In the busyness of the season, it takes an intentional effort to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, so we have some suggestions on how to keep Christ in Christmas and how to plan a Christmas Day the whole family will enjoy.
Even if your Advent has not been very spiritual to this point, start now by reading through the Advent story in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It is a beautiful story of trust in the Lord where we hear about two faithful women who were open to the miracles God gave them.
Two verses in this reading relate to the Hail Mary Prayer. In Luke 1:26-28 we hear the greeting from the Angel Gabriel to Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” This is the first line we use when praying “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you.”
The next part of the story is when Mary visits Elizabeth and we hear the second part of the Hail Mary in Elizabeth’s greeting from Luke 1:41- 42, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Through these two faithful women, we can see that God works miracles in situations which humans would think impossible. Elizabeth was considered too old to bear a child, Mary became pregnant, even though she was a virgin. Instead of worrying about all the things you have to do this week, think about the miracles God has worked in your life.
Unfortunately, many people have a hard time seeing those miracles, and for them, Christmas is a very difficult time of the year. Some have lost their spouse. Some have experienced life changes that have thrown their world off balance. And how many single parents need encouraging friendships and financial help? It’s easy for them to feel all alone and consider Christmas as a time to simply survive.
It is easy for us to exclude these people from our celebrations—just as Mary and Joseph were excluded from the inn when they sought shelter in Bethlehem. I challenge you to make room for the lonely, the outcast, and the widow by praying that the Lord will bring one needy person into your life this holiday—someone who has a need for fellowship or financial assistance or someone who needs to feel the love of Christ in a real way.
Carry a care package in your car with handouts for the homeless, including water, granola bars, canned meals, disposable cutlery, and small toiletries. This is a great way to help the homeless without giving them money.
If there are people in your church who need transportation to Christmas Mass, go out of your way to help them. It’s easy to get caught up in the activities of your own family, but what better way to teach children about the real meaning of Christmas than to show them what it means to be a Christian.
Invite someone who is alone to join your family for a Christmas meal. Your table may be full, but there is always room for one more.
Maybe you know someone who is homebound, or in a hospital or nursing home. Take time on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day to visit with them, take them food (allowable on their diet) and pray with them. Fill Christmas stockings with simple items they’ll use like hand-cream, postage stamps, pens, pencils, a small notebook, magazines, socks or simple Christmas decorations.
Extend your outreach to your own family by planning some low key activities for Christmas Day that the whole family will enjoy. One of the problems is the headlong rush into Christmas Day, then suddenly it’s over as soon as the presents are opened. Christmas will be more meaningful if you find ways for the family to slow down and savor the day.
A leisurely gift opening on Christmas Day can foster an attitude of gratitude instead of having everyone tear into presents in five minutes of total chaos.
In our family, when it’s time to open gifts, the children pass out the gifts to everyone. When everyone has their presents in a pile in front of them, we start with the youngest, who opens ONE present, when that one present is opened, and everyone has oohhed and aahhed over it, the next oldest opens ONE present. We go through the family in rotation from youngest to oldest with each person opening ONE present when it’s their turn, till all presents are opened.
This slow process eliminates the ‘what’s next’ attitude when there is a big build up to Christmas presents, and the presents take less than 5 minutes to unwrap. Usually, the kids get interested in one of their gifts before their next turn, which gives them time to enjoy their gifts and appreciate what they received.
The other thing that happens is that the oldest people (usually parents and grandparents) generally have the fewest gifts and drop out of the present opening rotation earliest. This situation results in the kids being worried about how few presents dad or grandma got, so there are opportunities for talking about what’s really important as far as giving and receiving gifts
Another idea we’ve used to slow down the gift opening is to make a game of it. Hide the gifts and play “hot and cold” as the person gets near where their gift is hidden. Try writing a poem or playing 20 questions in order for them to guess their gift. And the kids always love scavenger hunts where you hide clues around the house and send them scurrying around to find each clue which finally leads them to their gift.
Creating other family traditions will bring everyone together for fun and build memories that last a lifetime. Make a fire and roast marshmallows or make s’mores. Pick a favorite family game and have a tournament—Spoons; I doubt it; Monopoly; Uno, etc. Pull out pictures from Christmas past—especially pictures of the parents as kids or the children as babies.
Watch traditional family movies on Christmas Day—It’s a Wonderful Life; The Nativity Story, The Ultimate Gift, The Polar Express: A Christmas Carol.
Put together a jigsaw puzzle. Have it set up on a card table, so people can work on it sporadically throughout the day.
Read (or make up) a Christmas story—have different people read different parts in voices appropriate to the character. Even the little ones can get involved if you have them say some key phrases during the story.
After Christmas dinner, go outside for a walk to get some exercise and use the excess energy the kids have from all the excitement. Play flag football. Play in the snow; build a snowman; have a snowball fight, make snow angels. Or if you are in a warm climate like we are, go to the beach and build sandcastles, play volleyball or simply walk and bask in God’s beautiful creation.
By consciously making plans to slow down and enjoy the holidays. “Then you and your family… shall make merry over all these good things which the LORD, your God, has given you.” Deuteronomy 26:11.
When you really think about it; what do want to accomplish during the Christmas season? You want to build memories you can enjoy the rest of your life. Memories centered around celebrating the birth of Christ, helping the less fortunate, and enjoying family and friends.
This Christmas season, don’t let the world make you discontent with its focus on buying. Instead, learn to be content by developing traditions that are meaningful and fun but not expensive. Use the Christmas holidays to make memories that will last a lifetime.
And most importantly, keep Christ in your Christmas.
Join the Compass Catholic podcast on thoughts on how to make conscious plans for a Christmas day you will enjoy.