How to prepare for Advent in a digital age

It is a truth universally acknowledged by Catholics that the season of Advent is never long enough to properly prepare for Christmas. No matter if it is the full four weeks or barely more than three, Advent is here and gone in what feels like a moment — a moment filled to the brim with the noise and chaos that preludes a holiday season.

While I may be wrong, I believe it’s a good assumption to say that it’s harder now to enter into Advent than any other time in history. December expectations draw us from the winter security of our homes for Christmas concerts and parties, even before the Christ Child is born again into our world. And then there is all the shopping and online noise — think of all the new promotional emails now cluttering your inbox after making those Black Friday purchases — that prevents us from entering into the stillness of a world holding its breath in memory of that blessed Nativity.

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In years long past, I can imagine Advent was a quieter affair, filled more with simple moments spent around the hearth or dinner table. Instead, in our digital age, most moments of rest are filled with the tap of a screen, with a bit of scrolling. The light of the hearth is replaced with the blue haze of our screens.

In seeking virtue during this season, there are some small actions we can take to help ourselves detach from our devices in order to reduce the noise clamoring for our attention and instead reclaim a sense of peace that Advent should bring.

What to subtract

While devices and technology have their place, here are some ways to decrease how much technological noise we are taking in this Advent season.

  • Declutter your email. Delete anything unread and unimportant, and unsubscribe from unnecessary lists to make your inbox more manageable.
  • Delete unnecessary apps from your phone. If you haven’t used it in the last six months, it’s just creating visual noise on your screen for no reason.
  • Consider setting timers on certain apps. If you already have them, make them stricter or stronger; or commit to only checkin in during certain times of the day or days of the week. Alternatively, consider deleting social apps during this season so they are not as accessible.
  • Consider changing the background theme on your phone to black and white during Advent. It’s much less appealing to mindlessly scroll when color is stripped away.
  • Do you really listen to all those podcasts? Limit how much you can listen throughout the day/week so you aren’t drowning in noise. Some good content is healthy, but so is quiet.

What to add

Whenever we subtract something from our lives, it’s healthy to add something in its place so we don’t automatically reach for the old thing. Here are some suggestions for how to fill the void while limiting your phone usage.

  • There are many albums and playlists for Advent music. Do a quick search on Apple Music or Spotify, and you’re sure to find some. We created a playlist a few years ago to accompany this season. I also love The Piano Guys’ “A Family Christmas” album (instrumental), “Advent to Christmas” by Page CXVI, and “Advent at Ephesus” by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Turn on the music … and then step away from your phone for a bit.
  • If possible, try listening to music disconnected from your phone. This is a great time to pull out your record player if you have one. Hit up your local thrift stores, and I’m sure you can find some Christmas (especially look for instrumental) or classical records.
  • Instead of scrolling social media, choose a physical devotional for the season. “Oriens” from the OSV Bookstore is a great resource for journeying from Advent through the full Christmas season. Or look for classic devotionals to reuse each year by saints or learned Catholics — think St. Alphonsus Liguouri, Venerable Fulton Sheen, G.K. Chesterton, etc. You can also pick up one of the Gospels and read a chapter each day. (Luke is especially suited to this devotion since it has 24 chapters, the average number of days in the Advent season, and focuses more on the infancy narratives.)
  • This one may sound strange, but there is something beautiful about singing or humming to yourself. I’m sure favorite songs and melodies from the aforementioned playlists and albums will get stuck in your head. Use them as a form of prayer to fill those moments.

No matter what you add or subtract, allow these choices to make space for contemplation. Lean into the wonder of this season of anticipation. And remember that in the end, Christmas comes in all its joy no matter how busy our Advent season may be.

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