As a wife, mother, and hostess, I want everything to be just perfect at Christmas time. Christmas lights, Christmas cookies, Christmas cards, Christmas tree, Christmas clothes for the kids, Christmas presents—I feel this pressure sometimes to make everything the best that it can be, to create a “magical” kind of Christmas day. I know much of this comes from my own struggle with pride, but I realize our surrounding culture plays its own role, too. After all, aren’t we told that this is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year?” There are a lot of expectations to meet.
There have been a number of Christmas days in the past, filled with all kinds of festivities, when, at the end of the day, I faced a strange realization: among all the celebrating, I didn’t really pray. My normal times of prayer were consumed with the busyness of Christmas. It’s a realization that still makes me extremely uncomfortable. No, I did not pray my rosary or have time for mental prayer on Christ’s birthday because … I was too busy making the celebration of His birth perfect?
I think the devil can take many of our good intentions and twist them into snares for us. Wanting to celebrate Christ’s birth is a wonderful desire. But celebrating in such a way that distracts us from what we are actually celebrating is to our own detriment.
I had a conversation with someone a few weeks ago that I still think about. The friend I was talking to said that she remembered a couple of years ago when a family member was in the hospital and they weren’t sure if he would be home for Christmas or not. At the last moment, he was discharged and able to return home. My friend described, “I was driving to CVS that Christmas Eve night, going to pick up a prescription the hospital ordered. And I thought to myself, ‘This is one of my favorite Christmases.’” Maybe, she could say, it was one of the most perfect Christmases.
The first Christmas was—by many standards—far from perfect. Our beautiful Nativity scenes maybe, in some ways, disguise for us the severe reality of that night. It must have been down-right harrowing as St. Joseph desperately tried to find a place for Mary to give birth. Our Lady and St. Joseph had to make do with a stable for their housing. Our Lord’s crib was a feeding trough for animals. There was a tyrant making preparations to kill the newborn child. None of this was comfortable or convenient.
Yet, God designed the way He wanted to enter our world. He could have done it any of numerous ways. This is the one He chose. And if God chose it, it is perfect.
Maybe Christmas cookies with burnt bottoms, Christmas cards with children who aren’t all smiling, Christmas clothes that are wrinkled, Christmas lights that flicker because one bulb burnt out, a Christmas tree that is too skinny—maybe all these imperfections that I’ve worked so hard to eliminate, actually in a strange way contribute to the perfection of Christmas. The imperfections remind us that we aren’t perfect. We’re not going to get it all right. We need a Savior.
And if I can let go of some of my controlling desire to make things “perfect” this Christmas, I will probably have more time to focus on Christ who is Perfection.
Interestingly, my favorite part of Christmas day (aside from Christmas Mass, of course) is something incredibly simple. On Christmas morning, before we gather around to open presents, we place the infant Jesus in the manger. Then we all sing “Happy Birthday” to Him. Each year it never fails to make me feel a little teary-eyed. When we strip aside all the festivities, that’s what it all comes down to: the birthday of Our Lord. We are celebrating Him.
Happy Birthday, Jesus.