I’m sorry that we used such a click-baity title because really we just want you to have the best Christmas possible. So here are 7 ways you (might) be doing Christmas (a little bit) wrong. But better still, here are 7 ways to make your Christmas holier, happier and healthier than ever before. Enjoy!
1. Taking the Christmas Tree Down Too Soon
Is there any sight sadder than the sight of a lonely, shivering Christmas tree slumped in the yard a few days after Christmas, wondering what it did so wrong? There are Twelve Days of Christmas, so you can keep your Christmas fir proudly doing what it does best (dropping pine needles in your house) until the 6th of January! Some people will keep theirs up until February 2nd, on Candlemas, but that’s an- interesting- discussion we’re not going to have here. The main thing is, keep celebrating Christmas right through the Christmas season, because it’s important (and joyful!). If you’re sick of your decorations by January 6th, don’t put them up too early in Advent (because it’s Advent). Keep Advent preparations to Advent, and Christmas celebrations to Christmas.
2. Having a Little Moan about This Year’s Sunday-Monday Thing
This year Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, and Christmas Day falls on a Monday. What does that mean?! It means MASS TWO DAYS IN A ROW! YESSSSSS! Gather yourself up, wrap up warm, face the cold (unless you live in somewhere in the southern hemisphere, in which case, please share the sun with the rest of us, I haven’t seen it in two months) and take yourself along to Mass on both days. If you don’t get to go to Daily Mass already, I understand, this might feel a little….unusual. And you might be feeling frustrated at how it cuts down your prep time on Christmas Eve. There might be all manner of human reasons why this feels less-than-awesome. But please, see this for what it is: a massive gift. Not only is the Mass indescribably amazing, (we try and describe it here) but getting to go to two Masses in a row over Christmas is a privilege and a gift of a reminder that it is God who reaches down to us, in our tiredness, our mess, our confusion, and lifts us up to Him and gives His whole Self to us: His peace, love, wholeness and forgiveness. So don’t let it feel like Groundhog Day. Go to Mass each day, put your whole self into it, SING THOSE HYMNS, be in the stillness, ask God to come to you.
If you have young children and they struggle at Mass, check out this great article to help them through each church-going day.
3. For the Students: Letting Your Grades Rule the Season*
For any students reading this, I feel you. I’m in my final year of university and the to-do lists covering my bedroom door multiply by the day to the point that I can’t tell what’s wood and what’s paper any more. Why must professors put finals on the last day of term?! And why does every society and club put their Christmas Social on the night before the last day of term?! If your semester is anything like mine, you’ll have finals immediately before Christmas, and immediately after the New Year, so that Christmas starts to look like a mere festive-frippery-blip in a long dark parade of exams. Your stress dreams are full of tinsel and Santa hats and evil, exam-setting elves.
So I’m suggesting: make sure you take a proper break. Plan your time so that you have time to work but more importantly, time to really enter into Christmas properly. Pray to let go of grade-fears and anxiety (I know it can be really hard). Place your future into the hands of God and trust He has the best plans for you. Our Lady is particularly wonderful to turn to if you have anxiety about your studies and future plans. Her entire life was changed course for her and she responded with complete generosity and trust. Advent is a wonderful time to consider how she lived out the most unexpected pregnancy the world has ever known.
If you’re the kind of student who is totally chill about this kind of stuff, well, make sure you do some work before and after Christmas to you know, not waste your education.
*This point can apply to workaholics too. Turn off your work email. Be present. Allow yourself time to relax away from wherever you work: in a physical space or online.
4. Too Much Social Media
I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, but since I’m practically half millennial, I may as well admit to it: I love Instagram Stories. It’s so very satisfying an app. (I need to get out more). I’m sure to be curating any event I attend over Christmas with some tastefully-filtered, much be-stickered slidey little snaps on my Stories. (If you don’t know what I mean, don’t worry, you’re not missing out.) The age-old philosophical question takes a new meaning in the millennial age: if no pictures were taken of the event, did the event really happen?! It’s so long since I tried this that I’m not even sure anymore. I’ve been using social media for more than ten years now and I’m getting sick of it. I can feel my poor brain cranking itself into distracted-over-drive as it struggles to whir up another ounce of brainpower to deal with the actual social event in front of me and the extension to my right arm, my smart phone, as I document every moment in pithy-one liners and candid selfies of my terrifying-eyebrow-face.
