The Spirit of Christmas — By Fr. Rich, O.P.

Christmas Eve was coming to a close. After dinner and presents at my grandparents’, my siblings and I were getting ready for a long winter’s nap. Mom and Dad would gather us around the tree, ablaze with lights and tinsel. (Mom always put tinsel on the tree until the day before we took it down!) Dad would read “the story”; the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 1-14. Then it was off to bed for us all. Christmas began with Mass (we lived across the street from the parish), followed by presents, and then a gathering of the extended family for a feast! The numbers would change over the years as family members moved away, or died, but the feast continued.

As my brothers and sister had families of their own, and as I, too had a family, the one tradition that flourished was the reading of “the story”. “She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,” has been the heart and soul of my family’s celebration of Christmas as long as I can remember. I’ve not celebrated the feast of Christmas with my family since entering the Dominicans in 1999. The celebration has always been centered on the community in which I lived and served. And each year has been a testament to the beauty of Christmas, the gentle enfolding of a community of its members as we celebrated the birth of the Christ.

There is always, in today’s craziness, the challenge to find and hold onto the spirit of Christmas. The traditional Christmas carols and hymns, finding their way into celebrations, are a gift. The lights and decorations appear. When I lived in Albuquerque, luminaries shined through entire neighborhoods in the gloomy weather of December in New Mexico.

I love Midnight Mass at Christmas — the lone voice intoning the proclamation, reminding us of how long we’ve waited for the birth of this Child. The fullness of the voices as they ring in this celebration with the Gloria, mostly absent through Advent. I enjoy seeing families coming together to celebrate, sharing stories of past Christmases. It reminds me of my own family, Jake and Beth, and their children, sharing Christmas at home. The thought always brings a smile because I know that they are together, amidst their own traditions.

It reminds me that not all families can be together; distance and circumstances can keep them apart. And so I pray for those who are separated from those they love during this feast of the birth of our Savior. I pray for those who, because of their jobs or assignments, are working through the Holy Day. And I am grateful for their commitment. I pray for those who find this feast less festive and more burdensome. I invite you to pray with me for all these things.

As a science fiction fan, the future is rich with potential, good and bad; so too, the ghost of Christmases to come. We get to choose. Each year, the season of Advent invites, and challenges us, to get rid of those habits or activities or mindsets or traditions that interfere with our being ready for Jesus Christ. We have a new opportunity to open our hearts to the joy of those carols and hymns that celebrate so richly this birth. We are free to open ourselves to celebrate Christmas with new experiences that grow into traditions. We are free to choose to place the “spirit of Christmas” in our hearts and live it out every day. Choose wisely!

My Dominican brothers and sisters, as well the staff of St. Thomas More Parish/Newman Center wish each of you a BLESSED CHRISTMAS!