You can count on it: On the first of November, the dark chocolate marshmallow Santas (my personal favorite) are right next to the Halloween markdown candy at the local grocery store.
Before Thanksgiving arrives, department stores have hauled their plastic greenery, red bows and "Lowest prices of the season!" signs out of storage.
By the day after Thanksgiving, some radio stations are solely playing Christmas music. You'll hear every awful rendition of "Santa Baby" by Gaudete Sunday, for sure.
You can also count on this: As long as we've had businesses competing for your holiday dollars long before Christmas arrives, we've had the same (but valuable) message from sage homilists, essayists and Christian cultural commentators. And that message is: Don't let Christmas steal your Advent.
It's actually the title of a great essay by Deacon Greg Kandra this year, and, of course, his points ring true:
Jesus is coming.
But until he comes, we wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray.
We shouldn't rush it. Advent is the time for taking stock, and making plans, a season of great expectations...
That brings me to a question all of us should ask during these coming weeks:
Are we listening?
Are we paying attention?
Are we looking to what will be -- or are we already there?
If we jump right into the holiday season, we forget to wait, and watch, and wonder, and pray. We neglect the "joyful hope" that is so much a part of this beautiful season. When Christmas arrives, it will seem almost anti-climactic: one more day in a long litany of jingling bells and canned carols.
Earlier in the piece, which served as a homily for the first Sunday of Advent, Deacon Greg ponders if we haven't smashed the two seasons of Advent and Christmas into one, calling it "Chradvent."
I agree with him. Yes, we shouldn't rush Christmas, and we should fully appreciate Advent.
But shouldn't there a way to fully coexist (I cringe at using the word, believe me) with the commercialism of "retail Christmas" and the beauty of Advent?
While I'd love to turn down the premature Christmas cheer in our malls and on the airwaves until Christmas really does arrive, that would defeat the purpose of why those businesses push Christmas in the first place. For retailers, especially in this economic slump, getting us in the "Christmas spirit" means getting us to swipe our credit cards. And, it might just keep them in business--and keep more employees on the payroll.
Our time will be better spent not by railing against retailers, but instead, appreciating how the hyper-commercialized holiday blitz around us can make both Advent and Christmas more cherished.
Take Deacon Greg's first question about Advent: "Are we listening?" We listen to the words from Isaiah at Mass, we listen to the "O, Antiphons" around the dinner table, we listen to the voice of God in our hearts. But listening to Christmas carols in the radio, even if it's only December 1, allows us to hear something else: Christian lyrics on secular stations. When's the last time you heard "Long lay the world, in sin and error pining"on your local "modern hits" station? For a few blessed weeks, Katy's Perry's overtly-sexual "Teenage Dream" is replaced by "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/ Hail the incarnate Deity." Even if it's early, I'll take it.
Second question: "Are we paying attention?" Is it possible that the hasty arrival of Christmas decor in our marketplace makes us focus more steadily on the season of Advent? I'd say so. Nowhere do we see more of a stark contrast with the holly-jolly and the life-size nutcrackers than in our parish churches. While red and green adorn the cathedrals of consumption, deep purple vestments and candles (along with a splash of pink wax) greet us each Sunday at Mass. The Church, along with the Cross, have always been signs of contradiction with the world at large, and that continues through Advent.
Third question: "Are we looking to what will be-- or are we already there?" In our own home, I hope our children can see this question answered with our family nativity set--a decoration which has been all but litigated out of public (and political) sight. Is the set "already there" in our home, displayed before Christmas? Yes. But I take the Baby Jesus figurine out of the creche and hide it in the fine china. I hope to make it a family tradition to place Jesus next to Mary on Christmas Eve, and then let the Wise Men make their grand entrance on Epiphany. By doing this, I hope our kids see both what's already there, and what will be.
Jumping into this holiday season without being firmly rooted in our faith would be a tragic mistake, for adults and children alike. But the secular world isn't about to change any time soon: The Christmas trees will forever be up in Women's Apparel before Thanksgiving. It's how we observe Advent during the jingle, jangle and fa-la-la-la-las that matters.