You may be one of those crazy people who starts counting down to Christmas from October, who gets dreamy at the thought of Christmas gifts and traditions, hot chocolate and carols, Midnight mass and fluffy socks. But most likely once the season is upon you, that illusion comes crashing down. You suddenly have too much to do, too many commitments, nothing to wear, you’re tired, and everyone expects too much of you, and more and more corners of your house need cleaning. Your family members still push your buttons, and the more tired you are, the more you remember everything in your life that is going wrong, like the fact that you’re STILL single, or your marriageable children are, or your marriage is not picture-perfect, or you are childless or you just lost someone close to you… and it’s all too much to handle, and Christmas is not dreamy and charming, but frustrating and exhausting and can we go back to normal life already?
So is there any way to avoid this cycle of pain? Is there any way to redeem Christmas? Here are my best tips:
1. Make room for silence: Somehow or the other, prayer is relegated to the way way bottom of our to-do lists during Christmas. “Hold on, Lord, I know, I know, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ etc, but really it’s super-important that I spend another few hours online shopping for the perfect gift for everyone I know, I’m sure you understand.”
Just put it all to one side, put your phone in another room, quiet your heart and your mind, and be with the One who loves you best.
“The best time to make a holy hour is in the morning, early, before the day sets traps for us,” said Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Schedule it in, or it won’t happen. Personal prayer is important, and so is family prayer. I remember a Christmas Eve a few years ago when my family was in the middle of all the typical bustle of decorating, gift-wrapping, looking for matching clothes, shoes and jewelry for Midnight Mass, fighting over the one ironing board… and then we stopped everything, switched off all the lights and sat quietly before the crib, with its one light on, and prayed together. It was exactly right, but how easily we could have missed that moment.
2. Make room for love: Plan a visit to a poor family, or an elderly relative. Those are the kind of plans that won’t automatically happen unless you choose them. Christmas dances, family parties and big meals will happen one way or another, but the less glamorous appointments must be deliberately prioritized. But it’s not just the big gestures of love, but the little ones too. Plan each day to something encouraging or kind to each member of your family. Wash the dishes for your mum. Thank your maid. Tickle your kids. People over tasks.
3. Don’t over-commit: It’s easy during Christmas season to want to do it all. And there’s usually a LOT to do - parties, visits, home-decorating, errands, cooking feasts, an array of different types of sweets. But if you’re tired, it’s okay to say no. If you don’t have time to pray, it’s okay to say no. if you’re over-stimulated, your room is a huge mess and you’re surviving on five hours of sleep every night, it’s okay to say no. It doesn’t really make a difference if you make three types of sweets instead of five. It’s okay if you skip a few social engagements to spend a quiet evening at home. make good choices. Don't spread yourself too thin.
4. Don’t over-eat, drink too much or spend too much: It’s embarrassing that Christians celebrate the birth of our God in the dwelling of a poor and humble family by reveling in the sin of gluttony and alcohol abuse and greed. Of course, celebration and feasting is good - Catholics love their feasts! But feasting is not equal to gluttony or drunkenness. Plus you know you feel bloated, unhealthy, lethargic or hung over after overdoing it too many times. Why not enjoy the good things of life without letting them destroy us? Maybe you could give away the extra food, or the money saved by eating leftovers or buying less alcohol or other stuff, in the true spirit of Christmas.
5. Feed yourself with something satisfying: Read a good book. Read the bible. Listen to a good podcast. Do some art. Feed your soul and your mind, don’t just put them on hold while the body takes over. The bubble of this life is going to burst one day, and what will you have left on that day?
7. Go for Confession: I have never failed to have my soul-cobwebs cleared out each time I have been to Confession. Yes, it’s hard, yes, I don’t feel like doing it and can think of any number of other things I would rather be doing, and yet I go – because it clears out the junk and once again I see myself and the world with the eyes of Truth… and hope. I went for Confession three days ago, and it was about time.
8. Fight the urge to compare: Envy creeps in at times like this, a dissatisfaction with the way things are, with the imperfect life we have been given. Nostalgia, an imperceptible sense of “If only…” pervades everything, and steals our joy. Reality doesn’t seem to satisfy. Wake up, friends - it’s a lie! No one has that perfect life. It awaits us in heaven, when every tear will be wiped away. Meanwhile, the imperfect, messy life you have been given holds beauty. But you might need to stop and look for it. And when you find it, give thanks!
I pray that each person reading this article finds joy this Christmas, that you may judge wisely the things of earth, and hold firm to the things of heaven, and that you may find your security in the gentle arms of our Lord who gave up heaven just to be ‘Emmanuel’.