Keeping Christ in Christmas (and in our hearts)

Christina KolbEditor’s Note:  Please welcome our new staff writer, Christina Kolb!  Christina lives in Chicago with her wonderful husband, Kevin, and two-year-old son.  They are very excited to be expecting another child next May.  She holds a degree in English and Sociology from the University of Illinois, and worked for a Catholic organization as a Translation Coordinator before deciding to become a stay-at-home mom.  She also trained professionally as a pastry chef, and loves to cook, bake, and write, and combines all of these while blogging at But I’m Hungry.

At this time of year, you hear a lot of things about “the magic of the season”.  I’ve even heard many people say, “We don’t celebrate the religious holiday, but we give gifts and play Santa, because there is something so magical about Christmas for children.”

91572037And it’s true.  Something about Christmas inspires awe, excitement, and joy in even the Scrooge-iest adult.  For children, it must seem like magic.  But as more and more people lose sight of what Christmas is about, and cloak the holiday in trappings that make it more about gifts and parties than the birth of Christ and our Father’s great love for us, the more the magic of Christmas loses its meaning.  How, in this commercial world, can we keep the true spirit of Christmas alive in our homes and families?

This is a question that I’ve found myself asking repeatedly this year.  As my son becomes more aware of what’s going on, I’m asking myself what kind of message I’m sending in the way we celebrate.  How do I strike the balance between all-out consumerism and stingy asceticism?

For a while I toyed with the idea that we should really try to keep gifts to a minimum.   The piles of gifts last year, while fun, seem to become the focus of the holiday at times.  I admit, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I often think of preparations in terms of buying and making gifts for everyone.  That cannot be what God wants for us to be doing while we prepare our hearts for the birth of his son.  But then I took a step back and remembered Christmases from my childhood.  Part of the memory was the glee and delight I felt when I beheld those piles of presents under the tree, the sheer excitement and anticipation at guessing what the boxes contained.  As a child, I wasn’t able to make the connection between the excitement and anticipation for the gifts and the anticipation we feel for the birth of Christ on Christmas, but I sure do now.  I still have that feeling of joyful expectation when I think of Christmas, and now I’m able to understand the symbolism of these physical gifts and the gift God gave us in his son.  I want my kids to have that, too.  And besides, gifts are supposed to show our children in a very concrete way what it’s like to get a gift just because you are loved and cherished.  What a great opportunity to explain to kids that this is exactly the kind of gift God gave us when he sent us his Son.

Ok, the gifts stay.

What about the endless parade of get-togethers, Santa photo ops, and parties?  Can those go?  Well, certainly, some could.  But frankly, what better way is there to celebrate God’s love for us than to spend time with the people he has blessed us with — our friends and family?    I can’t imagine going without our annual cookie-baking day with my husband’s family, or not singing German carols with my family on Christmas Eve.  And the visits with friends who are back in town for the holiday are such a joy.  To take away these special times would certainly be beside the point.

The decorations?  Can the decorations go?  Well, maybe the snowman window clings, sure.  But part of what I love about Christmas is that there is so much symbolism in the ways we celebrate and decorate our homes.  Christmas trees are meant to symbolize the hope for everlasting life through Christ.  That’s pretty powerful stuff.  And lighting the advent wreath was a tradition that I remember so fondly from my childhood, and another great opportunity to explain advent.  The lights on our houses symbolize Christ as the light of the world.  Our nativity set, a hand-me-down from my grandma, brings me so much joy every time I see it, and reminds us every time we look at it of what it is we are celebrating.  Nope, the decorations are staying.

As my mental list of things I could do to ensure my family truly keeps Christ in Christmas dwindled and all my options were shot down, I guess I had an epiphany. (Catholic Christmas pun! Ha!)  It’s not about the things we do to celebrate.  It’s about the heart that we celebrate with.  It’s celebrating while knowing in our hearts who all of it is for.  It’s decorating a tree with our kids, while explaining to them what the Christmas tree is meant to symbolize.  It’s buying gifts for a our loved ones, keeping in mind that our gifts to them are meant to be a mirror of God’s immense love gifted to us — and telling our kids that.  And yes, that does mean that our gifts are meant to be personal and special — not necessarily expensive.  It means going to and hosting parties with friends and family — and doing so with the spirit of joy and thanksgiving for the people God has put in our lives.

Basically, it means getting excited about Christmas the way we did as children.  If our hearts are full of joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth, I know that this spirit will fill the hearts of our kids, too.  We do not have to work so hard to keep everything out; we just have to allow God to stay in.  That is the magic of Christmas, to me: When we do everything in the spirit of love, God shows his love for us, and our families, in amazing ways.

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