Tonight we lit the third candle in our Advent wreath—the pink one—and it’s the first year that Liam is old enough (at 3 1/2 ) to really understand what we’re doing. He has been really excited to light them as a family during dinner time. Tonight, as we say what we’re thankful for that day, he says that he’s “thankful for lighting the red candle because then we will light the other purple candle and Santa Clause will come on Christmas!” This long sentence was said in one breath and ended with such passion! While I admire the sentiment, I also began to worry how he was understanding Jesus’ role in all of the festivities and gift-giving. Beyond Sunday catechesis and our nativity/Advent wreath, was all of this preparation for Jesus or Santa?
Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved the Christmas lights, the smell of the cookies, the parties filled with the many cousins, and of course, waking up on Christmas morning believing that Santa had visited us sometime during the night. I also loved giving gifts and made long lists of everyone for who I would buying something—such a list often included neighbors and, of course, my cat. It was the gift-giving, both receiving and giving, that held the most magic for me. As I think about my own children now, I wonder what part of this season will capture their imaginations in the future?
Advent was not a part of my home life as a child. At my Catholic grade school Advent was the “reason for the season” and so it made sense that there, I focused on Jesus and his birth, but at home I was focused on Santa Clause. It never occurred to me that I thought of this holiday as essentially two different, yet simultaneous events. Celebrate Jesus’ birthday—celebrate Santa Clause coming. They both just happen to occur on December 25th. It wasn’t until I was older, probably in high school, when I started to put the two together for myself and started to conceive of buying gifts for my family and friends as one way to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. But really, that didn’t make much sense to me either because at someone’s birthday, you give that person a gift.
As an adult, Advent has finally become about giving a gift to Jesus—my heart. I love that the season is focused on the pregnancy narratives of the holy women of the Gospels. Having so recently been pregnant for the second time, I find it easy to reflect back on another type of “season of waiting”—waiting for the baby to come, to see that little person and come to know him in the intimate way of a mother and child. Likewise, I think that Advent is a time to remind us that God always longs to know us, as intimate as a parent. The real gift is in sharing of the self, myself, with all of my beauty and my ugliness, my light and dark sides, my joys and my sadness.
Given that my children are still too small to understand this for themselves, I try with all of my heart to express even more love during these dark days. More snuggles, more kisses, more laughter at silly moments and hard moments. I try to say the words “I love you” and “I’m sorry” more throughout the day. I try to praise twice as fast as I chastise and have patience and understanding for the difficulty of being a 3 ½ year old and a 5 month old. And as they grow, I hope to give my children a more cohesive picture of how Advent and Christmas go hand-in-hand.
Carrie Nantais, M.Div., MA, currently lives in Detroit, MI with her husband, David, and two sons, Liam (age 6) and Theo (age 3). She is completing her PhD in Clinical Psychology in May, 2017. Her areas of interest include: integration of spirituality and psychology, forgiveness, trauma and resiliency and women’s health issues. When she takes care of herself, she enjoys yoga, being creative, singing loudly in the car and laughing with her family.