As the days draw nearer to our celebration of the birth of the Christ child, every Christian home is preparing a way for the Lord, right? Yeah, right. I’m betting most are pounding the mall pavement loaded with packages, fretting over gifts and trying to figure out when they will have time to write the annual Christmas letter.
The Contamination of Christmas
It’s not as if these activities cannot occur simultaneously but I do truly wish the Advent season was more spiritual and less material. The material element in particular is the one that so frequently contaminates this holy day.
When two of my children were born on December 22–one 17 years ago and the other 9 year ago–the materialistic corruption of Christmas became especially clear to me. A pregnant woman with a due date that hovers around Christmas is often the object of pity. Hopefully, it won’t arrive on Christmas day, is the refrain. Initially, I too thought Christmas would be a less than desirable birthday, until I contemplated the situation further. It’s okay to be born on or near any other holiday of the year except that one. Why? What is so bad with being birthday buddies with Jesus? Having a birthday on St. Valentine’s Day or the Fourth of July is thought to be special. But just mention a Christmas birthday and people cringe.
Sharing a birthday with Jesus should be the greatest honor; the best day of the year. Please don’t get defensive if you’ve bemoaned a Christmas birthday; it’s understandable. But think a moment on this. If you could choose any person in the world for your child to share a birthday with, I’m betting that Jesus would not be first on the list. Sadly, he might be last. I’m also betting that it would be mostly a present-driven decision.
I know there’s more to it than that, such as a kid’s birthday party not fitting in well at this time. I also admit, that having two birthdays around Christmas, does make my own life more hectic. But really, it’s often the trappings of Christmas, all the purchases and preparations we think are essential that can take away the true meaning and joy of this season. All the extras end up making the day less than what it is. Christmas is the celebration of God coming to earth to share our humanity and save us. Nothing should trump that; not presents or cards, not decorations or baking, not anything.
It is sadly ironic that Jesus was born alongside animals in a manger. This is the humblest of beginnings. His birth was the antithesis of materialism. Could God have made it more clear that material goods of this world are nothing compared to heavenly things? Yet, this has become the most materialistic time of the year. Those that seek the true meaning of Christmas understand all this, but fighting the tsunami of holiday preparation can feel more like a responsibility than a motivation from the heart. Another aspect that takes away from gift giving is that relatives and Godparents often want to give children presents, but the kids might already have so much that simply adding to the stack under the tree rings hollow.
Presents that Reach Deep
This is one day of the year where getting to simple is not so simple.
With some thought, however, there are ways to give from the heart such as baking and homemade items, promises of time to help others and giving to the poor. You can give of yourself through Christmas caroling, volunteering to help a needy person or organization. Consider offering free babysitting for someone that needs it but can’t afford “one more expense.” Some people give a special ornament with the child’s name and date on it every year so it becomes a precious collection to last a lifetime.
There are also gifts that can reach into eternity. Compare time spent shopping with the value of an hour spent in prayer, saying a rosary or time in adoration for someone. Religious items such as pictures, crucifixes, medals and rosaries can also be precious gifts with a deeper meaning than just another toy. A number of Catholic missionary organizations offer enrollment in a novena of Masses or a year membership of being included in Mass intentions. People can also sign someone up for their parish Mass intention.
As an author and avid reader, I have found books to be something that can reach into another’s heart and soul. Books are a way that relatives and Godparents can contribute to the formation of the children they care about. For younger children, consider also sitting and reading the book together.
Any Catholic author will tell you that they rely on the Holy Spirit to guide them during the writing process. The Holy Spirit keeps on giving through inspiration to readers. We have all had the experience of being inspired and even transformed by books. You might even want to hand a religious book catalog to a child or teen or even an adult, and ask them to pick out a book or two of their choice.
Whether it’s a book, another item or our time, consider gifts that build character in us and/or others and thus helps build up the Church. Perhaps that is the very theme that should drive our Christmas preparations. Are we building up our family and the Church this Christmas rather than becoming harried and materialistic? Slowing down and simplifying will help the love of Jesus to be our motivation behind everything we do for loved ones and guests in our home. That is the ultimate Christmas challenge.