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"Prepare your heart" by Amanda Torres (CatholicMom.com) Image credit: By Annie Spratt (2018) Unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain[/caption] The first flurries of the season usually fly in October in Minnesota. Those first ones don’t stick. A distinct icy chill warns us of its coming. The chill is light but permeating. It doesn’t quite seep into your bones, but it settles in all around you. The chill is ominous, somewhat bleak. And then the delicate flakes drift down and catch on the wind, grabbing your attention like a whisper from winter. The serenity I feel with the first hint of winter is sharply juxtaposed by the unbridled shrieks of joy that come from my children. To them, both snow and winter signal only one thing. Christmas. After the three-year-olds had mostly tired of proclaiming the snow to all who had ears to hear it, my nine-year-old settled near the window to behold it in quiet awe. Age has calmed that one. “Mom,” he thoughtfully broke the silence. “I am getting that feeling again.” He glanced up at me with a whimsical grin. I knew what feeling he meant but I let him describe it to me again. “Remember, whenever is starts to snow, it just makes me think of Christmastime. And, that always gives me that feeling. It’s like a joy on my heart. And, it isn’t even just because I am excited about presents. It’s like Christmas just makes me so happy.” He loves Christmas maybe more than most kids do; it is in his blood. He comes by it honestly. My husband was born the day after Christmas and has sort of co-opted the entire Christmas season as his own. I have been fighting to keep my husband from celebrating Christmas in October for a decade now and it never gets any easier. I have always loved Thanksgiving, and even before I became Catholic, I pleaded for him to let Thanksgiving have its time first. It was a success if I could hold him off until Black Friday. And so, like many Americans, the day after Thanksgiving became the day that the Christmas season started for our family. When I began my conversion five years ago I was enchanted by the season of Advent. My desire to hold off on Christmas festivities and my disdain for the overbearing commercialism of the season had deeply Catholic roots. Advent is a somber and penitential season, a mini-Lent. We wait in joyous anticipation, and we prepare our hearts for Christ. However, convincing my husband not to put up the tree until Christmas Eve, or even Gaudete Sunday, would be akin to blasphemy. I didn’t want to celebrate Advent “wrong” by starting Christmas too early. But, what if we could do both? What if the gentle glow of the Christmas tree set against the dreary November sky was how we prepared our hearts? It is gray, drab, and cold in November in Minnesota. The sun is a rarity. Sometimes a healthy snowfall will blanket the ground and glisten in our hearts, but often it is dull, brown, lifeless. It is difficult to wait in joyful anticipation. The Christmas tree brings a warmth to our house. The space closes in and becomes papably cozier. The smell of cookies and pies intoxicates our senses. The movies and songs help us to remember the reflective joy. We slow down. We come together. We do not get overwhelmed with materialism or stressed by consumption. We emphasize the Advent Wreath. It sits prominently at our dining-room table. We light the proper candles and pray the proper prayers (almost) every night at dinner. We add the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena. We listen to Advent songs and sing the O Antiphons. And, perhaps most importantly, Christmas isn’t over for us on December 25. We observe the entire Octave. Our tree never comes down before Epiphany. We often continue our celebrations through Candlemas. And maybe that is OK. Maybe those little material things, the lights, the smells, the warmth, maybe those are sort of sacramentals for our family. Maybe we need those things to point us forward, to light our way on the journey of Advent. Maybe that joy on my sons heart isn’t really a Christmas feeling, maybe it is the joyful anticipation of Advent.

How does your family prepare your hearts for Christ during Advent?

Copyright 2018 Amanda Torres