Poll Results: Church Christmas Parties during Advent?

240 responded to our poll on whether parishes and church organizations should have Christmas parties during Advent. A resounding 64% say NO, while 36% say YES.

The comments are interesting. There is a side skirmish about whether or not Advent is penitential. A few folks report that they used to be purist on this question but have changed their view. Here are all the comments.

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I am under the belief that less is more. Most people have Christmas parties in Advent or Christmastide outside of Church and you don’t need to add another item to people’s plate this time of year. I think parish activities and parties are important. Easter, parish feast day and other days should be celebrated. Though if a parish were to have a party, I think either Epiphany Sunday or the day before would be ideal.

I cannot begin to count all of the Christmas pageants, Christmas concerts, Christmas parties, and outdoor Christmas decorations all throughout Advent at area Catholic parishes. “Celebrate Christmas at the Cathedral with the St. Louis Cathedral Concert Series” on December 2! I am bothered by the disconnect between our Sunday worship (where anything Christmas remains quaintly taboo during Advent) and what we are celebrating every other hour of the week. 

I see three ways forward. 1) Bishops, or conferences of bishops, could lead an Advent reform movement to stamp out premature celebrations of Christmas. Given the inevitable backlash from the faithful (and the media), this is highly unlikely. 2) Begin four Sundays of Advent on the first Sunday of November followed by a seven-week celebration of Christmas. 3) Abolish Advent altogether. This sounds drastic, but for all practical purposes is what we are gradually doing already.

Strictly speaking, no; churches would do well to preserve the penetential nature of the this “Season of Waiting,” at the very least in a liturgical sense. That said, several parishes I’ve been aquatinted with put on rather “Christmasy” St. Nicholas festivals around his feast day. On the plus side, it’s a nice way to reinforce the saintly origins of modern cultural depictions of St. Nick, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, etc. On the other hand, these Christmas-lite festivities cannot escape the appearance of acquiescence to a secular culture that invariably treats the month of December as The Christmas Season, liturgical patrimony not withstanding. So long as clear distinctions are made and these parties are kept away from the church, I can’t say I’m too bothered by them.

“the penetential nature of the this “Season of Waiting,”

It really is time that we ended this common misconception. Advent is not a penitential season. It may have no Gloria, but it still has an Alleluia. We wait “in joyful hope”. Advent is a season of waiting, of eager anticipation, in the same way that a pregnant woman eagerly anticipates the birth of her child. Yes, over the centuries, it has become in the minds of many a penitential preparation for Christmas, analogous to the Lenten penitential season preparing for Easter, but this has always been a misunderstanding.

It’s good to remember that up until the 11th century (in some places), the liturgical colour for Advent was white, not violet. ¶ Having said all that, I believe that because society celebrates Christmas during the month or more before it, instead of during the month following it as we should, we are called to be prophets. We can wait in joy without pre-empting the additional joyfulness of Christmastide.

It really is time that we ended this common misconception that the association of penance with Advent “has always been a misunderstanding.” Whatever the season’s origins and eventual reconfiguration, the Tridentine liturgical era provided ample grounds to ascribe a penitential character. Apart from your mention of the Gloria and liturgical color one might list: folded chasubles (replacing the dalmatic, vestment of joy), suppression of musical instruments, suppression of the weekday Alleluia, preces feriales, prohibition of the solemn nuptial blessing. Was Advent Lent? No, clearly not, as it lacked fasting, retained more Alleluias, and ranked its ferias (at least post-Pius X) lower than those of Lent. But was Advent markedly similar to Lent? Yes. No mistake in calling *that* Advent penitential. ¶ Since the postconciliar reforms those penitential markers have all but disappeared, so it would be wrong to insist that the season has fully retained its character. But I find it equally beyond the sources to insist on *excluding* a penitential valence. After all, musical instruments and floral decoration “should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this time of year, without expressing in anticipation the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.” One might press that to mean merely that its joy is only slightly less than Christmas. But one wonders why a season of such joy should call for moderation not required in Ordinary Time. Perhaps because the former penitential cast has not been wholly broken: “throw off the works of darkness;” “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Indeed, the current Homiletic Directory declares that Isaiah’s prayer (inter alia: “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful”) “instructs the Church in penitential attitudes that are proper to this season” (83). Would it not be best to accept that the modern season blends “penitential attitudes” and “expectant delight”?

