Skip to main content
Read page text


Let’s make the most of Advent to appreciate Christmas

Many of our readers will receive this Christmas edition of the Catholic Herald in Advent – the time of arriving, the beginning of the Church’s year, a season that concludes on Christmas Eve. Pope Francis tells us that Advent “begins a time of consolation and hope. A new liturgical year begins, which brings with it the novelty of our God, who is the ‘God of all consolation’. I wish you to experience Advent thus, as a time of consoling novelty, and joyous waiting.”

Epiphany, have started to succumb to the US version of Christmas, which is an extension of the Thanksgiving season, exactly a month beforehand.

This is quite literally a spoiler. It doesn’t just reveal the ending of the story, it means that when we finally arrive at it, we’re jaded, ready for the next thing, the season of fast and abstinence that arrives on 1 January, when we’re still right in the middle of the 12 days of Christmas. We are, quite simply, incapable of inhabiting the present moment.

The counter to all this is the other relatively new Advent tradition, the Christmas charity appeals. The Advent appeal for

It is of course a time of consolation and hope, though it’s worth remembering that the readings of Advent look forward not just to the first coming of the Lord as a baby, but to His second coming, as a Judge. And the Pope is right: the waiting is joyous because we know there will be a birth at the end of it: the baby Son of Man.

CAFOD, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, this year is for communities affected by flooding. Other charities that attract support in Advent are homelessness organisations such as The Passage, which find a particular resonance in the story of the Christ Child, whose parents found nowhere to stay. The innkeeper who turned away Mary and Joseph has a number of parallels in our own time.

In many British stores, Christmas gift ranges were on display before Halloween, more

But a time of anticipation isn’t a time of celebration; the mood of looking forward, of arriving, isn’t the same as the explosive joy when the birthday finally happens. Yet in advanced consumer economies such as ours, that is exactly what happens. The entire retail sector is premised on the notion that the Christmas season should be underway as soon as humanly possible.

than a month before Advent actually started

In many British stores, Christmas gift ranges were on display before Halloween, more than a month before Advent actually started. All the Christmas lights in London were switched on by mid-November. The intention is to get us to start Christmas spending as early as possible. The outcome is to make most of us jaded with sparkles, Santa colours, cinnamon scent and Nutcrackers several weeks before Christmas begins. Office Christmas lunches that start in November mean that we’re well and t r uly inured to turkey (avian flu in Europe allowing) long before Christmas Day.

What remains of Advent is Advent calendars, which are now no longer little windows on a cardboard winter scene, leading to the final revelation of a manger on 25 December. They’re an occasion for 24 days of consumption, from beer bottles to pork scratchings to fragrance and skincare (the Christian Dior Advent calendar this year costs all of £470). It is a parody of the actual spirit of Advent.

Even Catholic countries such as Italy, where the local equivalent of Santa Claus, the Befana or Christmas witch, arrives at

But the Advent season does have scope for celebration. It is the feast of St Nicholas, the original Santa Claus, on 6 December. In the Netherlands, from where the custom and the saint went to the US, we have the original gift giver: the bishop saint whose present of gold coins, delivered anonymously, to a family of poor girls meant that they were able to afford money for dowries. (Preserving girls from prostitution is not an historic problem.) And on the night of the 5th, good Dutch children still may find little presents left in their shoes. If we want a feast to celebrate before Christmas, let’s celebrate St Nicholas. He has tradition and history on his side.

It would be churlish to expect Catholics to keep Advent as a period of fast and abstinence when everyone around them is holding Christmas parties, but it would be good if we were able perhaps to abstain from meat for the season, or even, more heroically, drink. If not, then we can and should be thinking of those who, like Mary and Joseph, have nowhere to stay, and donating to them.

The Christmas season, let’s remember, starts on Christmas Eve and carries on for 12 full days until the Three Kings come at Epiphany. Then it winds down slowly until Candlemas. If we really keep up the spirit of Advent, then when the time comes, we shall appreciate Christmas in all its fullness.


My Bookmarks

Skip to main content