It was a hot and muggy day in August when I walked into the coolness of a large, air-conditioned department store. Most people were wearing shorts and T-shirts and looking forward to spending a long weekend with their family over Labor Day. And yet, right in the middle of the store was a large Christmas display complete with a flashing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer!
“Get a head start on your Christmas shopping,” the signs proclaimed. “Buy two, get one free.” The message was clear: shop, buy, consume. Christmas was coming. At a time when the world desperately needs peace, love and kindness more than ever, all the world seems to offer to us is a pit of materialism. But you cannot buy a “Merry Christmas.” You cannot shop for the Christmas spirit. The joy and peace of Christmas comes from the reason for the season: from Christ himself.
Keeping Christ at the center of our lives, especially at Christmas, is becoming more and more difficult. Helping young people to understand the liturgical year and sacred time, when everything seems to blend together in one enormous Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas shopping extravaganza, can be an uphill battle. More than ever, keeping the simplicity of Christmas alive, in your heart and in your home, needs to be carefully thought out.
Here are a few simple ways to keep Christ at the center of Christmas. None of these involve any money but they will add a richness to family celebrations that are priceless.
- Christmas Eve Mass. Prepare yourself and your family beforehand by sharing the readings and listening for a gift of understanding from the Holy Spirit. Following Mass, share one thing from the homily that touched you. That evening, pray a family blessing of the manger where family members can take a different line to read such as the one posted on the USCCB website: http://bit.ly/blessing_manger.
- Make bedtime meaningful. For families that read stories to their children before bedtime, instead of reading books such as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (a great story, but save for another time) read the Nativity story and reflect upon it as a family. Ask questions such as, “What difference has Jesus made to my life?” or “How has Jesus’ birth changed the world?” Listen attentively, especially as children share their thoughts. Close your storytelling with prayer.
- The Christmas Manger. My friend Mary Beth shared this beautiful tradition with me. “On Christmas Eve, we unwrap the baby Jesus figure (from the Nativity scene) and place him in the manger. My mom always wraps it, because Jesus is our first present and God’s gift to us. We all kneel down in front of the manger and sing ‘O Come Let Us Adore Him.’ Then we all quietly offer Jesus a ‘Christmas gift,’ maybe a small sacrifice, mortification, loving act towards someone, or resolution for the future. We also have a birthday cake for Jesus, and sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ Lastly we have a toast for Jesus, with non-alcoholic sparkling wine for the kids.”
- The Christmas letter. A couple of years ago, I found a Christmas card that my mother wrote to me as a teenager. Her words were, and remain, the most beautiful gift to me, especially since she has passed away. In her memory, I write each of my children a letter every Christmas Eve telling them what I love about them, what I notice about their personalities as they grow and how much their father and I pray for them. I put the Christmas letters in their stockings and we read them on Christmas evening. Afterwards, I collect them all and keep them in a special binder for each child, which I add to every year.
Do you have beautifully simple Christmas traditions? If so, feel free to share them with me at [email protected]. May your Christmas be simply full of the peace and joy of Jesus!
Stanz is director of the diocesan Department of New Evangelization and co-author of “The Catechist’s Backpack.”