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‘Oh come all ye Faithful, let’s keep Advent on track’

With the increasing commercialisation of Christmas, it’s vital to remember its true meaning, reflects Colette Cooper.

With Advent upon us, one of the spiritual battles that we as Catholics are most likely to face is the conflict between the commercialisation and secularisation of Christmas—but we perhaps should not let either distract us from our preparations for what is, after all, the coming of Christ.

While we aim to prepare spiritually to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ throughout the month of December, it’s fair to say that it’s easy to get caught up in twinkling lights, food and drink, gifts and other material considerations.

Of course, these are great in moderation but, as we should know, it’s not what Advent and Christmas is really about. The true meaning lies in the name ‘Christ-Mass.’ Yet, the secular world appears to try to pretend otherwise.

Secularisation

Let’s take the John Lewis TV advert for example—a popular Christmas tradition for many people each year, and while its warmth, uplifting music and adorable creatures are admirable, it has no religious meaning whatsoever. It’s easy, perhaps, to get caught up in the ‘cuteness’ of Christmas and forget what it is that is being celebrated.

Another prominent example of the secularisation of Christmas happened last year, when the Thistles Shopping Centre in Stirling banned the Nativity scene, for fear it ‘might offend customers who are not religious.’

Luckily, the ban was overturned thanks to Catholic activists who protested in the shopping centre, reportedly ‘dressed as St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary.’

John Mallon, one of the protesters, from Sancta Familia Media, chatted with shoppers and discussed the ‘crib controversy.’ The protest was also videoed; ‘Looking For A Place At The Inn,’ reached thousands of views on social media.

Nativity

The Thistles Centre then released a statement saying that the ‘managers had changed their minds and would allow a representative from the Legion of Mary to set up a Nativity scene, as part of their Christmas decorations.’

For this and many more reasons, it seems important for Catholics to have their voices heard to prevent the overshadowing of Christmas as a secular event, particularly during Advent—the time of Christ’s coming, which reminds us of the Magi seeing a star in the sky and making their way to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus, King of Kings.

Unfortunately, there also seems to be a void where the Nativity should be in some UK schools.

In 2014, for example, an online article reported that half of schools had scrapped the traditional Nativity play for an ‘updated’ version, starring modern characters, including ‘aliens, fairies, footballers, drunk spacemen and Elvis.’ Reportedly, many schools also avoided the term ‘Nativity Play’ and instead used ‘Winter Celebration.’

Concern

According to the online article, these issues came amid ‘growing concern’ that Christianity was being marginalised in the UK. During that time, only ‘one in three schools’ reportedly still held ‘a traditional Nativity play even though parents wanted ‘the Christmas story to live on in education.’

Ultimately, Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth, and the true meaning continues to be overshadowed and undermined by worldly ways. Before we know it, the Nativity—whether as plays, scenes or decorations—will be a thing of the past.

So, what can we do to prepare spiritually this Advent and to make sure we don’t get distracted by the commercialisation and secularisation of such a holy time?

It seems important to go to the heart of Advent with a clear conscience and soul, which is why attending Confession before or during the month of December seems a good way to begin preparations for Emmanuel.

Mass frequency

This may seem like a fairly obvious step, but as true, practising Catholics we must attend Mass each week, rather than just waiting until Christmas Eve, for instance. We need the Sacrament of Holy Communion to keep us going but it is also an important reminder that we have an obligation to other Sacraments such as Confession.

Let’s also consider the wreath, both during Advent and Christmas. According to an online article, the wreath’s circle shape is to ‘represent God’s eternity, His unending nature.’ The evergreen holly and ivy symbolise ‘life,’ and “we as Christians have eternal life once we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.”

Therefore, during our Advent preparation, (when the purple candles are lit) we should consider the Nativity, and ‘prepare room at the Inn,’ before celebrating Christ; getting closer to His arrival (when the pink candle is lit) until eventually reaching Christmas (when the white candle is lit).

To ‘prepare room at the inn,’ we should both examine our consciences and be ready to forgive one another. It is important also that we ask God to reveal any unforgivingness that we may have within us.

Forgiveness

For instance, even if we have attended Confession before the month starts, that is not to say we should just go back to careless or sinful ways.

The purpose of Reconciliation for Catholics ‘is to not only have one’s sins erased or to no longer be sinners, thus, the main purpose is to be forgiven for all of your sins and to be restored to Communion.’

After we have cleared our hearts and minds of any bitterness, sin or resentment, we should continue to be contemplative of our spiritual lives—in order to steer away from the distraction of secularism.

It’s important to remember that the season of Advent and Christmas is still a joyous occasion and we should rejoice in His coming, by learning to open the door of our hearts in preparation. So, while we put up the decorations and get excited about presents, we can centre everything around gratitude to God.

Through the practice of spiritual preparation at Christmas time, we may be more inclined to live spiritually after entering the New Year, and in our lives from then on.

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