A Child's Christmas at Home
Children are always wiser than we know. They see through the lures and distractions of our modern world in a way that I envy and try hard to imitate. At the beginning of one Advent several years ago, I asked our children: "What is the one thing we do that you think is the most important to celebrating Christmas?" I wondered how they thought about Christmas, whether the secular view or the religious view was uppermost in their minds. What were they watching for; the candy and presents, or the coming of the Christ Child?
I was surprised by their answers and completely wrong in my expectations of what they thought was important. Robert was nearly three at the time and still too young to remember his last Christmas. "Aah, it snowing at Chritmat," was all he could tell me. Jonathon had just had his fifth birthday. His memory was a little better. He said his favorite part of Christmas was getting presents and "Also, when we go into the bush at Baba's house to get our Christmas tree. Remember, Mom, last year I kept falling off the sled and it was so funny?"
Matthew, at seven, was old enough to be a little more generous and to remember more Christmas details. At first, he said "Getting presents!" Then; "No, no, most important? That's giving other people presents. We got the idea from the Wise Men because they brought the baby Jesus presents." He added that he also thought taking turns reading from the Bible every evening of Advent was important to Christmas.
When I asked our nine year old Sarah what she thought was the most important part of Christmas, she considered the question seriously for a minute and answered; "Going to church is important and so is the whole family getting together for the Christmas Eve feast." "Not presents?" I asked incredulously. "Well, presents are fun but they're not as important as the family having a good time together."
At twelve Andrew was about to enter his teen years and was already eating to prepare for it. His idea of what is most important to the celebration of Christmas was the same as Sarah's, though for slightly different reasons. "We need to go to church at Christmas to thank the Lord, and I like the Christmas Eve feast at Baba's house because of the food."
Tina was fourteen. When we are in a crowded place and count our children, we often came up one short because she hardly seemed 'one of the children' anymore. She said; "I like going to get the tree because it is something we do all together, and I like the Christmas Eve feast at Baba's house because it is the whole family together."
Besides the theme of presents, (Sarah, Andrew and Tina did mention presents, they even had wish lists, it just wasn't their most important thing) I noticed two common factors in these conversations. The first was that they were all family traditions. The second factor was that they all involved people. None of the children said having the Christmas tree was important. No one mentioned how it was to be decorated. It was the whole family going together for a walk in the woods to discuss, compare, argue a little, fall into snowbanks and finally choose a tree that was important.
When I asked them what was important about the Christmas Eve feast, the children didn't say that afterwards we open presents. They didn't say that the meal was important because it is a traditional and delicious Ukranian twelve dish meatless meal. What they remembered was the laughter and the love of their family that surrounds them as we sit and eat.
I started out wondering what my children had learned from our celebrations of Christmas and I found that while they may not have a sense of the glorious mystery of the Incarnation and the tremendous gift of the Holy Infant, they did have a very clear understanding of the central message of Christmas. It's Love.
Children know love, it's their first language. It is always the most important thing in their lives, to feel the love of their family. As parents we speak love to our children and to each other when we work, and play, and celebrate together as a family. And we allow the children to speak love to us when we make it possible for them to work, and play, and celebrate along with us.
They won't care if everything gets done or not. They do care if we're too busy to let them help. If we slow down and reach out our hand, a child will reach up and grab it. It's not the destination that matters to a child, to come along with us is all they ask for. And it's never too late to start.
So to all the parents with bottom-heavy trees, tape encrusted packages and crippled gingerbread men, Happy Christmas! To all those with a stuffed toy alongside the shepherds in their creche, Joyeux Noel! To everyone who has ever received a gold sprayed macaroni creation, Khrystos Rodyvsya! The Fourniers wish you all a very happy, holy, love filled and peaceful Christmas.
This article was first published in the December 15, 1992 issue of the Catholic Register.
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