Expecting our “ideal” Christmas often leads to disappointment… but there’s a way to approach the holidays that leads to greater contentment.
All Christmas Gospel stories talk of humility – the humbleness of Mary and Joseph, who could not afford a roof over the head of their child; the shepherds, who contrary to the Wise Men, did not come bearing treasures as an offering to Jesus. There is also the humility of God, who concealed his own divinity in human form and willingly traded His might for complete helplessness. God, the King of kings, who from the moment he was born had to experience precariousness, persecution, and exile; God, who has never forced anyone to receive Him, both in the inns of Bethlehem 2000 years ago, and today in our hearts.
When presents outshine Christmas
You’re about to celebrate Christmas and intend to do so in all humbleness and humility. Even if your income is modest, your home is no Bethlehem stable: on Christmas night the tables are abundantly spread and the stockings hanging from the fireplace mantels are amply garnished.
“Each year,” says John, a father of four, “I wonder where is Christmas in all of that? Preparing for Christmas dinner and unwrapping the presents takes more of our energy than going to Mass. It’s seems upside down.” It’s the same for Marion, who says, “Christmas day should be a day of peace and joy, but is often marked by our children’s resentments, the grown ups’ boredom, all of it in a dreadful atmosphere due to the lack of sleep.”
Indeed, where is Christmas in all of this? Sometimes we dream of a simpler celebration, peaceful and without tensions, without financial ruin, a time when we can pass on to our children the love of God instead of material goods, a time when we can receive the Good News of the birth of Christ and announce it to all those around us, like the shepherds of Bethlehem.
What kind of attitude should you aim for?
In reality, things are never simple. Even if you are right to question how you mark Christmas, you should also take into account the reality. There are family traditions your loved ones are attached to and it is not always possible or desirable to get rid of them. Christmas celebrations are often an occasion to gather around family and to rediscover traditions steeped in memories that many anticipate each year. It would be paradoxical that under a pretext of preserving the true spirit of Christmas, you put off your loved ones and friends.
You might opt for simplifying some things and organizing a traditional family gathering or a meal after Mass differently. Consider the desires and habits of others. We need to realize how fortunate we are! If these constraints annoy us, let us never forget that many lonely people would love to make such concessions or compromise, instead of spending their Christmas alone, in front of a TV set. More importantly, let us rejoice in having abandoned the ideal of our Christmas celebration … as that’s is what it is to be humble.
Real humility is about spiritual detachment
Humbleness and humility don’t so much consist in an outward austerity as in a spiritual detachment. True humility cannot be forced – it’s an act of consenting. Celebrating Christmas in humility means that you accept what you’ve been given to experience. It requires that you joyfully submit to the demands of your circumstances without bitterness — the constraints, the imperfections, and the pressures that are obstacles to celebrating your “ideal” Christmas.
We can never decide solely by ourselves how to celebrate Christmas when others are involved, but we’re free to choose the way we perceive it. We’re free to strip ourselves of our own will, to find joy in others, and to marvel at what we have instead of dreaming of what’s not there.
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