December 22, 2017

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Simplicity at Christmas can help families focus more on Christ

Sean GallagherMy 4-year-old son Colin is getting old enough to start to learn what Christmas is truly about, but not yet so old that he’s been hooked by the meaning that our broader culture has given to the holiday.

Over the past month, he’s been talking about “baby Jesus” a good bit. He found an old unused diaper in our minivan and insisted that we give it to baby Jesus.

It also came to mind for him when he opened a door recently on our homemade Advent calendar.

I have made Advent calendars for many years now for our family, drawing pictures of Advent wreaths on the Sundays and portraits of saints on feast days—although no one will ever confuse my work with Michelangelo’s.

When there is no saint being honored on a day in Advent, I draw a symbol of the season—a Christmas tree, lights, bells, etc.

Colin opened a door on such a day not long ago, and discovered a drawing of a wrapped present. After looking at it, he asked, ‘Is baby Jesus in the present?’

He asked the question during a ritual we do as a family in our suppertime meal prayer in Advent. It involves lighting the appropriate number of candles on our Advent wreath, singing a verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and opening the door of the day on the calendar.

The boys take delight in taking turns lighting the candles, blowing them out and opening the door to such an extent that we have to set a schedule for who does what on which day, or disputes will break out.

Our homemade ritual can also lead to good conversation, like when Colin asked his question.

We talked after that about how Jesus himself is the present we all receive at Christmas, the greatest one of all.

Being modest in observing Advent and Christmas at home might help families to focus more on the gift Christ gives us in himself while still showing the world the joy of the seasons.

Christmas seems more complicated now than when I was my boys’ ages. The variety of Christmas lights grows every year, with lights projected on a house being the latest craze. And then there are the ever‑proliferating inflatable yard decorations.

We try to be more simple, yet joyful at the same time, in our home. Our Christmas tree is covered with lights, tinsel and ornaments that we give each year to the boys. (With five boys each getting a new ornament each year, the space on the tree for ornaments keeps shrinking.)

We also have lights on our small front porch, and a homemade painted plywood outdoor Nativity set that was given to us.

As to gifts, the boys know better than to turn in long wish lists of the latest Lego sets, digital devices or computer games. For some years now, we’ve followed a custom borrowed from a friend and give them three gifts: something they want, something they need and something to read.

Worship, of course, remains at the heart of Advent and Christmas for our family.

Implementing these and other suggestions to simplify Advent and Christmas to focus more on Christ is not the exclusive territory of the saints. The last time I looked, there were definitely no halos above the heads in the Gallagher household, especially mine.

No, these customs can be means to help us grow in holiness one step at a time. As we take such steps, God’s grace will help us live our daily lives like his little children that we truly are.

How much happier would we truly be if our hearts were focused more on the baby Jesus like Colin’s is this year? †

Local site Links: