Holding on to Christmas

I love how the house and street and stores and church look at Christmastime. I love how Christmas sounds and smells too. The scents of ginger and evergreen are in the air, accompanied by carols and bells and whispered plans. I remember visiting friends’ homes for the expressed purpose of “seeing their tree.” It was something everyone did every year, even if the tree was artificial, and pretty much the same year after year. Some trees were, of course, extraordinary. When I was growing up, my violin teacher and his Swiss wife used to have real candles on a real tree. He also had a real bucket of water nearby when they lit it.

A lot of people -- even solid Mass-going people -- seem to take their Christmas trees down on Dec. 26. Frankly, I’ve never understood that. Our tree stays up until at least Jan. 6. That is, we take all the decorations down on the weekend following what used to be called “Little Christmas.” We did that even when we still had a real tree. When it became too brittle or dry, we just didn’t light it up any more.

I wish Epiphany was still celebrated on Jan. 6. After all, Christmas is supposed to be Twelve Days, not just however many days fit until the Sunday after New Year’s. I don’t know about anybody else, but I need more than just a single day of Christmas after the extended Mall hours end, and the commercial “success” of the holiday has been analyzed and measured.

Sure, most of the nativity sets we have or see romanticize the dark cave in which a teenaged Mary gave birth. The often very ornate scenes we place in churches aren’t very accurate representations of the birth of Christ. But isn’t that what all mothers do? Don’t we smooth out the rough spots of our memories, especially when they involve the children we love?

Why not linger near the grotto? We all need to hold on to Christmas, because in this world such joy is fleeting. We need to relish and treasure and ponder the mystery of not only how -- but why -- God would become one of us, like us in everything except sin.

Maybe it’s a female thing, but I try to hold onto Christmas for as long as possible. Our Church, being motherly, does too. All the daily Mass readings we hear as we move beyond Epiphany draw us back to the stable, back ultimately to the love that gift wrapped God in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.

As the infancy narratives close, the Bible tells us that Mary “pondered these things in her heart.” While she may not have known every detail of God’s plan of salvation, she did know that for a few years she held it in her arms. Every mother knows that childhood melts rather quickly away. As Jesus grew, and ministered, and preached, and healed, Mary must have returned -- as we all do -- to the joys of his early years. Perhaps even beneath the Cross, she could find a warm place in the stable again; comfort and strength in her memories of angels and shepherds, of wise men and gifts.

I need Christmas to get me through Lent, and Holy Week, through trial and failure, disappointment and even death. I need Christmas to be there when I have nowhere else to run to, when there seems to be no room for me. I need Christmas to reassure me when I find it hard to stand, or hard to believe in what I’m standing for. That is why I will never be in hurry to bring the boxes back in from the garage in order to pack it all up again until next year. That is why, for as long as I can, I’ll be holding on to Christmas.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.