US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

When Megan asked me to write a reflection about my Christmas traditions, I got a little anxious. Growing up, my family did something different for Christmas nearly every year.  And it wasn’t something we meant to do, as if my parents decided that one year we’d all go to Paris and then spend the next year in Miami. My little sister never accidentally got on a plane to New York City by herself. Unfortunately.

As an adult Christmases have remained not particularly intentional—unless you count how I always intend to do my Christmas shopping and gift-making earlier in the year. A friend of mine tells me how her parents still insist on what they call “The Magic of Christmas,” where they all wake up super early to discover that the whole house, including the tree, which had been bare the night before, is all decorated (really really decorated, my friend says) and there are gifts and sweets and Christmas songs playing. It sounds great and I admit to a little envy, but I’m also thankful that I essentially have no obligations to my family for the holidays. My friend is 34 now and has been dragging her husband home for the festive fanfare for years. (But she has a daughter now who is bound to really love “The Magic of Christmas” this year.)

This time of year, most people I know fall into two camps: There are those who willingly (and cheerfully) change their car radio stations the day after Thanksgiving to the adult contemporary station that switches to holiday music for the next six weeks and those who have to suppress a gag reflex and block their ears when they walk into Walgreens just for some new chap stick because that stupid Paul McCartney song is blaring over the store’s shoddy PA system.

 You can probably guess where I stand. Another reason I felt a little anxious about writing this reflection.

“Scrooge.” “Grinch.” “Bah humbug.” “Miser.” The list of epithets hurled at me by the anti- anti-Christmas set is long (and very Victorian), but the thing is, I’m not actually anti-Christmas or Christmas traditions. I’m not against all the shopping and gift-giving and card-sending. Not completely, anyway.  If you’ve sent me a card this year, be assured that it’s probably stuck to my refrigerator door, the envelope with the return address carefully stacked in a pile so I can update my address book in the new year—not that I’ll ever return your very sweet gesture and send you a Christmas card. But you never know when I’ll think of you and want to drop you an old-fashioned line that isn’t embossed in gold or covered in red and green glitter. I always try to thoughtfully select (shop for) and make gifts for my family members. And if there’s time, I usually craft something handmade for my closest friends. I even come up with a theme for my holiday wrapping. This year, it’s Swedish-chic. Thank you, Ikea.

And if you want to wish me “happy holidays” or “good tidings during this festive season,” rather than getting specific about what you think the reason for the season is, I honestly don’t mind. In fact, if you’re one of those people who do become very knowing and mention the baby Jesus, with a capital H in him, he, and his, I’ll probably wrinkle my nose or roll my eyes.

It’s actually the knowing, literally holier-than-thou attitude exuded by my more religious acquaintances that annoys me most about Christmas. The alarmist, “OMG, there’s a war on Christmas” rhetoric and the reactionary intentionalism that attempts to make everything extra Christ-y is the very thing that drives me to wish everyone a very nonsensical “happy hollandaise.” And I’m pretty sure that for many of those who truly want to be sympathetic to the holiness of the holiday are similarly turned off.

 I’m not interested in hearing how much Christmas has changed since you were a kid, whether you’re my age or my parents’ or grandparents’ age. Interestingly, it turns out that at least since the 1950s we’ve been getting our Christmas bows in a knot over how we don’t focus enough on the true mystery of the incarnation or how consumer-driven the holiday has become. When doing some research on The Voice of St. Jude and U.S. Catholic earlier this year, I stumbled upon an article from 1954 that could have been a post on any number of concerned Catholic blogs today (you know the type). What was she upset about? Why, how secular the holiday had become, of course. Remember: This was 1954. The best thing about this article was how the author created a list of suggestions for how one might turn a too-secular Christmas into one that’s more Christian. Don’t send Christmas cards with pictures of puppies or kittens; send only cards depicting a manger scene, she instructed.

Your vision of your past holidays might not just be lit up in non-LED red and green Christmas lights (or candles, if you’re really old), but tinted by a rose-colored nostalgia. It seems that Christmas has always been a little tainted—according to your standards, though. Not mine.

I’m not a Grinch or Scrooge (but I really do hate that Paul McCartney song). And, I suppose that maybe this attitude toward Christmas is my tradition. I think that if you want to buy cards with a puppy in a Santa hat on the front, you should. It sounds totally cute and would probably make me laugh. And joyfulness at the unexpected is especially poignant right about now.

Read more blogs about Advent and Christmas traditions at Submit a guest blog to We may put this together into a holiday theme Meditation Room for the magazine next year. Any reflections selected for publication will win $50!