Christmas is one of the most busiest times in the Catholic Church. However, because of all the fuss over this specific season in parishes, I seem to have better love for the seasons of Lent and Easter Season than Advent and Christmas. That is just my own perspective. People are surprised when I tell them I like Easter over Christmas. But that is not the point… all Liturgical Seasons have a special aspect to it. Today, I want to specifically look at Catholic Christmas.
This year, I share with you 10 ways to celebrate an authentic Catholic Christmas (notice emphasis in Catholic). I am sad that over the past years, when I go to Walmart or Hallmark to find a box of Christmas Cards, there are have been less and less of the Nativity themed cards than the Santa Claus cards. It seems to me that the true meaning of Christmas has been forgotten. Also, the business world has made it seem that Christmas is only December 25th. However, Christmas is a Season in the Liturgical Year. Therefore, I find much importance in celebrating Christmas in an authentic Catholic way. Here we go…
- Join your parish in the celebration of Mass – This is rarely the number one item on Catholics’ Christmas to-do list as I see it. Many go to Church because it is a “Holy Day of Obligation” (at least in Canada). In a recent article, The Catholic Register reveals that Mass attendance doubles on Christmas Day. Going to Mass is the best gift one can give Baby Jesus on Christmas Day. I am sure that if your friend invites you to their birthday party, you would try your best to attend. Here, Jesus invites you to His “birthday party”. Why do some Catholics hesitate to come to Jesus’ birthday party? I am sure one can make many excuses of family parties, or preparations for this and that… However, as a Catholic, one should place the Sacrifice of the Mass, Our Lord’s birthday party as the central part of Christmas. It is where we can encounter Baby Jesus, the Saviour of the World. Maybe consider reading the Prayers to be used during the Mass and the Lectionary Readings. This will help you be more attentive to Mass and have better understanding of what the priest is saying.
- Spending time with family – Family gatherings are very important to me, probably due to the fact that I do not have many family members in Toronto. Christmas should be a time to gather with family to celebrate the Birth of Jesus. Why not do a Skype call? Or even a simple phone call saying, “Merry Christmas!”? Family are people very close to you. There is no gathering as fitting or oneself than in the family. Family here, however may not only refer to aunts, uncles or cousins. It may also include very close friends too. They too are considered family to many people.
- Spending time in prayer – I often pray the Liturgy of the Hours’ Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer or on many occasions, both. The prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours and of the Mass is the same all over the world, no matter what language it is recited in. However, no one expects one to recite any complicated prayer. During the Christmas season, take time to pray in thanksgiving to God (not just asking…). Include in your Christmas prayers, the intentions of the Holy Father and the Holy Father himself too. At the same time, remember your family members, friends but most importantly for the conversion of sinners.
- Visit a Catholic bookstore – I love going to the Liturgical Centre, Sisters Disciples of the Divine Master during the Christmas Season. I love looking at the Nativity Scenes that the Sisters put out for sale. Each Nativity is unique and comes from different areas of the world. It is interesting how each culture depicts the Baby Jesus, Joseph and the Virgin Mary. I really love the authentic Catholic festive atmosphere inside the store and the great hospitality offered by the Sisters. Also, the Pauline Books and Media store is a great place too (mainly books though). Yet, in the midst of the busy shopping at malls such as Eaton Centre and Yorkdale, people have forgotten about the “true meaning”. Consider going to a Catholic store after doing your shopping at the mall? Pauline Books and Media is very close to Yorkdale (Lawrence and Dufferin). Catholic shopping would be a great addition to one’s Christmas!
- Purchase or make Catholic Christmas Cards – I find it very difficult now to find Christmas cards at shopping centres such as Walmart depicted Baby Jesus, the Holy Family or a scene of the Nativity. The cards depicting Santa Claus, Christmas trees or a green wreath with holly are the common designs now. Of course, Catholic stores do sell these but they are a little pricey. Therefore, over the past four years, I have printed my own Christmas cards. The past two years I designed ones depicting a woodcut of the Holy Family. This year, I used a woodcut of the Holy Family with the young St. John the Baptist too. I want to spread the message that, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” through my Christmas gifts and cards.
- Give the gift of love – Charity is a virtue that every Catholic should live, everyday but perhaps more during the Christmas Season. Consider making a small donation to a charity (that is trustworthy). Also, show love to others through your everyday actions. Try to eliminate selfishness as much as possible during this Christmas Season and even after Christmas. Love is the best gift you can give to someone this Christmas Season. Just a smile towards a sad person on Christmas Day can mean a lot.
- Visit the Parish Priest – Christmas is one of two busy occasions of the Liturgical Year and priests are constantly on their feet during these seasons. Consider taking time to talk to him after Mass instead of rushing home. Show your appreciation to him and remember him in your prayers. A priest’s life has its ups and downs, it has pleasures and difficulties too. Priests really need our prayers and our encouragment mean something to them.
- Preparing New Year’s Resolution – Christmas is not just a day (December 25) but lasts until the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (about the second week of January). Therefore, take sometime during the Christmas Season to come up with a New Year’s Resolution. This may seem like an old practice… but I think it is a good practice to observe. If everyone took time to look at their errors during the past year and attempted to fix them the upcoming year, we would live in a much better world. Come up with a resolution before Christmas. Write that resolution on a sheet of paper. No one needs to read it. Make the resolution a plan between you and God. Once done, neatly fold it and after Christmas Mass, approach your Parish’s Nativity Scene and place in by Christ’s manger. That would be a great gift for Jesus.
- Christmas Caroling – I want to stress the importance of Christmas Hymns, Christmas Carols (not songs). “He who sings prays twice,” said St. Augustine. I was glad to walk into Yorkdale Mall today hearing some Christmas Carols. Christmas Carols express the true meaning of Christmas while Christmas songs (like Rudolph, Red Nosed Reindeer) do not. I am not trying to say that Christmas songs should not be sung. They are of course, fun to sing! But there should be a balance. Christmas Carols help direct our hearts and mind more to the reason for the season – Jesus.
- Expressing Gratitude and Forgiveness – Christmas is a time to express gratitude to those who help us in our daily lives. Take time to thank your parents, friends, colleagues, teachers, and our parish priest(s) too. A simple “thank you” and acknowledgement of what they do would be something great to do this Christmas Season. Also, if you have committed an error that have hurt someone, ask for forgiveness this Christmas from that person and from God during this time. There will be much joy this Christmas if both people can create peace.
- BONUS! Set up a Nativity Scene – Many homes maintain the tradition of setting up a Nativity Scene (sometimes called a Crèche) at home. While Nativity Scenes may be expensive, consider buying just a set containing Baby Jesus, Mother Mary and Joseph. There is no need to purchase those large Nativity Scenes. The most important character is Jesus. Nativity Scenes serve as a reminder that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season”. Though images of Santa Claus and the elves may adorn the windows and rooms of many, the main focus should be Baby Jesus.
These are just some Catholic ways to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord. Please do not hesitate to share with me some of your family’s Christmas traditions! Each culture has a unique way of celebrating this festive season in the Liturgical Calendar.