I am very honored to introduce my big sister Vinca for this guest post. May she inspire you as much as she did me.
It's that special time of year- that time of year when you look askance at your neighbor's gaudy decorations, and complain that they brighten your bedroom too much at night; when you swear at the driver who starts backing up at the mall without checking to see if there's a car already in motion; when you go to the mall to find that one extra gift for your kids that you just know they'll love; when you snap at those same kids that "I'll get the decorations out tomorrow, ok?!"- and then you watch their bright little faces fall, and they leave the room because they don't want to be a bother.
Wait...what? Are we talking about the Christmas season? When did this time of year become a time of stress, pressure, anxiety, anger and impatience? When did we stop feeling joy, and hope, and peace? Perhaps a better question would be: Why? In our society today, there are fewer people who go to Mass, or a special church service of some sort, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I know several families who celebrate Christmas without believing in the Christ Child whose birthday it is. To many, it's a season to give, and get, expensive gifts; to join in the whirlwind of parties; to add to the clutter of our overflowing lives. We have taken Christ out of Christmas. As a result, we have taken the joy, hope and peace out of the season.
A few years ago, I was looking at the newly developed pictures of Christmas morning (back when you had to wait to see if the photos turned out). And there was the picture I take every Christmas Eve- the picture of the tree after Santa has visited, the stockings are filled, and the last toy has been assembled. The tree was worthy of a Macy's window display, with piles of presents beautifully wrapped and stacked under a perfectly decorated tree. I gazed on this picture in shock, and began asking myself some questions. Was the pile of goodies under the tree really that big? Did my children really get that much stuff? Then the big question: Did my children really need that much stuff? That was the year I vowed to cut back- to not buy every little thing I found on clearance that one of them might love, to not buy every item on their Christmas list, to give more to those who are actually in need. That's all well and good, and our family has done pretty well on the present side of things, but then there's the "Time" issue. And that's where I've failed.
This time of year, it's hard to say no to all those little gatherings that people have. It's only natural to want to join with your friends in making merry during what should be a joyful season. But before you know it, your calendar is full, and you are stressed. After all, you really should bring the host or hostess a gift- something not too lavish, but quite possibly more than you can really afford. So you go, and go, and go. By the time Christmas day rolls around, you're too exhausted to enjoy it. I used to love Christmas time. I couldn't wait to get my tree up. I couldn't wait to start baking, and wrapping, and decorating. You can read about my feelings here: Christmas in February...or March...why not April? . But now? Well, now I work a full time job, and I'm tired. My weekends, and many of my weekday evenings, are booked until after the New Year. That person at the beginning of this post snapping at her child that she would get out the decorations tomorrow? That was me, snapping at my daughter just last evening, as I rushed to get dinner done before I ran out to choir practice. That was my daughter whose face fell as she left the room with tears in her eyes because she didn't want to be in the way. It was my daughter who went to bed before I got home, leaving an undecorated tree in the living room. And I'm sitting here wondering when things changed. When did I lose my joy?
When I think back to my childhood, I remember the joy of celebrating Christmas- the smell of cinnamon and vanilla, the lights and ornaments on the tree, the books that Papa read aloud, and the nativity story from Luke that brought a hush of reverence to our home-not really the presents, or the parties, or the concerts. Our family struggled to make ends meet, and we frequently went without more than one present apiece under the tree. But there was joy, and hope, and peace. Joy in being together, hope for a brighter future, and peace in knowing that come what may, we had each other. What presents we got were nice, and I always enjoyed singing in the various concerts. We rarely celebrated the Christmas season with others while I lived at home, though my parents were able to host Christmas parties as their children left the nest and their finances eased. Most years, it was just the 6 of us, and we each might only have had one present, but it was enough to just be together in a house full of love.
And maybe that's the key: it was enough. There’s a pearl of wisdom that I try to remember throughout the year- Enough is as good as a feast. The gist of it is, that if you have enough, just enough- enough clothing, enough food, enough money- then it's as good as having an overabundance of those same things. I do a pretty decent job for much of the year. Indeed, many of us try to live that way throughout 11 months of the year- content with our lives, and with what we have. Then Thanksgiving comes, with Christmas looming large on the horizon, and it's suddenly a race to get the best deal on this year's hot new toy, or that new gaming system that must be better than the 2 year old system we have at home. We fill our calendars with parties, caroling, concerts, and events of one sort or another. We buy gifts, and give them to our families and friends, even when we can’t afford it. We send hundreds of cards to people that we don’t think about the rest of the year. And we do more than is possible for one human to do and remain sane.
So maybe it's time to say no. No, I appreciate the invitation, but I really can't fit in one more party. No, I really can't bake a cake for your event, though I'm honored that you asked. No, I'm not giving up another evening when I could be sitting home with my daughter, my teenage sons, and my husband, sipping wine, decorating and admiring our tree. My children are growing up so fast, and I don't want to be the one responsible for killing their joy in this blessed season of Christmas. So, no, thank you, I'm not going anywhere this weekend. I believe I have a date with a blond-haired, blue-eyed angel who needs her joy restored. You'll find me sitting in front of a lit tree by the fireplace, snuggling with my husband, sipping wine, and watching the twinkling lights sparkle in my children's eyes.
My wish for each and every one of you is that you take the time to nurture your family’s joy. Read the Gospel of Luke, and treasure the wonder of knowing that this tiny baby whose birthday we are celebrating is the Savior of all. Look at Christmas through the eyes of your children or grandchildren, and remember what it was like to think of Christmas as a Season of Blessings- of Joy, and Hope, and Peace. Peace be with you all. Happy Christmas!