Not Just A Kill-Joy – Why This Catholic Waits To Celebrate Christmas


If lights and carols, trimming trees and decorating cookies bring us joy and excitement, why wait?

Why not enjoy the festive glow for all of December and even November if we want?


Our family waiting is not about pride, looking down on people diving headfirst into Christmas festivities from Thanksgiving, or even earlier.

This is not about being holier-than-thou.

This is not about being a kill-joy.

This is about reclaiming the mostly forgotten traditions of the Faith regarding Advent and the actual Christmas season, cultivating a culture in my domestic church that mirrors our actual parish church, and preparing the way for the Christ Child in part as the saints before me did for centuries.

{What I’m about to share is not required by the Church, part of canon law, or a critique of anyone who doesn’t observe Advent as we do. Please, don’t jump on me that I’m insinuating that people who don’t observe Advent this way are “bad”, “less-Catholic” or any other such term. I don’t go around “correcting” anyone else. I’m simply explaining why our family does what we have chosen because it’s something I’m asked about every single year, and because others may find similar value in observing Advent in a similar manner to the saints before us.}

What Advent Was and Is


Poor, often forgotten, Advent.

Throughout history we will find that Catholics saw this as a precious opportunity to truly prepare themselves for Christ’s coming. (Advent literally means “coming” in Latin). And this was not just for His coming at Christmas, but remembering that the day of His second coming will one day come, when all will be judged.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year of the Church. Just as when we start the New Year in January and tend to have resolutions of health, wellness, and personal growth, the New Year in the Church starts with a season of spiritual growth. It is no coincidence that the readings of the first Sunday of Advent are apocalyptic, setting the stage for this period that encompasses joyful anticipation, but also a sobering reminder of the day of that second coming of Christ, and how we should well prepare for Him.

How can I experience even a hint of the pain and darkness that the world had been plunged into while awaiting the Savior it so desperately needed, if I am setting up dazzlingly bright displays and feasting on special treats?

How can I quiet my heart as I try to root out vices, cultivate virtue, and to better conform myself to Him in preparation for His holy coming, if I am distracted with celebrations of a Savior not even yet come?

In short – I really can’t. And Holy Mother Church knows that

This is why the Advent season has always had varying levels of penance and sacrifice associated it. Even to this day with most of the purgative nature of Advent lost, purple vestments are worn and the Gloria is omitted at Masses during Advent excluding special feasts.

A quick glance at the rich history of Advent as laid out by the incomparable Dom Gueranger in his masterpiece volume on the season shows how those Catholics before us made straight the way for the Savior by a “purgative” time.

“Prepare ye the way” meant something big to them. While there were and still are definite elements of joyful anticipation, the period also encompassed true penance with several days of fasting and abstinence observed.

In some centuries it was treated fully as a mini-Lent with three or four strict days of fasting and abstinence a week, and at one point in history the black vestments of a funeral Mass were even worn. The first Sunday of Advent actually used to have the recitation of the Dies Ire, now reserved for the funeral Mass. This solemn chant recalls that fearful day of judgement, and implores Christ’s mercy.

We don’t treat Lent as a pre-Easter party time, going to Easter egg hunts and feasting in homes decorated with lilies as Christ suffers His Passion. Similarly, never in any period of Church history was the time before Christmas observed with great feasting or celebrations  – it was always about truly preparing for Him.

There is great beauty in uniting ourselves with the wisdom of ages past which knew that by becoming smaller from sacrificing and prayer, He can then increase in us. And don’t we all want hearts so truly ready to receive Him when He comes?

Advent was treated as a time of sacrifice, extra prayer, almsgiving, and meditating on the darkness of the world without the Savior. By considering the next time He will come, when we will all be judged on the day of reckoning, we can really prepare our souls to meet Jesus when He comes at Christmas.

Like I talked about in this post here with our favorite Advent resources, there are many beautiful, fruitful traditions for the season that make it special and a time of real growth and anticipation for what joy is to come!

