Use ‘Secular Christmas Season’ to See the Continual Presence of God This Advent

Lent is never this hard. The grocery store never plays “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” while you are looking for the lentils. But they do play “Joy to the World” while you look for a pink candle. How do you keep the spirit of Advent when the whole world is (prematurely) celebrating Christmas?

The 17th-century Carmelite Brother Lawrence might be able to help. His practice of the continual presence of God was a prayer method, but he also had a trick for remembering Jesus out in the world. When he saw thorns, he would think of the crown of thorns. When he saw a bare winter tree, he remembered that his life, too, was passing.

December is a great time to start this practice in our own life, because there is so much material to use to remember Jesus. It also serves as a handy way to turn the trappings of the “Secular Christmas Season” into Advent helps.

When you see (or hear) Christmas bells, pray, “Thank you, Jesus, for dispelling evil with joy.”

The fanciful stories of various non-human creatures coming to life have a serious lesson: To be human is to be different in kind from the rest of creation. God becoming man in the baby Jesus is the ultimate expression of this lesson.

When you see Santas, pray, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your love, alive in your saints.”

St. John Paul II said that, as a child, St. Nicholas traditions taught him about God. “Like every other child, I looked forward to the gifts he would bring me,” he said, “but this expectation had a religious dimension … toward this saint who unselfishly lavished gifts on the people.”

When you see a candle, pray, “Thank you, Jesus, for conquering the darkness.”

Candles are symbols of Jesus, the light of the world who dispels the darkness: The wax is his humanity, the flame his divinity.

When you see Christmas lights (or Christmas angels), pray, “Thank you, Jesus for your host of angels who surround us.”

We see thousands of Christmas lights in December, which can serve as a beautiful reminder of the angelic hosts that appeared to the shepherds to announce the coming of the savior, and surround us now, unseen.

When you see Christmas presents (or ribbons or bows), pray, “Thank you, Jesus, for the witness of the Magi.”

More than 2,000 years ago, three mysterious visitors of the East prostrated themselves before the newborn King. Today, every Christmas present we see derives from their gold, frankincense and myrrh.

When you see Christmas stars (and poinsettias), pray, “Thank you, Jesus, for leading us to your son.”

The original Star of Bethlehem led the magi to Jesus. Stars today (even the star-shaped poinsettia  leaves) remind us that God wants to lead us there, too.

When you see Christmas trees, pray, “Thank you, Jesus, for converting our nation.”

The Christmas tree comes in large part from St. Boniface, who bravely chopped down a sacred pagan tree at which children were sacrificed. Every Christian nation owes its faith to brave fore-fathers and mothers who challenged scary practices.

When you see Christmas tree ornaments (on a tree or on their own) pray, “Thank you Jesus, for the fruits of the Holy Spirit.”

Ornaments are shiny, ornate “fruits” on Christmas trees. They remind us of the markers of Christ’s presence in our life: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.

When you see candy canes (or anything red and white), pray, “Thank you, Jesus, for your purity and your passion.”

There are many pious but dubious stories told about the symbolism of candy canes. If those stories help you, use them. But the colors of white and red are also symbols of purity and suffering in the Church.

When you see a wreath (or holly or anything green and red) pray, “Thank you, Jesus, for suffering to give us eternal life.”

Red and green have meant various things throughout history, but we have always equated red with Christ’s blood and green (especially evergreens) with life.

Look for Jesus everywhere in December: Online, at school, on city streets.

It’s a special time, when the whole world admits (whether they realize it or not) that Jesus Christ is worth celebrating with everything we have.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.