I have read them too … ALL the blog posts and articles about preparing for Christmas by avoiding stress, simplifying, and saying no to extra stuff.
For the first six years of our marriage, I did it. Or rather, I didn’t do it. I kept things to a minimum. I only had an Advent wreath and very few Christmas decorations. I didn’t emphasize shopping or too many parties. Heck, we didn’t even get a tree half the years because we were traveling, and it would die. Plus, I had 3 kids during those years plus work outside the home, and I was in survival mode.
But, this year, I realized several things about minimalism during Advent…
- MINIMALISM IS NOT ME! I’m an effusive and creative person. I thought I was placing my desires for a decorated home and traditions and magic on some sort of invisible altar to order and sanity. If I sacrificed enough, maybe I would be blessed with extra grace to handle the busy, cold, multi-faceted month of December. Guess what? It didn’t work. Not for me. Maybe for you, but not for me. Instead, it just sapped Christmas of visual joy and my heart and world was grey and bland when Christ arrived. I had only prepared a bare stable for him, when I really wanted to welcome him into the finest hotel that human efforts could make, resplendent with hope and joy and love (and twinkling Christmas lights and fragrant evergreen branches!)I LOVE the magic of Christmas. I love nativity scenes with great detail. I love Jesse tree ornaments and the ritual of re-telling the Bible stories that go along with them. I love the treats from St. Nick in our shoes that remind us that God is always generous with us, even if we don’t deserve it. I love lighting Advent candles at dinner. I love the “Hail and Blessed Be” novena prayers. I love paper snowflakes and the search for the perfect tree, and carols, Christian and secular alike. And so do my children. Losing one’s sense of wonder is not efficient or calming or whatever other “adulting” word you want to put on it. So, maybe I don’t need to do ALL the things, and I shouldn’t feel obligated to churn out Christmas cookies like a human baking machine. But, I will take the time to light a candle, place an ornament, turn on music, and invest in the imaginations of my children and myself.A dear friend once put it perfectly, “Order is the servant of beauty, not the other way around.” The devil would convince us that holy celebration is stressful, TOO stressful, but that is only true when we lack perspective and balance. Some stress–the flurry of preparation–is part of anticipation. Like “nesting” for a new child, we ready our best (in interior and exterior ways) for the Christ Child. So, I won’t bake before I travel (too many dishes) but I will bring something small along. I won’t go to parties of acquaintances, but I will spend time with dear friends. I will do more online shopping inside the house and more fresh-air exploring with the kids outside the house to search for evergreen boughs.
- When I don’t cultivate the imaginations of my children, the world will step in and do it for me. The giant mechanical Santa outside the shopping mall, confusing songs about Mommy kissing Santa and wanting a hippopotamus, flashing lights, and tantalizing toys … it’s like icing. It’s not a terrible thing unless it’s the main food group in your diet. Plus, the great thing about being Catholic is that I don’t have to change my Christmas narrative as they get older. They will eventually figure out that Santa Claus (or Sankt Nikolaus, or St. Nicholas) may deliver gifts in a bit more round-a-bout way than sleds and chimneys. But, he is real and does bless us as an intercessor in heaven the same way he blessed people on earth through his charity and generosity. And it is pretty magical that Christ, rather like Tolkien’s hobbits, wants everyone else to have gifts on His birthday, and we all have an opportunity to show each other how much we value our loved ones on that day.
- Childhood memories are very strong. I want my children to have traditions of joy and rituals that teach them about the rich cultural and spiritual heritage they have in their Catholic faith. I want them to understand that we do these things because ritual and celebration are part of being in relationship, and we have a God who thirsts for our love. Someday, if some myopic secularist challenges them, and says, “I think religion is just a way people make sense of things they can’t explain,” or “Religion is just an opiate for superstitious, non-rational people,” or “Religion is just a bunch of rules and is out of touch.” I hope my kids will be able to respond intelligently and share the evidence from their lives of God’s loving Hand at work. I also hope that their positive experience of a life of Faith will help them emotionally to discount these false claims from the start.
So, this year, our house is decorated, and we’re enjoying forming beautiful memories with family and friends as we prepare for Christ. Maybe that’s not where you are. Maybe you’ll be lucky to get a stable and manger ready for Christ in your heart this year. Fortunately, that seems to suit Jesus just fine; He always embraces the simple and hurting people first. Maybe those minimalism blogs are for you this year. But, I want to give you permission to go the extra mile if your heart is yearning for that. Allow your heart and home to glisten and gleam and be filled with songs celebrating the birth of Our Lord.
Some days we’re the shepherds, some days we’re the 3 kings–bring Him what you can this year. 🙂