Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year for many churches.

It is the season of preparation for the birth of the Christ child. Traditionally, it is a solemn yet hopeful period of prayer, fasting, reading Scripture and lighting candles.

Compare this to the worldly December rush of parties, shopping and decking the halls --sometimes even before the Thanksgiving leftovers get tiresome.

My mom recalls having to get a papal dispensation from Rome in order for my parents to marry right after my father’s college graduation in December 1953.

And friends my age who grew up in an devoted Anglican household recall a quiet, Lenten-like period of no parties, movies or holiday festivities until Dec. 24, when the family would gather to decorate the Christmas tree, attend a midnight service and feast afterwards.

But then it was all joy and celebration for the full 12 days until Epiphany.

Adopting an active observance of Advent not only gives me a good excuse to avoid getting caught up in holiday excesses, it makes me appreciate Christmas that much more.

During the years we owned a business, we were able to close between Christmas Eve and Epiphany. That time to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas was a priceless gift.

Don’t get me wrong – I love looking at Christmas lights and trees peeping out of windows.  I don’t begrudge anyone their eggnog or Secret Santas, and I look forward to gatherings of friends and family whenever they fall on the calendar.

Observing Advent doesn’t automatically make you a Scrooge.

My friends have come to learn that the Baby Jesus doesn’t appear in my Nativity scene manger until after midnight on Dec. 25, and our family Christmas cards are mailed no earlier than Dec. 24.

But those are only outward gestures of an inner spiritual life that I am trying to cultivate. Like a Lenten sacrifice, many of us try to increase our devotions during Advent, whether it’s in meditation, prayer, Bible reading, making novenas or listening to sacred music.

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge is queued up on my iTunes already.

Local churches have scheduled events to help us keep a holy Advent. Some of them include a concert of Advent music by organist Karrin Ford at 6 p.m. Friday at St. James Episcopal Church, an Advent service at 7 p.m. Dec. 17 at Redeemer Lutheran, Michael’s Mountain Annual Live Nativity at 7 p.m. Dec. 18-20 next to Kokernot Lodge and a Festival of Lessons & Carols at 6 p.m. Dec. 20 at Holy Cross Anglican.

Watch our Faith Events calendar for other Advent and Christmas services and events, and send your church’s listings to editor@alpineavalanche.com