I am sure we will continue to disagree about this. The fact that the Tridentine period fell headlong into and even accentuated the misconception I mentioned does not mean that the misconception thereby ceased to exist or was legitimized, any more than the lack of a responsorial psalm was legitimized by a fifteen hundred-year absence from the Roman Rite, or that the centuries of liturgical accretions that the Council Fathers desired to remove somehow meant that all those accretions were in fact OK. ¶ It is the word “penitential” that bothers me. “Sober” yes, “penitential”, no. Apart from anything else, the threefold nature of the season as presented in the lectionary we currently use is far from easy to equate with a penitential thrust. It’s all about looking forward: to Christ’s second coming, to the coming of the Redeemer (Messiah) who will set his people free, to the celebration of Christ’s coming into the world at Christmas. And we look forward in joy, expectantly, not in sorrow, beating our breasts.

From every historical source I have read, it always describes Advent as originating with a fast period preceding Christmas that gradually grew in length. It may even have had a baptismal character, and the Christian east of course still maintains the fasting requirements to this day. ¶ In the west, the fasting requirements were never as ubiquitous and they were dropped early into the second millennium if not earlier and were a dim memory by the council of Trent. 

So Advent’s development is the opposite of what you describe. It started out in a penitential manner and then slowly lost this character with the passage of time. ¶ The Tridentine missal managed to keep something of the season’s origin spirit. And the current missal’s omission of the Gloria is one of the last vestiges of the seasons penitential character. ¶ Whether the season of Advent should have a penitential character today is of course a related but separate question from origins of the season.

I’m happy to let the disagreement about Advent’s current character lie. Lent is hardly a penitential season anymore compared to the patristic era, and compared to Lent any penitential component of Advent sobriety is barely perceptible. I felt it worth chiming in, however, to confront your essentialism: Advent is X and only X, a Platonic form identified in a certain era and unaffected by whatever the Church may have prescribed for it in other times. The 11th century may provide evidence of what Advent *was* but it doesn’t dictate what the season *is,* and the season’s past, current, or future primary foci don’t deligitimize any secondary foci the Church may propose (as in the Homiletic Directory).  ¶ In this vein I’m afraid that your reply has only doubled down on what worried me most. I would be slow to say of any liturgical observance that “it’s all about X.” We’re dealing in mystery, and no matter how bite-size we try to make it the interconnected truths can’t be neatly separated. Furthermore, given that, in your view, long centuries of usage can’t legitimize developments, you’re setting yourself up for some uncomfortable conclusions. Unless you really have staked out a principled rejection of the three year Lectionary or are starting a campaign to reintroduce the disciplina arcani.

We always do ours on the Friday before Epiphany because in my experience everybody’s tired of Christmas by December 21st. We have a younger staff who have been to more recitals, parades, parades than they’d ever want and frankly just want to pick the kids up and get moving on the Friday before Christmas. I find doing the epiphany party far more Catholic and far more welcomed by them.

I have a simple rule: there should be more parish feasting during the Christmas season than the Advent one. Immaculate Conception, St. Nicholas, St. Lucy, Guadalupe; all of these have a tradition of celebration behind them, and I have no desire to stamp these out. But, we should build up a proper celebration of Christmastide. Someone already suggested Epiphany Eve. New Year’s Eve or Day could also be a great occasion for a parish social.

Perhaps another way to frame it to move it way from a battle of insiders’ shibboleths may be that the kind of expectation that Advent is meant to evoke and elicit from us is one that involves metanoia, a re-orientation towards the Lord, which necessarily includes repentance for those of us who are sinners (well, at least me).

One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate about Advent as I’ve aged over the years and gone through more cycles of loss is that the use of violet vestments in funerals also benefits from this association.

Thanks. I am ever reminded of the piercing insight from the orthogonal-to-expectations vision of the re-orientation of the saved at the end of time in the conclusion of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Revelation” that seems very much in the spirit of Advent reflection: ” . . . bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom [Mrs. Turpin] recognized at once as those who , like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away.”

