“Advent is a time of waiting for the Lord, who will visit us, in our own hearts. Let us wait for him!” —Pope FrancisDon’t Unwrap Christmas Yet — Advent Is Still Unfolding| National Catholic Register
“Advent is a time of recollection, of salvation; it is a season of grace of which we must profit. I always look forward to this holy season and see it pass with regret. We unite with the Patriarchs and Prophets in asking for the coming of the Messiah … into our souls.” —St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier
It was 1970, just a few weeks before Christmas. A relative stopped by with gifts for my family, and I was immediately captivated by the present that had my name on it. The wrapped gift was about 5” x 8”, fairly lightweight, and shaped like an elongated prism. It didn’t make any noise when shaken, and it sounded hollow when tapped, patted or smacked. (And yes, I made all three of those motions in my progressively more forcible attempts to figure out what was beneath the giftwrap.)
Now, I was never a materialistic sort of kid; in fact, when it came to getting and owning stuff, I was pretty indifferent. When the gumball machine yielded a stale jawbreaker instead of a Monkees ring, I was okay with it. When a classmate pointedly strutted her new maxi coat in front of pilled-pea-jacketed me, I hardly noticed. And when, at the fourth-grade Christmas grab bag party, my “gift” turned out to be a used copy of Volume XIV of the Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedia … well, I got to read about Jason and the Argonauts, so it was all good.
But that prism-shaped gift package had supplanted my usual indifference with a consuming curiosity. If my mother had known about my change of heart, she would have thought twice before nonchalantly dropping the mystery package on top of a cluttered dresser, trusting its “Do Not Open Until December 25th” gift tag to deter any impatient 11-year-olds.
It didn’t work. A few days later, I poked a small hole in the wrapping paper, revealing a velvety red … something-or-other. It was an enticing glimpse, but of what? Should I rip off the rest of the giftwrap and find out? Or should I heed the words of the finger-wagging Santa on the gift tag?
Today, we are living in a “rip off the rest of the giftwrap” kind of culture. Although the fourth Advent candle of 2021 was lit only two days ago, and the O Antiphons are still being sung, Christmas is in full swing all around us — in stores and in offices, on lawns and online. And even Catholics can have a hard time resisting the urge to join in premature merrymaking.
But we are called to be stewards of the Advent season. Pope Francis has said that Advent is “a favorable time to pray with greater intensity, to reserve to the spiritual life the important place it deserves.” Advent has a purpose — it is a time to nurture expectancy, anticipate joy and wait in hope for the birth of the Redeemer. Celebrating Christmas during the liturgical season of Advent — even in the fourth week of Advent — is like, well, an untimely ripping off of giftwrap.
I can’t say that I had all of that in mind when I decided to wait until Christmas to unwrap my prism-shaped present. The truth is that, as curious as I was about the gift, I relished the sense of suspense more than I would have enjoyed a Big Reveal. So I counted down the days to Dec. 25, and when Christmas arrived, I eagerly opened the long-awaited gift: a hard-shell purse in cherry-colored velvet, and with a gold closure that made a satisfying clicking sound. The purse was beautiful and stylish and elegant.
And it was worth the wait.