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Here’s why Advent isn’t just for religious people

ADVENT,WREATH
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When we celebrate it fully, Christmas becomes even better ...

We all know the dreaded holiday weight gain. The lure of those snowman cookies is just too strong to resist. This wouldn’t be a problem if Christmas cookies were only on offer at Christmas itself, but now that the feasting season starts off with a bang at Thanksgiving and extends solidly through December, it’s too much.

In my middle age, I can no longer make the entire month of December a constant feast. I can’t dive into a pool of candy canes like Scrooge McDuck, pour syrup on my spaghetti like Elf, or drink that extra high-fat version of egg nog like, well, me. I actually do that last one. Upon reflection though, I realize that a life full of constant feasting isn’t the way to maximize physical and mental health.

Enter Advent.

Yes, there is a certain segment of committed religious families who absolutely adore Advent because of its spiritual meaning – full disclosure, my family is one of them – but you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the benefits of celebrating Advent. The most obvious is that, by delaying the Christmas feasting, it gives our waistlines a break. Beyond physical health, though, spending some time with Advent is a beneficial habit that promotes well-being and even adds to our enjoyment of Christmas.

Here are a few Advent benefits:

Reduce stress

A high number of people say they suffer from “Stressmas (and an anxious New Year)” Stress piles up when we try to make the season too perfect, shop too much, and eat too much. It can get so bad that the rate of heart attacks actually goes up at the end of December. It’s called a Happy New Year Heart Attack. There is way less pressure during Advent. There are no parties, no gifts that absolutely must be perfect, and no feasting. Advent minimizes and contains the period of stress to a smaller portion of our lives, so we can no only survive another year but also enjoy the holidays far more.

Self-reflection

Leading up to the New Year is a natural time for some self-reflection. There are enormous benefits to taking a bit of time to slow down and think. These benefits range from learning from past mistakes to gaining a bit of perspective. Advent, with its themes of waiting and silence, is here to help. Ultimately, this is a great way to prepare for a happy Christmas because it helps us focus us on what really matters as we approach the holidays and provides some breathing space before jumping into our celebrations.

Maximize family time

Because those of us who celebrate Advent purposely hold off on wading into mountains of Christmas and movies and tuning into the 24-7 Christmas music radio station, we’re able to focus on family time with fewer distractions. There are the typical traditions like lighting the candles on the wreath together, making a paper chain with different activities on the links, making cookies, and taking time to get the Christmas tree ready with the whole family. And there is also more time to drink hot chocolate by the fire and play games. By taking more time to ease our way into Christmas, we’re able to appreciate it more along with the ones we love.

Delayed gratification

Christmas is amazing. That’s why we all go wild on the day after Thanksgiving draping Christmas lights on every possible bush, tree, and window. It’s why we dedicate entire rooms to our Santa figurine collection and watch Home Alone approximately 50 times per year. However, indulging so early in the festivities may be causing the joy to wear thin, and some people question how long and wearisome the season can become. By waiting a bit and celebrating Advent further into December, it isn’t saying that Christmas is bad, it’s a way of protecting how wonderful it is by not watering it down and by delaying gratification. The theory is that, if we wait a bit and exercise self-control, then the reward will be all the greater.

In other words, when we celebrate Advent, Christmas becomes even better.

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