Raise your hand if you’ve done the same thing for Advent over the last couple of years. Yes, I’m also there with you, waving both hands in the air. It seems like most of us fall into the same routine each Advent either because it’s tradition, because of hectic work schedules, or because we don’t know what else to do. Not that there’s anything wrong with traditions. If it works for you, go for it! Moreover, sometimes we need a little something extra to assist us recall the reason for the season—the anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

If you desire to focus more on the season and less on the gift-giving and other secular aspects of Advent, here are a couple of ideas that you can try!

1. Partake in a (Virtual) Retreat

Let’s face it, most of us don’t have the time, money, or even energy to go on a retreat during the holidays. Thankfully, there are online Advent retreats you can do from the comfort of your own home (or wherever you may be this season). The lovely folks behind Pray More Novenas have an Advent retreat that you can do at your own pace. They have 4 speakers, 16 audio and visual presentations, and 16 reflective study guides for you to do. You can select your own contribution for the retreat, which is not compulsory; you can participate even if you can’t donate a single dime.

2. Turn Off Your Screens

Did you notice how many people were glued to the TV or continually on their phones, check this or that, during Thanksgiving dinner or even in line for Black Fridays sales? I certainly did. It seems we can’t go anywhere without constantly checking our phones. So, here’s a challenge for you: go screen-free this Advent. You can do whatever you feel most comfortable doing: doing a single day per week, a couple of hours (or certain hours) per day, or (if you’re able) all of Advent without screens. This can involve your cell phone, your laptop, TV, and movies, etc. What and how much you limit is up to you. The point is to not be so caught up on the entertainment and the busyness of the world and to use that free time more carefully.

3. Embrace the Silence

A friend of mine once told me “I turn off our TVs and music during Lent because we focus on the death of Jesus and enter that mourning period”. However, how many of you have thought about also doing this for Advent? Instead of hearing what the world has to say, why not embrace the silence and contemplative nature of the season. Save Christmas music and movies for Christmas Day and beyond (either through the 12 days of Christmas) or give up music altogether. Spend more time in Adoration, doing a Holy Hour, or reading something that is spiritually rewarding; Cardinal Sarah’s book on the silence or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s book on The Infancy Narratives are highly suggested.

4. Do Works of Mercy and Acts of Charity

The holidays can be tough on folks, particularly those who don’t have anyone to spend it with. Try visiting a nursing home. Call ahead and ask if there is anything you can do to volunteer. Many of these patients don’t have family members or friends and doing the smallest thing for them brightens their day. Do you have a friend who just had a baby and has fallen behind on laundry, cooking, cleaning, or doing something as simple as taking a shower in recent days? Indicate to assist them with household chores or offer to look after the baby while they take a nap and/or a shower. Often times these acts of kindness are much more appreciated than physical gifts and, bonus, you’ll be a reflection of God’s love for them through these acts.

5. Declutter and Detach

The holiday season seems to be similar with consumerism. Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales aren’t a bad thing, but sometimes they unintentionally make us forget that we can’t become too attached to worldly things. How about cleaning out your closet or your children’s toy box and donating what hasn’t been used (but is still in good condition)? You can practice the “year rule”—if you haven’t used it in the past year or even past 6 months, you most likely don’t need it. This activity will assist you to see how much “stuff” you don’t really need and assist you appreciate what you already have.

6. Give Something Up

Yes, just like you practice during Lent. Is there something that has disturbed your spiritual life? Consider giving it up for Advent. Have you gone a bit overboard with the baked goods and delicious food since Thanksgiving? Consider not using this time as an excuse to give in to the temptation to overeat and practice moderation or even taking some of the food to someone in need. Too much time on social media? Limit your time on it—or cut it out completely—and do something more fulfilling with that free time. Give more of your time and less of your money to something that you hold dear.

These are just some recommendations to decide to do this Advent season. You don’t have to become a Scrooge or shun all things Christmas. This Advent season is meant for us to slow down from the busyness of life and portray on the birth of Jesus and what that means for us, individually and as a whole. Whatever you do, may this Advent season bring the hope, peace, joy, and love that came with the birth of Christ all those years ago

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