lights go up. Perhaps a few days go by or another week. Then it gets fully decorated on Christmas Eve. I used to decorate it while littles slept so they woke Christmas morning to the beautiful surprise. But they are big enough now that they want to help. So I let them help and then I adjust as needed before Christmas morning. We are a very musical family so music is always happening. My 3-yr old daughter loves to sing Silent Night year-round. But I have found the stages of the tree, a symbol in our home, in our small, little living space where we gather reminds us that we are preparing the way. We sing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas Day as well to be literal about “the big day”. The kids get it. It builds anticipation and I want them to remember that. Thomas Merton wrote of the Three Advents. I heard a talk on it at our parish and found it so relevant. I encourage anyone reading here to read about it. The idea is that the third advent is the one “in which he entered into the world, having received a Human Nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The third is the advent which will bring him into the world at the end of time.” The second advent is “by which Christ is present in our souls now…. God comes to us and works mysteriously within us in spirit and in truth.” Very neat concept and a reminder that the story doesn’t end with Christmas.

  63. Lacy, I really appreciated your post! Our family does actually wait to put up our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, but it has become a special tradition that my husband helps with by going out and getting the tree with the children, then I help with putting up lights and ornaments. We do many of the other things on your list ahead of time (wish lists, baking, etc) or after Christmas (Christmas cards) so it is not all done on that day. But I love your analogy and I love your reminder not to compare ourselves with others! Each family can have a different beautiful way of celebrating and living out Advent and Christmas in our homes, and we ruin that spirit when we compare. Also each family goes through different seasons of their lives and can’t do everything the same way every year.
    Thanks for helping us all put things in perspective!

  64. We agree with everything you have said. Advent and Christmas should be enjoyed throughout December. We could never leave everything until the last minute. Thank you for this inspiring post. Wishing you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving and Christmas. God Bless you and yours.
    Joan,Marion and Marilyn

  65. Lorraine Jameson says

    Thank you so much for your article on Advent Guilt. As a Sunday School teacher , we are a multi age group but all know what it is like to have babies around. With a few little changes we will certainly have fun teaching our young people about advent. At the same time we plan to make small bundt cakes they can decorate (and although they won’t keep until Christmas) they can fun sharing and eating with their families. Thank you again and God Bless Lacy you are certain an inspiration.

  66. What a beautiful analogy. This never, ever crossed my mind! I think I will be pondering this during Advent this year!

  67. We put our Christmas tree up on the first Sunday of Advent with no decorations on it. We then put one Jesse Tree ornament up each day until Christmas. On December 17th, the beginning of the O Antiphons or Golden Nights, we put gold tinsel on our tree and a star atop. I then get the kids to decorate the tree with lights and more tinsel on Christmas Eve. Our Christmas tree stays up until the end of the Christmas season. You can see more of what we do for Advent and Christmas here: http://thewildestofadventures.blogspot.com/2017/11/the-liturgical-year-in-our-home.html

    I like to keep the sense of waiting. So everything we do during the season of Advent is to build the expectation.

    Christmas eve is so exciting! And then Christmas day… Christ our Saviour is born!!!
    We go from advent hymns of anticipation to Christmas hymns of joy 🙂

    And then we celebrate the whole Christmas season. It is so sad that when Christmas is just begun that everyone else considers it finished isn’t it.

    A very blessed season of Advent to you Lacy!

  68. Love it and Thank you, that was beautiful.

  69. We spent most of my children’s younger years moving frequently with each of my dh promotions, due to this we met lots of different Catholic homeschooling families who had lots of different ideas about the “right” way to do many Catholic things – but especially Advent/Christmas ‘properly ‘.
    I reminded my children that we are a gigantic (universal y’all) faith with varying traditions and ways of doing things culturally, regionally, etc. At our house, we did it our way. Didn’t bother me, but that’s me. I put my tree up when I feel like it, and that’s generally after Thanksgiving at some point like I grew up with. And I’ll be honest, my family is happy if I don’t make them take the tree down the day after Christmas. We’re back to school by the Epiphany and I am past done with the clutter LONG, long before then and ready to get rolling with school and spring cleaning . The one year I managed to make it with the tree up till then, it was still up Jan 31st and my darling brother stopped over and too it all down & packed it up for me! I’d given up all hope by then.

    Our other biggie, Holy Days of Obligation….
    When we lived way up north (PA) everyone was Sunday dressed for these. I’m from Texas, and I couldn’t care less what we wore to those Masses, I cared that we got to Mass, jeans, sweats whatever (of course decent) we were there by golly. Every time.
    Just my experiences & observations.

  70. Rebecca kenwick says

    Love love love this post! Thanks for sharing this. It really helps me view advent with a lot more joy!

  71. I like this analogy! And it makes me feel less like a grinch about Christmas parties during Advent. Although, honestly, I have more time to celebrate after the baking, shopping, wrapping, shipping, writing, & decorating is done! In my mother’s childhood, my grandmother always bought the tree & decorated it on Christmas Eve. The trees were cheapest then! And maybe, just maybe, we don’t need to do so much that it can’t be accomplished in one day. Wishing you a blessed Advent & Merry Christmas!

  72. Melanie Vogel says

    I’m old. haha! My oldest is 22. My youngest is 7 months old. So I have the perspective of having done this a long time, and having a long time yet to go (so I am looking to preserve my sanity for a while yet, lol). Find your balance. It doesn’t have to be “do nothing until Christmas eve” vs “do all the things starting the day after Halloween”. Just find a balance that gives your family the general feeling of “Advent means getting ready for Christ” without losing your mind by trying to put off All Things until after 5pm on Christmas Eve. And! This is important! Celebrate the whole Christmas season! Don’t tear everything down on December 26th and be done with all the fun. For us…(for us! just for us!) we do not decorate the tree until Christmas Eve. But we have a very low key at-home Christmas Eve and this is kind of the focus of the day. We go to midnight mass. So we rest at home Christmas Eve, decorate the tree, take naps (for those I can convince to nap), have some easy snacky foods, and finish our decorating. I love the above idea of putting the tree up but not turning the lights on until Christmas! In years gone by, when we went to Christmas Eve mass at our old parish and I had kids in the pageant there and grandparents came over, the day was much busier and we put our tree up earlier. But never the day after Thanksgiving. Because we leave ours up until after Epiphany, and we get a live tree, and it would be a dry twig by Christmas. And, I just don’t want it around for 6 weeks, lol. And…the above post that says Advent is not a penitential season is incorrect. No, it is not *as* penitential as Lent. But it is absolutely meant to be penitential. That is hard when you have little kids and the rest of the world is rocking around the Christmas tree, but you know…just do what you can. A sacrifice manger or something like that is perfect for littles.

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