Have you noticed that “Advent calendars” are all the rage these days? I put that in quotes because the “Advent calendars” I’m referring to are secular in nature and have become a big part of holiday marketing and sales. There are “Advent calendars” for wine, tea, chocolate, books, gemstones, spices, cookies, and a host of other delights, most of which have nothing to do with the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Now, I’m not going to act like a curmudgeon and wring my hands and shake my head about how scandalous it is that our culture has co-opted a sacred season and is using it for commercial purposes. On the contrary, I think it provides us with opportunities to teach and evangelize about the spiritual nature of the Advent season. In other words, it is a teachable moment.
Many people may not even be familiar with the word Advent for starters, so this gives us an opportunity to explain to people that Advent is a liturgical season of the Church year, which recalls the anticipation of the coming of the Messiah as told in the Old Testament and anticipates the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ—the Messiah. It gives us an opportunity to talk about the importance of the virtue of hope, something that is so desperately needed in our world that is experiencing so much despair. Hope is at the core of Advent and is embodied in the very notion of an Advent calendar, as anticipation grows with each door of the calendar that is opened. Perhaps the biggest difference between a religious Advent calendar and the secular version is that the secular version provides a reward or treat every day—reflecting the immediate gratification of contemporary society—instead of simply giving clues that lead to the ultimate “reward,” which is the coming of Jesus, the Word made flesh, on Christmas Day.
The traditional religious Advent calendar is also a significant catechetical tool, since the doors of the calendar reveal images and Scripture passages that teach us about the promise and fulfillment of our salvation through the birth of Jesus Christ. Other Advent calendars reveal suggested actions to perform each day to live and spread the virtues of hope, compassion, mercy, and justice in the name of Jesus.
So, when your family and friends exchange contemporary, secular “Advent calendars,” ask them if they know what the word Advent means and if they’ve ever seen a traditional Advent calendar that teaches about the reason for the season: the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, our true source of fulfillment! And don’t hesitate to send them this link to traditional Advent calendars and this link to more Advent resources.