“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3
For those of us trying to raise our kids to love and serve Jesus Christ, the Christmas season can become (rightly or wrongly) a type of litmus test to see how we are doing. I recently took a minute to ask my 6 year-old daughter some essential Christmas questions to check my own parenting progress:
Me: “What’s the most important thing about Christmas?”
Daughter: “Are you kidding me?”
Me: “Umm, well, who is the most important part of Christmas?”
Me: “What’s your favorite part about this time of year?”
Daughter: “Drinking hot chocolate while watching The Polar Express!”
Me: “What are you most looking forward to on Christmas?”
Daughter: “ALL MY PRESENTS!!!”
Ok. One solid answer and two typical answers from a typical American kid. Look, I know I am fighting an uphill battle to maintain the prayerful, penitential spirit of Advent in my family. For most kids, the prospect of making a dream shopping list for His Holiness St. Claus the Great and drinking a quart of hot chocolate while watching enchanting Christmas movies is substantially more appealing than a slightly cozier, less demanding version of Lent.
What can a parent do? If we cut the commercial, popular version of the Christmas season from family life we fear we might embitter our children as a consequence. St. Paul warns us in Ephesians to “not provoke our children to anger”. Granted, different context, but still, no one wants kids grumpy about being Catholic because it means not having a “normal” Christmas.
Still, delivering the standard cultural Christmas season generally doesn’t orient a family’s gaze toward Jesus. May I propose some slight tweaks for this time of year so that we might more profoundly “clothe ourselves with Christ” as we move through such a holy season?
1. Bookend Christmas with the Epiphany
A commercialized Christmas ends abruptly with either gift returns or uneasy New Year Resolutions. In reality though, Epiphany, the Adoration of Christ by the Magi, is the true exclamation point to the season. Have this day be an occasion of honoring the Christ-Child as King. A poignant way to do this could be to have your kids select one of their Christmas presents to give away (St. Vincent de Paul society would be a good outlet) to a less fortunate peer as an offering to Jesus. Remember to feast well on this day too!
2. Pray a Rosary vigil
The night before Christmas tends to be peak time for thinking about nothing except Santa and gifts. Don’t let the night end solely with the milk and cookies ritual but with a family rosary (Midnight Mass is awesome too!). Although an undeniable challenge in fighting distractions, 15-20 minutes set aside contemplating the Joyful Mysteries goes a long way in setting the tone for the next day.
3. Embrace the gift giving
It is a unique grace that this entire season becomes so blatantly focused on children. They get gifts because…why again? Oh yea, ‘cause they’re children! It’s a wonderfully Christian thing to see humans giving so generously to other humans when they’ve done basically nothing to earn it. Recognize that the delight you experience in seeing the joy of your children on Christmas morning is one of the privileges of the vocation of parenting granted by God. By the same token, take to heart your children’s reactions and realize that Christ requires that all who enter the Kingdom have the same posture: the eager anticipation of a child, gratefully receiving his or her heart’s desire from the hand of the Heavenly Father.
Looking back at my daughter’s answers, I realize that St. Paul again is a great source of wisdom as he tells us to “test everything, hold on to what is good and abstain from every form of evil.” I must discard the Santa worship, the materialism and the spirit of selfishness which creeps in at this time of year, but I must hold fast to the generosity, the receptivity and child-centrism for the sake of the Kingdom in the flesh: Jesus.