“Tis the season to sit down on a gray, cold December night, kick back with a hot drink and turn on one of the many beautiful and romantic holiday movies on television now. These movies frequently portray an image of families which I like to call the “perfect Christmas family.”
You may have seen this image all too often, i.e., a well-dressed family, beautifully decorated home, friends stopping by to bring gifts, children playing nicely with each other, the perfect Christmas tree with lots of gifts underneath, a roaring fire in the background. This image gets emblazoned in our mind and causes us to go to great lengths preparing a perfect holiday.
However, it doesn’t take long to discover those seemingly “perfect” images often come with a great amount of time, effort and stress. This can be very hard on a family during a season that should be just the opposite. I’m the first to admit I’ve spent many a late night preparing for the holidays in an effort to make sure everything was just right for our family and friends, only to discover that my idea of perfect wasn’t reality.
Let’s contrast this perfect Christmas family with another image of a perfect Christmas family, the Holy Family. We see in Lk 2:16-20 Mary and Joseph in the stable, baby Jesus swaddled in the manger and the shepherds coming to see the newborn King. This is truly the perfect Christmas family and the model we should all be striving for. However, what comes to my mind (I’m sure I’m not alone) is how holy can my family be? Or is this beautiful picture unattainable in my home?
Pope Francis, in regard to families, stated: “And his Son, where did he send him? To a palace? To a city, to start a business? He sent him to a family! God came into the world in a family and he was able to do this because this family was a family that had its heart open to love, that had the doors open to love.” So can our modern families be like that original perfect Christmas family? Yes. It is possible with God’s grace and some reflection on that beautiful moment in the stable.
Flexibility and expectations can go hand in hand. Many marriages and families can suffer from an overwhelming amount of holiday stress due to preconceived notions of how things should be. Mary and Joseph didn’t expect to give birth in a stable in Bethlehem, but that somehow was God’s perfect plan. Offer up all the details to Christ this season as you are shopping and frustrated about not finding the right items or stressed about the details of a holiday event. A little bit of flexibility and a lot of simplicity may help your family navigate this season free from worry and stress.
Try this experiment with your family as you prepare for the holidays. Ask your children or spouse to name everything they received last Christmas. Then ask them to list all the different things you did together over the holidays last year. More often than not, people remember experiences more than things.
Invest in time together this season. As Scripture talks about Mary reflecting on all these things in her heart, sit back in the moment and enjoy time together as a family. Instead of buying more toys, buy a family game. Spend money on smaller gifts and invest in a short vacation together. Plan a date night with your spouse. Any intentional time together will create a beautiful memory that can be pondered for years to come.
Finally, this is the biggest challenge of all: learn to see Christ in those around you, especially your family. As Mary gazed into the beautiful eyes of Christ in her arms, so, too, can we learn to see our Lord in the people he’s put into our lives. This is no easy task, especially in the vulnerabilities and frenzy of family life.
As we begin the journey of Advent, along with the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, remember that we have a lot to learn from the truly perfect Christmas family, the Holy Family. Challenge yourself to not be so attached to all the details of what you are doing. Turn off distractions and enjoy the moment. And somehow in a moment of silence find a way to recognize Christ in each other.
Tremblay is coordinator of the diocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Pro-Life.