A Simple Christmas Isn’t so Simple

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 16 years ago and the other 8 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.

How sadly ironic that Jesus was born alongside animals in a manager; 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 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 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.

Then, there are also gifts that can reach into eternity.  Compare time 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 ready 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.

While we are on the subject of books, I’m going to suggest a book series for pre-teen and young teens because it fits the bill of reaching deep.  The All Things Girl series: Friends, Boys, and Getting Along; Mirror Mirror ; Girls Rock !; Mind Your Manners ; Modern and Modest is the brainchild of the women behind the non-profit apostolate Runway to Reality:  Molly Miller and Monica Cops. Their desire was to create books for Catholic girls that would teach or reinforce for the girls the truths of the Catholic faith. Every book features a saint, a media story, an examination of conscience, a plan for a prayer life, plus things scattered throughout that include fun quizzes, inspirational stories, crafts etc. Molly and Monica asked Teresa Tomeo, best-selling Catholic author and speaker, to join them and write media pieces for each book.

The books were the focus of EWTN’s Bookmark show hosted by Doug Keck and the authors will be on "Life on the Rock" in March 2010 to showcase Truth for Teens .  The books also became the basis of a 13-part series on EWTN which will begin airing in early 2010.  All Things Guy: A Guide to Becoming a Man that Matters sprang from parents’ requests for equal time for guys, as did the book for teens called All Things Girl: Truth for Teens . There is also a Leader’s Guide that parents, DRE’s and Catechism teachers use to conduct groups.  Something for everyone.

Whether it’s a book, other 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 for loved ones and company. That is the ultimate Christmas challenge.

Patti Maguire Armstrong


Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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