Dan Cellucci works with Catholic Leadership Institute. He and his wife, Tricia Manion Cellucci, and their daughters, Annie and Katie, are parishioners at St. Thomas of Villanova Parish in Rosemont.

I love Advent.  I love the readings at Mass, the sense of preparation and anticipation. I love reconnecting with family and friends, especially with one very special person in particular.  Who’s that Dan, you ask?  My sister, a best friend from college, the ghost of Christmas past, perhaps?

No, I love Advent because Snowy returns. Yes Snowy, the Cellucci’s Elf on the Shelf, who shows up on the first day of Advent to help keep Santa informed of Annie’s and Katie’s behavior through Christmas Eve. Snowy, who completes what could be called my “guilt triumvirate” comprised of well, Snowy of course, the big man in red, and “the fact that it’s Baby Jesus’ birthday soon.”

Snowy’s arrival triggers the shift from when I unfortunately stop trying to parent and just move straight to reminders about the creepy, beady-eyed doll that’s watching my children and reporting their every move. Instead of “take turns and share,” it’s “Snowy can see you and he will tell Santa.” Instead of “Don’t hit your sister with a block,” it’s “You don’t want to ruin Jesus’ birthday do you? Snowy’s watching.”

OK, I am exaggerating (“Or are you?” asks Tricia as she reads over my shoulder).  Yes, I am exaggerating … for the most part.  Thanks mostly to my exceptional wife, our daughters have a really deep and beautiful appreciation about what this time is really meant to prepare us for.  At the onset of this Advent I wondered, do I?

Have I grown over the past year in my appreciation for the gift that is coming our way — scratch that — the gift that has already come our way?  Sure, I know God sent his only Son to grant us eternal salvation.  But even as I just read that aloud to myself it kind of had the tone of “yada yada yada.”

No – that’s it! That’s the mind-blowing, earth-shattering, literally life-saving truth about this Holy Day. Christmas celebrates the most incredible gift we will ever receive. So who cares that dress pants are 40-60 percent off at Banana Republic?

So much of this season is about the stories. We recount the “Night Before Christmas” and “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.” We watch “Charlie Brown Christmas.” And yes, we tell the story of the First Noel. Do we tell the next chapter of that story?  When I asked the girls why Christmas was special, they quickly and proudly answered, “because it’s baby Jesus’ birthday.”

When I asked them why His birthday is important, they weren’t so sure.  They’re only 2 and 5, so they have some time.  But I know that story.  I have had decades of knowing that story. God wants us all to be saved, so much that He sent His only Son to be our Savior, earning our salvation by His death and resurrection.

How much of that part of the Christmas story is a part of my life?  How often do my girls see me live that part of my life?  Advent is a time for me to see what I believe in and become what I see.  After all, Snowy’s watching.