We're still in the process of making Christmas traditions. But what’s certain is that our festivities definitely center on celebrating a birthday.
My little sister told me this evening that — since her young boys are approaching pre-school age — she is busy figuring out how to present Christmas without mentioning Christ. She explained her plan to do a Google search on “Christmas traditions for agnostics” in order to find some elements to incorporate into their family festivities, since she doesn’t want Christmas to be about a birthday she doesn’t want to celebrate.
She’s a fallen-away Catholic and her husband is a non-church-going Christian of some sort (non-church-going due mostly to the influence of my little sister). But coming, as she does, from a big Catholic family, she has a whole store of Christmas memories — from midnight Mass to presents piled half way up the tree. It’s no wonder she wants to share some of that with her children. Not believing in Jesus is rather an inconvenience. One she hopes google might solve.
After I hung up the phone, I started to compare her experience with the one I had when my oldest were her kids’ ages, two years ago at this time. Our parish goes all-out in preparing a live Nativity, complete with an elaborate light display for the angels’ appearance, and live animals — even a real, cud-chewing camel. In the car on the way to the event, I decided to prep the kids for what they were about to see, hoping to ward off any toddler skittishness at the sights, sounds and smells.
They’d undoubtedly heard the Christmas story before, but hearing it in the context of “what we’re about to see” gave it freshness, and even solemnity. “… Since Mary and Joseph didn’t find any nice places to stay, they went to a barn because Baby Jesus was about ready to come out of Mary’s tummy,” I explained, knowing that they understood this concept from having lived it just some months before with the arrival of their infant sister. “Joseph was probably feeling sad that there were animals around because they were dirty and stinky, and he wished he could have found a better place for Mary and for the baby, but as the baby arrived, he quit worrying and just focused on him, so tiny and cute, just like your sister.”
I went on recounting the story and soon, I was fighting to hold my tears sufficiently at bay to keep the narrative going.
I told the kids about the shepherds and the angels and how the shepherds went to the stable. And how Mary showed the baby to them.
“Do you think Mary would have let the shepherds hold Baby Jesus even though their hands were dirty and rough?” I asked. Their eyes were wide as they considered that question and I could sense their little minds wrapping around the various details of the scene from that most holy of nights.
This — this story that I was telling my children and that they were assimilating for the very first time — this is the whole meaning of my life and everything I want to live for. It was an unparalleled gift to tell this story for ears that had never heard it before. It was one of the most intense and exhilarating experiences of motherhood I’ve had thus far.
Why we don’t do Santa at my house
Since my children are just slightly older than my sister’s, I’m still in the process of making Christmas traditions for my family. But what’s certain is that our festivities most definitely center on celebrating a birthday — the most important birthday of all time. (In fact, here’s the birthday cake we enjoy on Christmas day, though mine doesn’t look anywhere near this beautiful.)
Earlier this month, in his traditional Sunday address before praying the midday Angelus, Pope Francis reflected on the joy of sharing the Gospel. “If Our Lord Jesus has changed our lives, and he changes it every time we go to him, how can we not feel the passion to make him known,” the pope asked.
He also said, “If we look around us, we find people who would be willing to begin — or begin again — a journey of faith were they to encounter Christians in love with Jesus. Shouldn’t we and couldn’t we be these Christians?”
I do hope I could be one of these Christians for my sister. Only God knows his plan to bring her back. I’m sure he has one.
What I know is that I’m grateful God has allowed me to hear the angels’ message, and the grace to share it with innocent children still unaware of the things my sister probably will find on Google. It is truly a proclamation of good news that fills us with great joy.
Happy birthday Jesus!