So, I’ll make you a deal. Here’s a disclaimer to the deal: YES WE ALL KNOW SMART PHONES AND SOCIAL MEDIA ARE ALSO FORCES FOR GOOD AND VERY USEFUL AND EXCELLENT. I get to keep in touch with many lovely friends around the world because of it.
But also, who wants to be slumped on the sofa, glued to your smart-phone during that post-dinner slump at about 4pm, when you could be playing a nice festive quiz with your family?! Ok but seriously, here is the deal: I will put down my phone over Christmas Day, if you will too (you get half an hour in the morning and in the evening to send Happy Christmas messages). Around the world the earth will reverberate with the heavy clunk of us all putting our smart phones down, and in years to come scientists will be investigating what it was that caused the earth to dip a bit in its orbit on Christmas Day 2017, and there will be peace, and attentiveness and whole-mindedness in our homes that day. Are you in? I am.
5. Excess, Excess, Excess
Joy. I’m going to start this point with the word joy because I want to keep coming back to it. Christmas is a time for celebration: 2000 plus years ago God-became-man to provide us the means and pathway for redemption, so I’m not going to hold back on leaping out of bed on Christmas morning, sashaying with the dog across the kitchen floor, and waking everyone with my cheery, top-of-my-voice (many call it ‘unique’) rendition of Adeste Fideles, where I guess the Latin I don’t know. It is a time for joy, for good food and drink, for showing our love for others in the form of presents and time spent together.
But like spraying the windows with fake snow, if you use too much of it, you can’t let the light in anymore. I hope my cheesy analogy works: if you go for too many presents, too much food, too much drink, the day itself becomes about that thing and you lose the real meaning of joy. Joy can’t be present in excess. Moderation is a boring word, so perhaps balance is a better one: insist that you make quiet time at the beginning or end of the day to read the Readings of the Day, or sing some carols, or read some Christmas poetry. You don’t have to go crazy with buying the children presents. The best Christmas present I still remember from when I was little was a set of wooden doll’s house crockery. I was so sick that year I couldn’t even sit upright, but I was carried onto the sofa where I lay and played with my tiny crockery and thought they were the best gift ever (one of the plates had some wooden cookies on them, so nothing was going to top that). The point is, a hangover on Christmas Day, or an extreme food coma, or gloating like Smaug over our gifts is obviously not joy. Reaching out to others- can you invite someone who is lonely to yours this Christmas?- will bring joy to everyone. Less presents and more time together will bring joy. Quiet reflection and prayer will bring joy. Try it this Christmas.
Every point has a flipside to it, so if you struggle with food and guilt at the holiday time, I want to point you in the direction of Catholic blogger, Emily Watson’s amazing vlog on this subject.
6. Having a Sneaky Little Look at Your Neighbor to See If They’re Doing it Right
Hmmm bit rich of you, Ruth, to be writing this point towards the end of an entire article about DOING CHRISTMAS WRONG? I know, I know, and I’m not suggesting Christmas is meant to be some moral-minefield where you get shot up if you do it a tiny bit wrong. I just mean, tweak a few things year on year to maximize the beauty of Christmas. And so this is one of those things you can do: don’t worry about how or what others around you are doing for Christmas. Don’t worry if their Christmas looks more amazing, more expensive, more Instagrammable than yours. And please, for the love of all things generous and good, reach out and welcome those once-a-year Christians who are turning up to Mass at Christmas this year. They may be sitting in your usual spot, they may come in late, they may annoy you for whatever reason. But you know what? That’s not our business. We don’t know what may be going on in their lives right now, or what brought them out to Mass for the first time in 2017. It’s a beautiful thing that they are recognising that Christmas cannot happen without church. Perhaps they will experience something during the homily or at the point of consecration that will touch their hearts and bring them peace and healing for the first time in a long time. Make them feel welcome. Don’t use the sign of peace to give them the glares because they’ve not been singing or standing at the right time or their kid has been dancing in the pews. I really believe that the time for educating someone in the etiquette and sacredness of Mass is important but it might not be at the end of Midnight Mass. Don’t be the reason why someone might not come back ever again.
7. Being a Martha and Not a Mary
This is a mistake made by people who truly love and care and want the very best for other people. It is a mistake made out of the very best intentions and should be lovingly addressed. So I’m going to make this point short. If you’re going crazy with the stress of Advent, if you’re juggling novenas and journals and prayer-groups and church-cleaning and house-cleaning and wrapping paper is coming out of your ears, take a read of Luke 10:38-42, and
be at peace.
There is, of course, nothing I could say that would add to Jesus’ words:
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Have a blessed Advent and a Happy Christmas everybody!