Celebrating Christmas with the focus on Jesus is not always easy. The urge to buy, buy, buy, is fed by constant ads, articles focused on the perfect gift and a secular atmosphere that does not remind us of the true meaning of Christmas
When our son was born and about to celebrate his first Christmas, I found myself wanting to buy him lots of gifts. The practical side of me, however, realized quickly that it did not make sense, because as a three-month-old, he would not know or care about gifts! My husband and I discussed this situation and he voted for no presents, while I wanted our son to have something, so we settled on three, very small gifts. We decided that three was a good number, because that is how many gifts baby Jesus received.
Today, our children are grown, but they still receive three gifts. It is all Santa ever brought to them and at times, folks have criticized us for being "cheap" or not very generous. Other parents said they wish they would have thought of it, because the "buying" can quickly get out of control.
Our children were always very thoughtful about what they wanted for Christmas, because they knew Santa only brought three gifts. They never had long lists, because they knew three was the limit. They probably did not really like it when they realized others received much more, but truthfully they never complained. How could they? If Jesus received only three gifts, how could they ask for more?
Celebrating Christmas with the focus on Jesus is not always easy. The urge to buy, buy, buy, is fed by constant ads, articles focused on the perfect gift and a secular atmosphere that does not remind us of the true meaning of Christmas. Yet, as parents, teachers, grandparents and interested Catholics, it is up to us to support our schools in their efforts to remind students of the birth of our Savior on Dec. 25, the real reason we have this holy day.
One way that our schools stay attentive to the true meaning of Christmas is that they do not celebrate Christmas in the weeks leading up to Dec. 25. Our schools focus on Advent and preparing for the coming of Jesus. Many of our schools offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent and our teachers help our students to prepare for the birth of Christ by providing them time for prayer and reflection, in order to be the best that they can be to celebrate the birth of Christ. More than one teacher has told me that prayer time gives the students a true moment of quiet in a season that can be overwhelming.
Many of our schools also teach the story of St. Nicholas and use this saint's life to model that it is so much better to give than to receive. St. Nicholas reminds us that first and foremost, Christmas is about Jesus and kindness to others and not about the gifts that we receive at Christmas.
This year, some of our schools and parishes added Bambinelli Sunday as a way to remind all of us of what is most important on Christmas morning. In this tradition, students brought the baby Jesus from their Nativity sets to be blessed by a priest on Gaudete Sunday, or perhaps another designated day. Following the blessing, families took their baby Jesus home and wrapped it and placed it under the tree. When gifts are opened, the first gift opened will be the baby Jesus, to remind us, first and foremost, that Jesus is the reason for Christmas, that without God coming to us as a baby, there would not be this great celebration.
Advent Calendars and Advent wreaths are additional ways that many Catholic parents and Catholic schools assist their families in staying focused on the true meaning of Christmas. Many families take the time to read the story of the Nativity on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, while still others provide a birthday cake for baby Jesus. These are beautiful traditions that help our children and ourselves to remember what Christmas celebrates, what it means to us in our lives.
Christmas is such a joyful season, especially when we realize what that the birth of Jesus means to us as faith-filled Catholics. Sharing the excitement, the hope and peace of the season with our children is something that we are privileged to do. Gently reminding them what Scripture tells us: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." (John 3:16) is the best gift we could ever share with them. It is truly the gift that is everlasting.
Kathy Mears is the Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Boston. Join Evangelization Consultant Amber Ezeani and Superintendent Kathy Mears as they discuss ways families can keep the focus on Christ during the Advent and Christmas season, by listening to their 15-minute podcast, which can be found at www.csoboston.com.
Kathy Mears is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Boston.