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Three Sundays of Advent in and I’m still holding strong to my commitment to celebrate this season instead of plowing through it with a sleigh driven by eight tiny reindeer. In spite of my little boys scaling the walls to gobble up the booty in three assorted Advent calendars (two chocolate, one Angry Birds…ugh), things started off fairly well this year.
With only a couple days of Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales before Advent, I thought I was helping myself by doing the lion’s share of my Christmas shopping—squeezing out my greedy urges before clearing the way for Jesse trees and wreath lighting and getting down to the business of Advent in a way that would make Maria Von Trapp proud. (Think Mardi Gras, but with credit cards and promo codes instead of hurricane cocktails and a king cake.)
Then the boxes started coming. And coming. Oh, dude, they are still coming. Full of lovely things like Jesse Tree kits, and religious medals, and books on Saint Nicholas. But also stuff: Lotions, potions, and shiny pink lip glosses; wallets and handbags; toys and games; new winter coats and Christmas sweaters; and on it goes. And all of it makes me think of more stuff I need to buy: New tablecloth! New tree lights! Some obscure ingredient for a traditional Christmas punch served in some country that I can’t remember that no one but me will drink. Sigh.
Advent is when this materialism thing gets real.
The temptation to “buy” the perfect Christmas is one I fight to resist from Halloween through Epiphany. In my efforts to concentrate on Advent with my family, scale back, and wait in solemn anticipation, I somehow manage to buy, buy, buy. You want it? Someone will sell it to you. And while you’re there, just get four or five dozen other things that are sure to bring you peace and joy.
The internet is one big greedy pit for a girl like me. Even Facebook, which isn’t even a shopping site, incites in me the urge to buy—through links to blogs, or even just pictures of friends’ Advent activities. It can all be mine with the click of the computer mouse.
But sadly, it’s not true. The packages arrive to your already cluttered house. Now you have to unpack them, assemble the goods, and break down the boxes. When is recycling picked up? Oh no, not for another 10 days! Can we make Advent crafts with the boxes instead? I’ll look it up online. Oh wait, to make that one I’ll need to buy these other things…. And click, click, click, mommy is lost under a giant pile of stuff again never to be seen until after Boxing Day.
All of this time, money, and planning could be spent really getting ready: Cleaning the house from top to bottom; sitting down and explaining to the kids why we haven’t yet put up a tree or hung any stockings; praying a novena; making simple gingerbread on the feast of St. Nicholas; cutting back—on shopping, web surfing, TV watching; getting that cozy feeling from a fireside snuggle with family instead of from a new sweater.
I write this as advice to myself more than anyone else. I love stuff. I love looking at it, buying it, touching it. I love gift packaging, and I really love that magical, slightly-perfumed air they pump into luxury department stores. I love bargains and dollar bins. But it never ends. You can’t shop for the life you want; you can’t buy those lasting family memories. Stuff is fleeting. Our loved ones—whether dressed in spiffy new duds or last year’s too-tight Santa sweater—are the real treasures. This season of hopeful waiting is the perfect time to unplug and let ourselves enjoy what God has blessed us with, before we celebrate the feast of His most generous gift to the world on Christmas Day.
Leigh Fitzpatrick Snead is a mother of three who resides in South Bend, Indiana. She holds degrees from St. John’s College in Annapolis and from the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.