December 18, 2009

Christmas memories

Cry out to God as he prepares us for the greatest message of all: Christ’s birth

By Jim Welter (Special to The Criterion)

“What do you want the most from the Advent and Christmas season?”

This question was the focus of our prayer group’s meeting.

My friend’s reply was almost inaudible: “I just want them to be over.”

Our eyes met, our hands touched. I wanted the holidays to be over, too.

The summer was long and hot in the year that I got my first job—crawling across our neighbor’s onion fields and pulling weeds with my siblings. He paid each of us the same rate as our age so I was making seven cents an hour.

Mom said it would be our Christmas money. Our neighbor said he couldn’t pay us until the crop came in, but we didn’t mind. The pages of our Sears catalog were smudged and worn from repeated reading as we each dreamed of getting that special toy we always wanted.

This year, Christmas would be different. It would be good. But, as summer turned into fall, his excuses began—the crop wasn’t very successful, prices were down and the kids really hadn’t worked all that hard.

Finally, Mom had to say the unthinkable—our neighbor would not be paying us for our summer’s work.

We would not be able to order anything from the Sears catalog. We would have to depend entirely on the charity of others for Christmas at our house again this year.

When the time came, there was always the waiting. Would anyone remember us this year? Would we have any gifts, any celebration at all?

Some years were better than others. Some years, no one came and Mom just did the best she could.

After the holidays, I dreaded going back to school. There would always be the inevitable chore of “sharing with the class what you got for Christmas.”

“Pants that no one had worn before” would only bring laughter so I would lie again. There was a girl in the front row who knew that I was lying. One year, she told the whole class. I ran from the room. I just wanted it to be over.

Grief is especially difficult during the holiday season, and societal expectations of joy and happiness often exacerbate the pain.

For many people, this will be the first holiday season without a loved one.

For me, it has been 12 years since both my mother and my sister died during the Christmas season. The pain doesn’t go away, but I find comfort in the Advent readings from the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah urges us to “Cry out!” (Is 65:14). He invites us to acknowledge our hurts, while offering us hope in the One who is to come. Isaiah tells us that it’s OK to cry this Advent and this Christmas. It’s OK to “cry out in your desert.”

It’s OK to cry when that special song is sung, to cry as you hang that special ornament on the tree, to cry for a childhood denied, to cry for words never spoken and songs never sung, to cry for Christmas as it was last year, and to cry for the Christmas that will never be again.

Isaiah urges us to cry out to God in the sadness, grief, joys, hopes and yearnings of our hearts as he prepares us for the greatest message of all: “A young woman will bear a son and he shall be called Emmanuel—God is with us!” (Mt 1:23).

Come, Lord Jesus!

(Jim Welter is a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. His books are available at local bookstores and on the Internet at

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