Keeping Christ in Christmas
by Sarah Phillips
"'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight...' " Mark 1:3
Here in America, Christmas is almost over. We only have a few more days before the radio stations switch to their normal mix and abrubtly stop playing the same five Christmas carols over and over again. How do you feel about this year's preparations? Do you feel ready? Do you feel stressed? Do you wish it was easier to focus on the reason for the season?
For me, this year held a lot of firsts - firsts that forced me to reflect on how I celebrate Christmas and why. I got married this November, so melding family holiday traditions was the first project we tackled as a married couple. It's been a pretty fun process, but also a learning experience. Here's lesson #1: You can be the same religion and still experience that religion very differently!
Although we haven't decided exactly how we'll celebrate Christmas every year from here on out, a friend shared an article with us that outlined the traditional German Christmas centered on Christkind ("Christ child"). We are definitely considering implementing some of these ideas in the future because it seems to combine the joyful festivities with the sacredness of the season so well. Here are the basics:
In this tradition, it is not Santa Claus who brings gifts but the Christkind himself. Now, many families who celebrate Christkind still have a version of jolly, ol' St. Nick, but he arrives on his official feast day, December 6th, bearing gifts more modest than our American Santa Claus.
The miraculous Christmas day arrival of Christkind requires a slow build-up throughout the month of December. Advent is observed carefully; Christmas decorations can wait. Family members take turns lighting the Advent candles as the entire family sings O Come, O Come Emmanuel every evening before dinner.
Children also focus on developing virtue to prepare their hearts for the coming of Christkind. Throughout December, every time a child acts virtuously, he or she can place a piece of straw into the humble, empty manger. In this way, children can tangibly participate in "making the paths straight" for Christ's arrival.
When Christmas finally comes, the family participates in prayer and the youngest child places a replica of baby Jesus into the manger filled with loving acts performed by the children. Then the parents reveal the stunning glitter of Christmas decorations and gifts left by the Christkind. The celebration of Christkind's arrival continues through January 6th - the day marked to commemorate the arrival of the Magi.
Doesn't this sound peaceful? Doesn't this sound focused? Doesn't this sound appropriately paced? I certainly wish we had more than 24 hours to celebrate Christmas here in the U.S.! And I can practically hear the hushed Advent prayers leading up to the glorious unveiling of Christkind's arrival.
If your holiday season has been harried, scattered and stressful, it's not too late to make some changes. Set aside some time in the next couple of days to regroup and refocus on the Christ child. Reflect on His first coming - not only in the world but in your heart. And ask Him what He'd like you to do to prepare for His special day.