Thursday, December 16, 2021

Reclaiming the Reason for Christmas for Future Generations

The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. 
- Luke 2:10-11

Santa Claus, elves, snowmen, snowflakes, garlands, Christmas tree, mistletoe, holly, candy canes... When I look at all the images that are supposed to represent Christmas and how little of it makes people think of the reason we are celebrating the day and why it is even called Christmas, it does make you stop and think.  Of the religious/cultural holidays that are celebrated, it seems to be the most removed from its religious origins.  A survey by Pew Research Center (PRC) found that 81% of non-Christian celebrate Christmas.  A quote from stated "Christmas, a Christian holiday honoring the birth of Jesus, has evolved into a worldwide religious and secular celebration, incorporating many pre-Christian and pagan traditions into the festivities."  In another survey, the PRC found a decline in Catholics who believe in the religious aspects of Christmas and find it more to be a cultural holiday.  This is more true in the younger generations than the older generations.  In fact, when I did my own Google search using the word Christmas, the only image of the baby Jesus was an outdoor light display that was not clear.  All other images were of snowmen, Christmas trees by the fireplace and Santa.

So easily do we get trapped into the material aspects of celebrations that we forget why Christmas was so important and what it meant for us.  Holiday sales bring in billions of dollars of revenue for the economy.  The National Retail Foundation estimated that even in the pandemic of 2020, holiday retail sales grew over 8%, estimated to total over $789.4 billion. Americans spend hours shopping online or going into the stores.  Yet there is a decline in the number of Catholics who attend Mass for Christmas. How ironic that we create such elaborate and extravagant parties and focus on the materials we give and receive to the point that the extravagance appears to take precedence over what/Whom we are celebrating in the first place: the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (Lk 2:12)  Jesus was born humbly from the moment of His own birth.

The first wake-up call for me came not during Christmas, but during Easter one year, when a relative of mine who is very much into family traditions but not at all religious, looked at me funny when she asked if I did anything about Easter with my children prior to Easter Sunday. I told her that I had taken my kids to Church and we did the Stations of the Cross.  She was most likely referring to the Easter bunny and egg coloring.

Family traditions are important, as they create memories that children can grow up and remember fondly.  I have my own memories of Christmas as a child that I look back at and reminisce on with my many cousins including good food, putting on our own Christmas concert, the mountain of gifts that covered the Christmas tree and holiday games we would play.  Some years "Santa Claus" would even drop by and hand us a few presents. Yet when I look back at those photographs, amidst all the good cheer and the smiles, there is something... or rather some One... who is missing.

But why is it becoming less and less religious?  In a previous blog, I had talked about how the Catholic education begins at home.  What we emphasize to our children, even in the way we decorate for Christmas, shows them what the focus should be.  Growing up I don't remember a Nativity scene, not even a photograph, in the house.  Even though my grandparents, particularly my grandfather, was "very Catholic" (in the words of my aunt when he just recently passed), they also did not have any Nativity scenes in their home.  It was only in my Catholic school that we lit the candles of the Advent Wreath.  Yes, we attended Mass, a few Midnight Masses, but definitely the daytime Masses on Christmas day.  Yet when we arrived home there was increased tension and stress of making sure we had the food and all the presents ready.  Once Grace had been said before the meal, all thoughts of Jesus were out the window and it became about how many presents we had received or who won what game.  Time with family was definitely enjoyable, but what little kid wouldn't be looking at that mountain in front of the tree thinking "I want to open them already?" before littering the living room floor with scraps of wrapping paper and ribbons?

I'm not saying that having a Nativity set is a requirement.  But when we remove the image of our Lord as the child He was born, only surround our children with gingerbread houses and tinsel, they will lose focus.  We must integrate celebrating the anticipatory coming of our King, our Messiah, into our holiday traditions.  It takes more than just going to Mass for an hour on Christmas day.  It takes daily family prayer and reflection during the Advent season.  It takes redirecting our children to focus not on the material gifts they will receive but what Jesus should mean to them.  The secular world is doing its part to remove Christ from being the center of our lives and focus. It is up to us to help the next generation keep Him in focus.  Help our children be as excited for the birth of Jesus as they are for the stocking stuffers that they will wake up to on Christmas morning.  Let Jesus be the one to fill them with joy.  If we don't do this now, it will be even worse for future generations.  Christmas will be less and less about Christ and more and more about the commercial hoopla it has already become.

Angelica Delallana
Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner
Fertility Care Practitioner Intern and NaPro Technology Medical Consultant Intern with the St. Paul VI Institute