Families aren’t perfect—but neither is Christmas.
My father hates Christmas. We have a picture of him lying on my parents’ couch, wrapped up in a blanket, wearing both a Santa hat and a look of utter mournfulness.
For most of my childhood and young adulthood, this was something to tease him about. How could you hate Christmas? What part of gift giving and receiving, good food, and family is not to like? How could anyone not like the music, the celebration, the candles, and the hushed holiness of the Midnight Mass?
Last year, though, I started to understand where my dad was coming from.
Christmas happens in the here and now, among those for whom there is no room at the inn.
“Do you think Christmas really happened that way?” I asked my friend Brian one cold winter evening at the Catholic Worker farm as we gathered wood for a Christmas Eve bonfire.
Baby Jesus isn’t just a cuddly cute bundle of life.
Advent is a wonderful season because it’s all about waiting for a baby. Who doesn’t love babies? Religion is sweet when it concerns a tiny bundle of life we can hold in our arms and upon whom the very hope of the world depends. More people would sign up for church membership if it were all as lovely and cuddly and charming as this.
But be forewarned: The baby is a thief.
From the archives: Take time this year to observe Advent among the worry, hurry, and frantic activity of the holidays.
In the middle of June, on a bright, hot, green, snow-is-the-furthest-thing-from-my-mind day, my middle daughter looked across the breakfast table and asked, “Mommy, when is it going to be Advent?”
She was quite serious; Easter and Pentecost seemed a long time away. Surely it was about time Advent rolled around again. Or at least so she hoped. She was, to say the least, disappointed when I explained she had an entire summer and fall to wait before Advent peered over the horizon.
The nativity isn't all about gifts for cute baby Jesus. It's a story about good prevailing over evil—an evil that looks very familiar to our modern situation.
There’s a commercial that I see everywhere lately. A little girl and her dad are working on a volcano for her science fair. But something goes wrong and at the last minute the volcano doesn’t explode (as a fellow procrastinator, I feel her pain). Her dad’s solution: a $1,000 flat screen television! She can just show the judges what a volcano looks like! And then, successful science fair experience behind them, the family curls up together to watch a movie. Apparently expensive tvs are good at bringing families together as well as facilitating academic success.
Family drama bringing you down? Our survival guide to fairly happy holidays recommends decking the halls, not your brother.
We’ve all seen the Hallmark version: the loving, happy, laughing family gathered around the Christmas tree.
Then there’s real life.
Father John Cusick, director of young adult ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago, remembers the relative who, every year, tried to goad him into a political argument during Christmas dinner. One year he took the bait and the conversation got heated. Later he went home, took a deep breath, and thought: “What a way to ruin a holiday.”
As we celebrate the birth of Christ, remember that he was born Jesus the migrant, Jesus the refugee.
An old Irish custom—at least my mother told me it was Irish and old—was to put an extra potato in the pot for supper for “the people on the road.” In the 19th century as landlords put tenants off their plots, families were forced to be migrants—internally or overseas. Remembering Matthew 25, the poor Irish would be prepared to welcome the stranger and fed the hungry—if only with a potato. I once mentioned this in a sermon and, as I greeted people after Mass, a Canadian told of a similar practice in Quebec.
Twelve ways to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, not including pipers piping.
This year, hand on heart, I saw Christmas decorations for sale on October 1. When I was little, we didn’t even start thinking about Christmas until after Thanksgiving.
My family would spend most of Advent getting ready. We’d shop for a tree, pull decorations down out of the attic, stock up on wrapping paper, and make lists for Santa. Most years the grownups would gather for a Christmas Eve party, and we kids would struggle to stay awake late into the night.
When admittance to the nativity scene is free and open to the public, Bethlehem can get a little crowded—but the creche is enriched because of it.
I don’t have pictures of myself sitting terrified on Santa’s lap. Despite his slow but certain infiltration into the traditional Spanish Christmas, he has never been able to dethrone the Wise Men who, flanked by pages, still sit in department stores and city squares to listen to children whose wishes they will fulfill the day after their parades on January 6.
We shouldn’t get hung up on the details surrounding Jesus’ birth, says Bible scholar Laurie Brink.
Learning scripture in the land of the Bible changes the way you read it, says Sister Laurie Brink, O.P., who leads study tours to places such as Bethlehem. “The land holds memory,” she says. “It’s made holy by everybody that went there before.”