I know a family that doesn’t buy Christmas presents. They say it is Jesus’ birthday, not ours. Why should we receive any gifts? They think gifts belong to the commercial side of Christmas. So while we are busy choosing and buying and wrapping presents for everyone, and spending money and getting a little bit stressed out about the whole business, they are concentrating on what is really important. (Or so they say.) On Christmas morning they go to Mass and pray and when they return home, they have a special meal together. But there are no presents.

I think about this. Perhaps this family has the right idea. Too often we get loaded down with worries as we prepare for Christmas. What gifts shall we buy? Do we have enough money? Who should we send cards to? What if we forget someone important? If we didn’t have to do Christmas shopping, perhaps we would spend more time preparing spiritually for the birth of Jesus. It is a tempting thought.

There was one Christmas 12 years ago, that I wanted to forgot all about the Christmas preparations, especially the shopping. I had no desire to leave home and browse shops looking for the perfect gifts. I didn’t want to think about what I should buy. I didn’t want to give gifts nor receive any. Gifts seemed so unimportant compared to the recent loss of our son.

But I only had to look at our children to know I couldn’t do as I wished. Although we were a family deep in grief, my children needed the joy of Christmas. And I knew part of that joy would come from ripping wrappings off specially chosen gifts on Christmas morning, and so I knew I would have to make myself go shopping whether I felt like it or not. I couldn’t retreat inwards and be alone with my sorrow.

It took me many shopping trips that year to do the Christmas shopping. I’d stand looking at something for a long time trying to make up my mind if it was the right thing to buy. Then I’d return it to the shelf and walk on, not able to come to a decision. I remember walking down aisles of clothes and toys, and tears appearing in my eyes as I thought about baby things I might have bought. Finally, I’d return home with my shopping bag almost empty, telling myself I’d do the shopping another day.

With Andy’s help I did eventually manage to buy presents for all my children. I wrapped them and hid them away and our children became excited and tried to guess what they would receive. And I tried to smile and pretend to be happy but inside my heart was so very heavy.

I look back now and I am really glad I did all that work to ensure my children had a wonderful Christmas. The photos show happy faces. We had many more months of grief ahead of us, but for a little while my children were transported into a different world.

I also now realise that all that effort, shopping and wrapping and preparing helped me to survive. To avoid falling into despair I had to make myself get up each day. I had to put one foot in front of the other and keep going, regardless of my feelings. Preparing for Christmas gave me real goals for each day, when I might otherwise have drifted along aimlessly. Having to focus on my children’s happiness, instead of my sorrow, kept me moving forward.

So there was a real reason for shopping for gifts that year. But what about this year and next year and the one after? Couldn’t I make a new family rule? Couldn’t I eliminate the stress of Christmas shopping, and couldn’t we focus solely on the spiritual side of Christmas?

I remember  this extract by Eugene Boylan in This Tremendous Lover:

… consider for a moment the sacrifices the parents have to make, to make Christmas all that tradition says it should be for their children. The expense, the worry, the trouble, the patience, the fatigue, the bitterness of financial limitations to one’s power of gratifying a child’s dream – the list is endless.

Think alone what is involved in Christmas shopping, where a large family and a small income are involved. And the thought can easily arise, especially for the ‘detached’ Christian: Is it all worth it? Of course, it is all worth it. It is done in memory of Christ; it is done to build up an idea of Christ; It is done for Christ; it is done to Christ! Amen, I say to you whatsoever you did to these my least brethren, you did it to me. When the New Year brings an end to those halcyon days for the children, this service done to Christ is the consolation that the parents should have in facing the expense…”

And I realise that every Christmas is an opportunity to make sacrifices for others. Christmas is not about reducing the workload or stress for myself. It's about doing things out of love, making others happy and putting smiles on little faces. This is part of my spiritual Christmas preparation.

So I have done the difficult job of choosing just the right gifts within my budget for all my loved ones. I have hidden them away out of sight of excited children. I will wrap them carefully, and on Christmas Eve I will lay them under the tree.

On Christmas morning my children’s eyes will light up with anticipation. They will tear off the wrappings, and arms will thrust themselves around me in tight hugs and I will hear the words, “I love you, Mum! Thank you!” And all the work and sacrifice will be worth it because it was done out of love, for those I love, and especially for Love.

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  1. Hi Sue, I like the quote by Eugene Boylan very much! If it is done in the memory of Christ and He is not left out of it, then yes, it is all worth it!

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  2. Noreen,

    I found this quote some years ago and have never forgotten it. It makes sense of all that effort we put in doing the Christmas shopping etc.

    You are quite right: "If it is done in the memory of Christ and He is not left out of it," Yes, a lot of people shop and do nothing else. That is the whole of their Christmas. Sad. But presents can have a place in a Christian Christmas.

    I can't wait to see my children's faces on Christmas morning. I bet your son still gets very excited too.

    God bless!

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  3. I understand the desire not to buy presents at Christmas and that's acceptable amongst grown-ups, I suppose. But when one has children I think it's right to spoil them a little with sweets and toys. Besides, I get to play with the toys and check out the sweets ... in case they're bad, you know.

    Theodore Luxton-Joyce is an eccentric Scottish millionaire who has featured in many of my stories over the past year or so. Just write Luxton in the top left search engine on Blogger (on my Blog) and you'll get all the stories. Best to read them in chronological order. Blogger puts the latest ones first!

    God bless.

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  4. Victor,

    I always make sure I choose toys and sweets for my children that I'll also enjoy! Yes, Christmas is a time to play with our children (as well as their toys).

    I shall search for the Luxton-Joyce stories. I can't wait to discover a new eccentric character!

    God bless.

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  5. Beautiful post, Sue! I can well understand grief during the Christmas season. But I also agree that we (kids and adults) need joy during this time. Thanks so much for sharing...

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  6. Thank you for your comment, Ellen. It is lovely to hear from you!

    Yes, the joy of Christmas is such a gift which we all need. I am so glad I was able to give that gift to my children despite my grief, 12 years ago. I must admit I was very relieved when that Christmas was over and I no longer had to carry the added burden of ensuring my children had a happy Christmas when I didn't feel at all joyful. I guess in a way I did receive joy just from seeing my children's faces on Christmas morning.

    God bless!

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  7. Buying gifts when you have children at home is one thing. Their innocence and joy is just so wonderful to behold! But as an empty nester, gift-buying becomes a chore. So I have to remind myself to give from my heart - Give for love of my family. And then that brings me closer to Jesus.
    I love that quote too!

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  8. Colleen,

    Yes, Christmas shopping isn't nearly as exciting when there's no one waiting with anticipation and excitement to take off the wrappings.

    Do you have grandchildren to buy for? I guess a lot of the excitement will return when we have a new generation of wide eyed little ones to plan surprises for.

    Thank you for your comment!

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  9. Exactly! Amen, I say to you whatsoever you did to these my least brethren, you did it to me. Yes it is Jesus' birthday not ours but when we give to others we are in fact giving to Jesus. Not to say we don't sometimes go overboard and concentrate too much of our time, money and effort onto our own families, forgetting to actually give to the "least brethren".

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  10. Tricia,

    You make an excellent point! We can go overboard with our own families and forget the less fortunate. Our parish, like most I guess, collects food and toys and gifts for adults for the less fortunate in our community. Yes, we have to be generous in our giving and include everyone in our Christmas shopping. I'm so glad you mentioned this!

    Thank you for your comment.
    God bless!

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