I went to my favorite place in the world the other day, the mall (read sarcasm). Christmas decorations already up not only in the mall, but on the way to the mall on the street lamps, side walks, and everywhere else the eye wanders while driving. Christmas music playing in every retail store. "Jingle Bell Rock" is already stuck in my head. And it's the beginning of November!

So I got to thinking, it's no wonder by the time December 25th actually rolls around, we're entirely sick of the Holidays. You can't take your tree and decorations down quick enough after Christmas Day. It's as if the joy ended long before the actual day of celebration. And why shouldn't it? Why should we expect an event to hold our attention for two whole months in our culture of instantaneous gratification, where nothing captivates our minds for more than a moment?

Do you want to enjoy Christmas to its fullest? Here's what to do and what not to do:

1. Honor the Church Year. Hold off even thinking about Christmas until Advent, which begins November 30th. And when Advent rolls around, dive into it with your whole heart. Experience the emotions of anticipation, expectation, penitence, and hope as you wait anxiously for the coming Christ. I assure you, when Christmas Day arrives you won't want it to end. Heck, you'll probably want it to last at least Twelve Days. Isn't that an innovative thought, celebrating Christmas for twelve days. And when the twelve days of Christmas are over, swim in the vastness and the climax of the Advent/Christmas season, Epiphany, which is Christ's manifestation to the world, beginning January 6th. (We have a P.S. night planned to kick off Epiphany.)

2. Do not listen to Christmas music until Advent. And when November 30th comes, meditate on the greatest Advent hymn of all times (in my humble opinion), "O Come O Come Emmanuel," all eight verses. Go through the O Antiphons beginning December 17th as a family or home group and participate in this Advent season like never before (you can actually go through the prayers and readings straight off of Wikipedia, link above). Listen to Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God, the best Advent/Christmas album ever composed (fact, not an opinion). When Christmas day is here, scream "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" Bask in the wonder of His incarnation all Twelve Days. Keep your lights and ornaments on the tree, which means you probably don't want to set up your real tree until at least the second week of Advent if you want it to last. We just ordered these really cool Twelve Days of Christmas ornaments. Teach your kids the real meaning of the Twelve Days (after learning it yourself, of course). And on January 6th, sing "We Three Kings" at it's proper time.

3. Do not fall prey to the ploys of consumer retailers, who play their Christmas music and decorate all Christmasy this early in order to manipulate your feelings into buying all kinds of stuff that most assuredly will not fulfill the life of the recipient. Give out of a generous heart. Give creatively, not obligatorily. Don't ask what someone wants for Christmas. If you don't know them well enough to know what they want, you shouldn't be getting them anything anyway (Ooo, ponder that). If you absolutely have to give a gift to someone and you absolutely don't know what they want, give them a Starbucks gift card or money with love. Generosity is the key, especially in its truest form, birthed out of the same kind of pure generosity with which the Father sent His Son to save the world. Let's face it, most of us have way more than we need, let alone want. How about serving those in need this holiday season. I'm not sure (Wikipedia didn't pull through for me), but I think Old St. Nick was known for giving to the poor. He would drop coins (money) in shoes left outside of doors. I doubt the recipients expected anything, but I'm sure they enjoyed eating their daily bread a bit more easily the next day.

I assure you, if you follow these three steps, Christmas will take on a much deeper meaning than ever before. And believe me, you will not want the celebration of Christ's birth to end the day after Christmas. His incarnation will become more joy-filled and real to you than ever.

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