I agree with all of the comments, but a lot of this seems very “bah humbug!” And I used to be firmly in the “no Christmas parties” camp. But now I think of it as an “all of the above” approach. ¶ My parish is in a low income housing facility and also has a lot of services for homeless men and women. Next week we’re having a Christmas party (yes, a Christmas party!) for the homeless to let them decorate a large Christmas Tree in the lobby, and even help us get a head start on the ones we’ll be setting upside the church. If you’re homeless, you don’t get too many Christmas party invitations, and you certainly don’t have a tree. We’ll have cookies, we’ll have carols. You can call it an “Advent Party” if you’d like, but it’s clearly a Christmas Party. We’re not going to tell the homeless — or the affluent — that you need to wait until 4 pm on December 24th to celebrate the Incarnation. ¶ Meanwhile, the parish staff and the liturgy committee can have their Christmas party after Christmas. The parish gives away gifts to all parishioners on Epiphany. ¶ All of the above! ¶ As a matter of fact, after I finish this comment, I need to dash out and buy a few things for the parish staff Christmas party tonight.

I’ve come around to the idea (and maybe I’m the only one who harbors it) that our culture instinctively “gets” Advent insofar as the Advent season is a time of preparation. And so our culture spends an inordinate amount of time, energy and money during the Advent season, preparing for Christmas. We buy gifts, we bake and cook, we send out greeting cards, we make charitable donations, we decorate the house, we put lights on the outside of the house and shrubbery. On our electronic devices, we listen to music that is categorized as Christmas music, even though its themes seem to be Santa and being away from home during holidays and dating, more so than the coming of the Christ child. We even get Advent calendars for our kids that, as far as I can tell, are devoid of any explicitly spiritual Advent content but which help the kids count down the days until Christmas. ¶ And yes, we have social get-togethers. We call them Christmas parties. Are they really Christmas parties in any spiritually meaningful sense? As we transport ourselves to these events, we wear sweaters and hats that are said to be Christmas colors, but which don’t correspond to the appointed liturgical colors for the Christmas season. Once we’re at the event, we may well eat too much, and some may even drink too much, but I’m not sure any of that amounts to feasting. If we belong to that rather small and strange yet fun subset of humanity known as liturgical musicians, we sing Christmas songs, some of which are true Christmas songs. ¶ On the whole, I think it’s fair to say that the culture has taken proper Advent and proper Christmas, and blurred it into something called “Christmastime”. But it seems to me that the culture hasn’t lost the sense of preparation that belongs to Advent. And there are opportunities for spiritual reflection there.

Our parish has a wonderful “Little Christmas Dinner Dance” on Epiphany night. This will be our 21st and it’s always packed. I have no illusions, though, about the practice of rank and file parishioners who take no exception to Advent liturgical practice while beginning household, workplace, and neighborhood Secular Christmas around Halloween. I do believe that church practice at least invites folks to place some restraint on the latter.

In the southern hemisphere, after Christmas many parishes go into holiday mode until at least mid January: Epiphany happens while many people are off work and away from home. The consequence is that if a seasonal gathering is to be held, it needs to happen before The Big Day.

I used to be a “purist” with regard to Advent, and got hot under the collar at any manifestation of Christmas before 24th December. In recent years, however, we have held a service of Nine Lessons and Carols in the week before Christmas, along the lines of the Kings College service, and concluding with Solemn Benediction. It has proved to be very popular, and is, I think, an appropriate way of preparing hearts and minds for the coming feast. ¶ But one can go too far with this. When I lived in London, the local C of E parish used to hold their service of Nine Lessons and Carols before the end of November. It was rather strange coming back from it, and then saying Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent.

I used to hold out as much as I could throughout Advent, but I have been struck over the last couple of years by the Preface of Advent II: “It is by his gift that already we rejoice/at the mystery of his Nativity,…” ¶ So these days I try to keep things as subdued as possible up to 17th December and then to allow Christmas things to begin to creep in. ¶ Our parish helpers party will be on 2nd February, but this is as much because civic diaries are congested in the run up to Christmas as it is a sense that such a party ought not to be held in Advent.

Our Staff Party/gift exchange/booze fest is deliberately done as close to Epiphany as possible. There’s still plenty of Christmas to be had, and practically none of the stress!

Technically of course no. But esp. down here in oz when we enter summer holidays and end of the school year as well as Christmas it is difficult to do anything else without seeming a little hard hearted. ¶ My former parish had their Christmas concert on November 30 and Advent Parish Mission on Saturday December 1st from 9:00AM to 2:00PM.

Epiphany parties, Advent reflection days or evenings.

Best practices would advocate for a big NO. Advent is a whole season unto itself and should be treated as such. Christmas has its time with Epiphany as a last hurrah. But you’ve got to make some leaway for “special circumstances”.