I have mentioned before that I love Advent. Rather than adding to the hustle and bustle of a busy season, I find that it gives me an excuse to slow down and do things differently. It also gives a purpose to, or at least an excuse for, the busy-ness. Some of what I love:
1. Traditions. I love that Advent is so easily marked by traditions. Advent wreath? Check. Jesse Tree? Check. Liturgical colors at Mass? Check (at least for me). It becomes easy to build time for prayer, for scripture, for quiet into that framework -- and still keep it from becoming so burdensome that it is not sustainable.
2. "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." Yes, I know you're sick of it by Christmas. Know what? I'm not. I love the song. I love that it gets stuck in my head and I find myself singing it all day/week. And the fact that they are directly tied to the O Antiphons of Evening prayer?!? Sign.Me.Up. Or, more accurately, ignore my off-pitch singing. It's better than when I bust out O Holy Night. I promise.
3. Easing into Christmas. Because of Advent, I don't feel pressure to go from a pure Thanksgiving focus to a pure Christmas one at midnight on Thanksgiving night. Instead, I get eat my pie in peace. I can my Advent stuff together (See: #1). I try to knock my shopping out early, so as not to focus on it. I decorate after Gaudete Sunday (the 3rd Sunday in Advent). It marks a subtle liturgical shift in Advent, turning toward the preparation for the coming of Christ in the Nativity. I see it as a sign that it's time to get Christmas prep into high gear. I'm preparing for the coming of Christ in the Nativity by wrapping and baking and "elfing." And belting those O Antiphons in song loud and proud. Know what? For a week or 10 days (13 at the outset), that is fun for me!
I don't generally draw a sharp liturgical line in the sand and eschew all things Christmas before the 25th. I just don't think that's realistic. I'm a both-and Catholic. It is both Advent and the time that society celebrates Christmas. I can keep right on celebrating until Epiphany, and they don't need to worry their pretty heads about that, either. I'm okay with it. It's a season for magic, and light, and ohmygosh! Christmas!!
Have a blessed Advent!