A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Nativity SceneChristmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” is the opening line of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of the American Civil war era Little Women. The story is of a mother and four daughters making do while their father was away fighting for the Union. Money for Christmas presents was way down the list of priorities.

There will be many families in NZ not buying presents this Christmas for one reason or another. If the main breadwinner is not working, then presents are a luxury that will wait for better times. Even if the parents are in employment, in some cases the money is siphoned from the family by addictions. Child poverty is a euphemism for a whole range of reasons why children are not being cared for, and money for living essentials, let alone presents, is not there.

Christmas is about children at its deepest meaning. Recalling and celebrating a child born in poverty is at the heart of the story.

Sometimes privileged children reach out to less fortunate families. I know of a Marist College in the South of USA pooling all their money gifts in a college-wide campaign, to purchase family sized cooked turkeys and other celebratory food and presents for children; they will travel across seven states in convoy to a depressed mining area, and meet up in the town hall with struggling families, and then family to family, gift food and presents. It takes a lot of humility and courage to turn up and accept gifts from strangers. Yet people do, and that is a real expression of the heart of the Christmas story.

Every year there is a danger that Christmas in a spiritual sense may not happen at all for particular people. That is why we have Advent in the Christian tradition; we need every day of that four weeks to prepare for the stupendous event of God made man. If we let Advent go, then Christmas in a real sense will simply pass us by.

A bereavement can torpedo a whole Christmas for a family, if they let it. Any unusual family circumstance  can ruin a Christmas for everyone. We are so tired and vulnerable at this time, so keyed up, that even a seemingly small event can spark a major family row.

We can make decisions around Christmas that will ensure Christmas does not happen for us. Volunteering to work extra shifts around Christmas will prevent someone from being with those near and dear. The lure of the extra money is a trap for the needy.

There are members of every family who are on the outer, and are not likely to join in for Christmas if they are ignored throughout the year.

Christmas as a spiritual event has to be welcomed into one’s life in advance. By putting in place our personal preparation, scheduling plenty of time for shopping and worship, allowing for unexpected events. The Christ child will come in the most straitened circumstances,  presents or no presents, if we desire him and look for him.

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