Christmas is the most wondrous day of our calendar in any year of our lives.
The bright lights, smells, and smiles discernible even to an infant quickly grow into a sense of hope, awe, and mystery as young boys and girls crane their necks on the car ride back from papa’s house to look out the window for a sign of that bright red nose in the sky. As time moves on, our hopes turn to the company of friends and family, and our awe to the sacred mysteries of God made man for our sake.
Our experience of Christmas changes as we grow older. While the fortunate ones spent childhood ignorant of the troubles between men and maybe even their own families, over the years our broken world comes into focus, and hopefully we come to understand that Christ came among us not to sing carols, but because we have gone astray.
This year has been America’s worst in a long while. We’ve seen our churches boarded up by those who think God merely a hobby. Our elderly have died alone under the orders of those who think it’s better for their health this way. Our livelihoods have been shattered, and even that fleeting innocence of childhood has been taken from masked boys and girls not allowed to go to school or play on public swings.
But for those children whose innocence is injured too early, Christmastime still can bring wonder. The smell of the tree and of mom making cookies fills many houses. Even for those in broken homes or those who don’t celebrate, Main Street and the park downtown are filled with bright lights, there are candles in windows, and sometimes still carolers and Christmas concerts in the road.
This year was a hard one. Many of my friends suffered more hardship than I, although loneliness and anger stalked us all. And since the moment Halloween ended and All Saints Day dawned, I’ve been excited for Christmas with what feels like the hope of a young child. Christmas, and all the traditions it welcomes.
Our best celebrations of the coming of our Lord swirl like a Christmas globe around nostalgia. It calls up the music our parents and grandparents played to ring in the season, special ornaments and decorations passed down through family, familiar hymns sung by millions before us, and those candles our ancestors lit to let Mary and Joseph know there is room in this home for the heavenly child.
When we’re older, we have to make the cookies our mothers once made, but with some written instructions, a bit of a mess and maybe a call home, it can be done. Family might be more spread out now, but if they are our friends and neighbors can fill our tables. And even if it’s been a hard, hard year, we can remember what this life is about, surrounded by the artifacts and traditions of generations past.
On Monday night, an older Hindu friend who’s had to work two jobs making less than he did in 2019 in order to not have to leave his adopted home told me he’d set up his Christmas tree too. “My children are American,” he said. “They love all the holidays.” We spoke of the lights, smells, and music in the air in December and January, and how they fill us with a warmth and sense of comfort much needed at the end of this year. “Soon,” he said, “it will be a new year.”
This year, let us remember the good times we’ve had and the good times to come. Even while saying goodbye to some too soon, we’ve also welcomed new lives into our families and among our friends.
Although for many there might be less under the tree or fewer at our table, our faith in God remains strong. And the songs, traditions, and tales passed down from those who celebrated Christmases past in trenches, basement shelters, empty homes, and sometimes without even a home, just as the Holy Family, can keep us warm wherever we find ourselves.
“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn,” the Gospel of Luke tells us. The child was indeed holy, the Son of God, and he saved his people from their sins. Merry Christmas.