Ironically, the most sacred days of the year are often some of the most hectic. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association reports that Americans are five times more likely to report that their stress increases rather than decreases during the holiday season.
There are so many things outside of our control. We can’t control the pandemic: neither case numbers nor variants. We can’t control the decisions of our relatives and friends. We can’t control how our co-workers respond to holiday chaos. We can’t control the long lines at stores or delays as we travel. The holidays amplify how many things are simply beyond us.
Confronting this fact, Archbishop Fulton Sheen says,
You cannot find peace on the outside but you can find peace on the inside, by letting God do to your soul what Mary let Him do to her body, namely, let Christ be formed in you.
In the chaos of the season, it’s unlikely that we’ll find exterior peace. That doesn’t mean we can’t find peace though.
The saints kept their peace, that is, they had true interior peace, in so many crazy situations. They found true interior peace in Nazi concentration camps and Soviet prisons. They found peace in times of war and famine and persecution. Even while suffering from terrible diseases like cancer, saints managed to keep their peace.
The Virgin Mary had every reason to not have peace. Think of everything that she had to arrange! All the work that had to be done! And yet, as Bishop Sheen says,
As she cooked meals in her Nazarene home, as she nursed her aged cousin, as she drew water at the well, as she prepared the meals of the village carpenter, as she knitted the seamless garment, as she kneaded the dough and swept the floor, she was conscious that Christ was in her; that she was a living Ciborium, a monstrance of the Divine Eucharist, a Gate of Heaven through which a Creator would peer upon creation, a Tower of Ivory whose chaste body He was to climb ‘to kiss upon her lips a mystical rose.’
Mary had true interior peace.
How to cultivate peace during the holidays
- Prioritize your personal prayer. Get up a few minutes early and sit quietly at prayer beside your Christmas tree. Read the daily Mass readings or say a decade or two of the Rosary. Clinging to those special moments of silence will refresh and renew you.
- Give meaningful gifts. Don’t give in to buying things just to buy them. Give experiences or time as gifts. Resisting the commercialization of Christmas is not just about your wallet: it’s about personal sanity.
- Just say no to things. The words of Nancy Reagan’s DARE program are as true now as they ever were: just say no. Saying no is good for you. The temptation to overcommit and overprogram during the holidays lurks around every corner. Most Americans, though, could do better by doing less.
- Make those phone calls. There are people you think about every holiday. They may be friends or family that you haven’t prioritized during the year. Take the time to call them. Letting other people know what they mean to us brings peace.
- Give to those in need. Culturally, Christmas is the giving season. Be generous to those charities you know are making a real difference in the lives of the poor. Even if you just prepare yourself to give socks and bottles of water to the homeless people you know from your commute, giving of yourself gives peace.
Ultimately, peace, even interior peace, is not some abstract state. St. Ambrose of Milan reminds us,
Open wide your door to the one who comes. Open your soul, throw open the depths of your heart to see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the sweetness of grace. Open your heart and run to meet the Sun of eternal light that illuminates all men.
Peace is a person. Christ is our peace.