The Advent season seems to be lost among many Christians, especially with the dominance of popular culture’s emphasis on December-long Christmas celebrating, ending immediately on December 26. Many Catholics have also lost sight of the season, especially with many parishes downplaying, if not ignoring, the penitential nature of the season. The truth is Advent is a time of preparation where we ready ourselves for the coming of Christ on Christmas.
This means practicing self-denial and taking up prayer to properly orient our souls towards the most monumental day in history, the day God became man among us. So it’s a good practice to, like Lent, give something up, take up prayer, and to do acts of charity while enjoying all the season’s traditions we cherish (both secular and Christian).
I think it would serve the Church in America well if the bishops sought to reemphasize the nature of the Advent season. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) even points this out on their website:
Changing customs, especially in connection with preparation for Christmas, have diminished popular appreciation of the Advent season. Something of a holiday mood of Christmas appears now to be anticipated in the days of the Advent season. As a result, this season has unfortunately lost in great measure the role of penitential preparation for Christmas that it once had.
and, when discussing Advent wreaths:
The purple candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, and preparatory sacrifices and goods works undertaken at this time. The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when the priest also wears rose vestments at Mass; Gaudete Sunday is the Sunday of rejoicing, because the faithful have arrived at the midpoint of Advent, when their preparation is now half over and they are close to Christmas.
So, let’s be joyful this Advent and make proper preparations for the real reason for the season, the Feast of the Nativity. That way we can celebrate all 12 days of the Christmastide properly and not be burnt out on December 26! ☩