My Domestic Church And My Real Church

It is my desire to make a culture for my family, living in tune with the Liturgical Year as our home is our domestic church.

It feels incredibly disjointed if my domestic church is full of decorations and treats and the celebration of Christmas, and to then take the girls to our actual parish church which is unadorned and crying out:

“O come, O come Emmanuel! And ransom captive Israel, which mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear.”

“O come, Divine Messiah, the world in silence waits the day, when hope shall see it’s triumph, and sadness flee away.”

When I was first coming to understand the traditional approach to Advent, a priest described it as “joyful anticipation“. We have the joyful part down as a culture at large, but we’ve lost the anticipation almost completely. There really isn’t much anticipation and eagerness for the Savior to finally come if we are fully celebrating like He has already arrived.


There are lots of beautiful customs for observing Advent, and I’m not saying ours is the only or the best. 

We slowly decorate each week. In addition to our Advent wreath we put up the tree, but the only ornaments until Christmas Eve are our Jesse Tree ornaments and our Advent calendar story book ornaments.

We put out the nativities, but the baby Jesus figurines are kept back until Christmas morning. (And oh how excited the girls are on that morning to see He has come!)

We lay the greenery out, but the festive bows, ribbons, ornaments, etc. don’t make their appearance yet.


We pick a sacrifice to observe, add to our prayers, and practice extra almsgiving.

A popular tradition that we have taken up in our home is padding a manger for the Christ Child with the love of our prayers, sacrifices, and good deeds.

I got this wooden crate at Hobby Lobby, along with soft golden yarn for our manger’s “straw”.

Every time someone does something for the love of Christ, to prepare their hearts for His coming, they add a string to the manger for Him.

So practically for us, Advent signals a real change in our home. Someone is coming, and we are getting ready – but, we aren’t having His birthday party before He is here.

The Real 12 Days

Contrary to popular belief from those holiday movie countdowns leading up to Christmas day… the 12 days of Christmas actually start on the 25th and go through the Epiphany on January 6th, when the Wise Men visited Jesus. And, the whole traditional Christmas season is actually 40 beautiful days beginning on Christmas day and going to the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady on February 2nd (also called Candlemas, and the day we take down most of our Christmas decorations!)

By waiting to celebrate Christmas when it is actually Christmas, those 12 days are a big deal. If we have already opened every gift, eaten dozens of cookies, attended all the parties, and listened to hours upon hours of carols by the time the sun sets on December 25th… most people are pretty much “done”.

Poor Baby Jesus has finally arrived, born into the world that He has come to literally die for, and with maybe a token couple days of general merriment after His birthday, already trees are seen out on the curb to be taken away, with most of the world ready to move on from His birth.

But those twelve days were historically dedicated to making the biggest birthday celebration there is a big deal, including all of the other liturgical Feasts that fell within that time period.

It is then after slowly and diligently trying to prepare our hearts and home for Jesus that we decorate cookies, bake a “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake, trim the tree, sing our favorite carols, delight in special meals and treats, read Christmas stories, host parties, go to extra Masses, and make each of the 12 days special in some way.


There is nothing like our girls waking up and finding the Baby Jesus in the manger they patiently helped make soft for Him throughout Advent.

When we have waited so long and tried to prepare well for Him, there is a sweetness beyond compare when He finally arrives.

For unto us a Child is born! He for whom we have been so long waiting is come: and He is come to dwell among us.

Great, indeed, and long was our suspense; so much the more let us love our possessing Him.” ~ Dom Gueranger


If you are interested in what resources we use for Advent like the Jesse Tree, our favorite Bible story Advent calendar, real beeswax Advent calendar, and our favorite cd to listen to for the season, see this post here:

6 thoughts on “Not Just A Kill-Joy – Why This Catholic Waits To Celebrate Christmas

  1. Great post! You’ve explained Advent very well, especially for those of us that are newer to the tradition of Advent. Also, I have the same Nativity scene. It was my grandparents’ and it was always “my job” to set it up when we helped them decorate. It was handed down to me when they passed away.


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