Sunday, December 27, 2009

Not a Good Christmas

I hope you had a nice Christmas. I didn’t.

It started with me being woken at 5 o’clock in the morning, when I heard my youngest son, sounding very upset, telling his brother ‘We have to tell Mummy’. I raced out of bed, not sure what was happening, but knowing that something was definitely wrong. What was wrong was that my youngest son was sick and felt like he was about to throw about. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as what I had envisaged. But still, not a good start to Christmas.

He actually got better and then my eldest son got sick. He spent practically the entire day in bed with a headache and a high fever. At one point, he kept crying and crying because his head hurt and he couldn’t get to sleep. My friend rang me just as I was trying to get the fever down and I think it’s the quickest conversation I have ever had with her.

I missed Mass. And from about 10 o’clock to 12 o’clock, I was quite upset about it.

I cooked a beautiful Christmas lunch that cost a lot of money and a lot of time, and I was practically the only one eating it.

I had planned to sing Christmas carols with the boys after lunch, and it ended up being my youngest son and I singing about three carols and then giving up.

Not really a good Christmas.

And yet, in a strange way, it was probably the most peaceful Christmas I have ever had.

Because the pressure was off. There was no way this was going to be a perfect Christmas or even a good day. It had gone wrong right from the start. And so suddenly, it didn’t matter if other things went wrong.

I think sometimes there’s a lot of pressure on us to get Christmas right. Christmas will be the day we really focus on Jesus. Christmas will be the day we cook the perfect meal. Christmas will be the day that everybody eats what’s put in front of them. Christmas will be the day when everybody is selfless and generous. Christmas will be the day that we do a superb job of loving each other. Christmas will be the day that we do not fight.

And usually, something does go wrong. And then we get upset, because Christmas is not perfect anymore. And then we get angry because things aren’t happening the way we want them to.

The truth is it’s important to focus on Jesus every single day of our lives. It’s important to show our love for each other every single day of our lives. Christmas is important. But it shouldn’t be the day when we make up for a year’s worth of neglect. It should be the day when we continue to do what we have been doing all year.

When everything started going wrong this Christmas, I kept thinking that I have another year before I can try and make it up somehow. But that’s not really right. I may need to wait another year for Christmas presents to be given again. I may need to wait another year before I can cook another Christmas lunch - although the way things are at the moment, I could still have some of this year's leftovers. I may need to wait another year before it’s that special time when we remember Christ’s birthday. I may need to wait another year before I can go to a Christmas Mass. (Actually, that’s not strictly true, because I do go to the Ukrainian Christmas Mass on January 7th. But still, another year before I can go to Christmas Mass in the Roman Catholic Church.)

But every day is a good day to remember Jesus. And every day is a good day to give the gift of ourselves to others.


  1. This might come across as a flippant comment, but if Joseph and Mary had a blog, they would probably have written something along the lines of:
    Spent the entire night looking for somewhere decent to sleep. Ended up in a stable.

    And might have even added, It was the most peaceful Christmas. God provided the music. It was angelic.

    I sometimes think that the commercialisation of Christmas has hidden the reality and poverty of the first Christmas from most people's eyes.

    If Christmas Day doesn't turn out quite the way you hoped it would, you can at least take comfort in the fact that God still loves you.

    The feast of Christmas was perhaps the most special feast of all to St Francis of Assisi, that great lover of poverty. One night, when he and a monk had traipsed for miles and miles through bad weather, they stumbled across a religious house. They were sodden and weary. St Francis asked the monk what would be the best thing that could happen to them as they knocked on the door. I forget what the monk said, but St Francis said the best thing that could happen was they could be rejected as good-for-nothing vagabonds, so as to make them more like Joseph and Mary, and have a little extra share in the sufferings of the Infant Jesus.

    We are so far from sainthood, it really isn't funny any more.

    Oh, to get to the stage where we are a little like St Francis, who once said that he spent a day without suffering, and was convinced that God didn't love him any more.

    I hope that next year you get to a sung midnight Mass. There's nothing like the Gloria. You remember it for years. Just like Mary remembered the first Christmas night for the rest of her earthly life.

  2. Wasn't St Frances the person who originated the first nativity scenes? If so, it makes sense that the more Christmas becomes about spending money and getting things, the less nativity scenes there are to be found. My local shopping mall used to have one, but it seems to have now disappeared.

    I guess providing opportunities for people to reflect on the poverty and reality of Christmas does not help the retail outlets sell as many items.

    One of my essays this year was on the Christological hymn in Philippians 2:6-11, where Paul talks about Christ emptying himself to take on human form. And I have been thinking about that passage a bit this Christmas, because it is a good reminder of Christ's sacrifice and humility.

    I watched The Nativity Story on Christmas Eve. And I loved the bit where one of the kings says something like 'The greatest of all kings, born in the humblest place.'

    I think the more churches stress how much God wants to bless people etc, the more likely we are to see suffering as something to be avoided. I have heard sermons and read books that suggest that, if you are suffering, then maybe there's sin in your life or you don't have enough faith. It's very different from Saint Francis' attitude.

  3. Hi Liz,

    Yes, you're right. St Francis was the originator of the nativity scene.

    The strength of will that man must have had to commit to extreme poverty, and never waver, always astounds me. He was, after all, just a human like all of us.

    Are you going to share these essays with us on your blog?

    A book you would enjoy is St Alphonsus' 'The Incarnation, Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ'. It's a series of meditations.

    David ...

  4. Hi David,

    I wasn't going to post any essays, because I thought they would be too long and boring for a blog. But I'll have a think about it. Maybe I'll post them. Or maybe I'll just post bits of them.




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