Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Surviving Christmas With Sanity Intact

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 20, 2012

For weeks we have been decking the halls, sneaking packages into the house and planning for the big celebration. Well, ready or not, Christmas is drawing ever nearer, and here are some tips to truly enjoy the day:

1. Maintain your sense of humor. Let’s say one of your children figures out a way to climb out of the crib and sneak into the living room while the rest of the family is sleeping—and then unwraps everyone’s presents on Christmas morning. And you get up moments later, bleary-eyed, and discover Junior sitting there, gurgling happily while upending the contents of his big sister’s stocking. Instead of getting angry, leave the room and count to ten. Then keep in mind that someday this will be really, really funny. (And, yes, this did happen in my family, thanks to my nephew who is now grown with children of his own.)

2. Realize Christmas is not a competitive event. Perhaps your neighbors have decorated their yards so artistically that a TV news crew is getting shots of the splendor and interviewing the family members—who are wearing color-coordinated designer outfits—while your decorations consist of one bedraggled poinsettia and a faded wreath. And it may also be true that your friend’s tree could easily grace the cover of “Heavenly Home” magazine, while yours is lacking a few bottom limbs, namely in the area where your dog—confused by the tantalizing aroma of an indoor tree—had an untimely accident (bless his heart). Still, no one is keeping score, so add a few garlands to the tree and pour another glass of eggnog.

3. Choose your activities carefully. There are Christmas movies, living manger scenes, caroling, parties, cookie swaps, plays and office get-togethers, all screaming for your attention. It’s tempting to attend every event so you can be “in the spirit” of Christmas. But be careful because this mentality may lead to a major meltdown, which can result in galloping grumpiness. Of course you don’t want to miss little Johnny’s special nativity play, but try to forgo the less significant events.

4. Don’t stress over the mysteries. You may still be wondering why Aunt Agatha sent you a basic how-to-cook book—when you’ve always fancied yourself a gourmet chef—or why your cousin gave you that porcelain pig. As for me, I recall one year when no one could solve the mystery of the missing ornaments on the lower branches of my sister’s tree. It was only later we realized the dog had eaten them—with no apparent wear and tear to his digestive system.

5. Repeat this mantra: “There is no perfect Christmas.” Many folks have very high expectations of this special day. We may cherish storybook memories of Christmases past, and over time, we edit out the tantrums, the misunderstandings—and the sudden cases of stomach flu. If you can tame your expectations, you may not be devastated when the toddler upends the entire tray of hand-decorated cookies, your sister-in-law yaks into her cell phone during the meal or your teenager looks less than thrilled upon opening your gift, and starts hunting for the receipt.

6. Don’t throw the Baby Jesus out with the ribbons and bows. Many people spend weeks preparing for this big day, and then miss the most important point. They shop till they drop, decorate the house, cook a huge feast, but forget to have a present for the one lying quietly in the manger. We can correct this oversight by giving our hearts to the Lord when we receive him in Holy Communion on a day known as “Christ’s Mass.”

7. Remember what the angel said. Maybe your tree is a towering and costly fir, or maybe it’s a short and stubby artificial one you bought in Stuff Mart. Either way, reflect on the angel perched at the very top as a reminder of Gabriel’s message to Mary long ago: “Fear not.” The angel’s words are also meant for us. Do not be afraid if things aren’t perfect; they never are in this world. And do not stress if you get a little teary-eyed remembering folks you miss from Christmases past. Fear not, because Christ’s birth truly brings tidings of great joy, and if we keep him close in our hearts, nothing can take our joy away.