By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 14, 2023
Each year, I promise myself I’m going to approach Christmas calmly, but then, like a steam roller, the chores start flattening me. Cards to write, presents to wrap, cookies to bake–and don’t forget decking the halls with boughs of holly and trying to keep my cat from eating them.
Then there’s dwelling on memories of seemingly perfect past Christmases and fretting because the current event will never match up to them. In my memory, there we all are, gathered around the table upon which sits homemade manicotti, loaves of fragrant bread, olives, platters of meatballs.
My mother wears a colorful corsage pinned to her bodice and a jolly apron tied around her waist. My sister sits happily beside me, her hands folded as she waits for the blessing. Nearby the herd of cousins quietly awaits the opening salvo of the meal. Oh, how we feasted, laughed, played games and shared stories. It was all so perfect like the festive figures on the front of greeting cards.
Well, not really. In truth, my mother was exhausted from all the cooking, and my sister and I were painfully elbowing each other in an effort to claim dominion over the table. The cousins speared more than their share of meatballs and the aunts threatened the kids with mayhem if they didn’t behave. My childhood Christmases were far from perfect, no doubt because they featured real-life folks, who always fall short of Norman Rockwell portraits of familial bliss.
Still, I know there was once a perfect Christmas, even though no cards were sent, no feasts were prepared and no reindeer landed on the roof. The perfect Christmas happened when Jesus was born and placed in a manger, while the animals perhaps wondered why he was snuggled in the hay they usually ate. The perfect songs were sung by the host of heavenly angels, who graced each note with breath-taking precision. The perfect mother held the baby tenderly in her arms.
The first Christmas was flawless because it centered on a miracle. The perfect present was the baby himself. God wanted to give a human face to his love, and that face was the innocent visage of an infant. Caryll Houselander describes Christmas as our entrance into eternity. “The Lord of the universe is wrapped in baby clothes, and the angels of God attend him in a manger.”
She also describes Christmas as a magical time: “Legends of animals talking and Santa Claus all fit somehow into Christmas magic, but this is even better. The Christ is our dream come true.” Even in homes where the gingerbread men are crooked and the garlands are sagging, Christmas can bring great joy. It’s a time of surprises, not just gifts waiting to be opened, but perhaps also the moment when the family cat decides to climb the tree.
Many years ago, my late husband and I went to Mass on Christmas Eve on a whim, even though we were non-believers. We couldn’t find seats, so we stood at the back of the church, until suddenly a dark-haired boy with brown eyes walked up to us. He led us to a pew near the altar with available seats. We thanked him profusely before realizing he had given up his own place for us. We were awed by his resemblance to the boy Jesus, and wondered whether God was sending us a message. Eventually, we came to see that God was real and created the world out of love. We also came to see that Christmas is God’s love letter to the world.
I am trying to keep my heart set on that perfect Christmas long ago, when the angels sang hymns to the Lamb of God. I’m also dwelling on the message in God’s love letter, written upon our hearts forever. “I am come that they might have life and have it abundantly.” Dear readers, may your Christmas overflow with abundant life and joy!