A very good article on the celebration of Advent, something that the secular commercial celebration of Christmas has largely pushed aside.
When I was growing up as a Catholic, I had heard of Advent, but to me it meant the same thing as Christmas Day. It meant presents, and Santa, and going to Mass, and taking down the tree practically the very next day.
My wife was also raised Catholic in a much more devout household, but they also celebrated Christmas pretty much the same way I always did. Perhaps it’s a regional thing, but I don’t think so.
When I came back to the Church many moons later, I was surprised to hear that at least in some parts of the U.S. and the world, Advent is a SEASON not a DAY. (I found out the same thing about Easter. I knew of Lent, but I had never heard of an “Octave of Easter”).
Historically, Catholic households would begin celebrating Advent four Sundays before Christmas. Most of the celebration of this time has to do with anticipation of the coming of the Lord. The Christmas songs that were sung were mostly about Christ about to come (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) rather than the moment of his coming. Using an Advent calendar forces you to focus on a different aspect of the season every day, keeping you focused.
The decorations and the tree would only go up during the day or evening of Christmas Eve. If you had a manger scene, you could put it up early, but you wouldn’t put the baby Jesus in it until Christmas morning.
And the decorations didn’t come down the next day. They came down on Epiphany, Jan. 6, or maybe later after The Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.
Perhaps we should go back to celebrating it this way. It might help to force us back into thinking of Jesus at Christmastime, rather than merely buying presents. Although that means that if you want a real tree, buying it in Christmas Eve will guarantee you a Charlie Brown variety. But that's not so bad. Charles Schultz was not only a good cartoonist, but a philosopher, and a poet. The symbolism of that humble tree is significant.