Last year during the Christmas season, I attended my brother-in-law’s wedding, a wedding I never thought I’d see. Just the year before, my husband’s little brother firmly announced that he planned to marry sometime after the age of fifty…and no children. He announced this at a birthday dinner, sitting at the table and flanked by my two boys, who exclaimed, “No kids?!” Yet, in his very shoes stood a new husband with a beautiful new wife—a devout Catholic girl, one of ten children.
The reception was decorated in red balls, evergreens, and gold. The blushing bride turned to me sometime after the meal and said in her round Mexican accent, “He hates Christmas. I told him, ‘Well, then, no gifts for you!'” And she meant it. Already purchased and wrapped, the gifts remained carefully hidden— a week after Christmas Day, awaiting the young man’s contrition. “When he admits that Christmas is good, I will give him his gifts!”
Hmm. Now why didn’t I think of that? Over the years, I tried everything to bring my bah-humbugged husband to a jolly disposition, but to no avail. Sometimes I simply squared my shoulders against his secular slump at the holidays, readied to raise my Catholic fists gloved with doctrine. It didn’t work. He braced himself for the holidays, and to tell you the truth I really couldn’t blame him. For my husband, his childhood holidays meant arguments over who’s gonna get the kids. And it wasn’t long before the wee-ones caught in the crossfires figured out that the easiest way to appease the guilt of the alone parent was to strongly hint at (read: deftly negotiate) the big expensive gifts. But the arguments and hard feelings remained, and the beauty of the season—the wonder of God coming to Earth as a pink, squirmy baby who cries and cranks and needs to be cuddled—was completely lost.
You know, I don’t think my husband and his siblings can remember what those gotta-have gifts were. The stress was a very big part of the their holiday memories, a stress that remained deep into adulthood. Sadly, this is true for many, many families.
But my new sister-in-law and I shared a common past—Christmas filled with wonder and joy. To this day, I still have two images in my mind about my childhood Yuletide: Mass and Santa. In our home, Santa even brought the tree, lights, and trains…and the nativity. On that anticipated December morn, the dawn was greeted with the cheer, “He came! He came!” Even when I was a teenager, the gifts were tagged with “From: Santa” written in a feminine Catholic school penmanship. When we kissed our parents to say thank you, my Dad would just smile and my mom would say, “Don’t thank me. They’re from Santa.” It was good to keep those special moments alive well after the jolly St. Nick began to skip our home for the sake of the world’s youngest children.
As the years went by, enjoying Christmas Eve dinner and attending midnight Mass with our grandparents took center stage. I loved leaving the dark and cold outside to enter a church that gleamed with lights and evergreens. Even the majestic windows were decorated. The parish my family attended was (and still is) the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was a parish blessed with talent and a desire to serve, and it all began with the Mass, especially Midnight Mass: the bells, the voices of the adult choir, and the organ recital of the young man who is now a monsignor. The evening ended with Silent Night performed on an accustic quitar. The quiet pluck of its strings drifting from the choir loft and across the large sanctuary were in stark contrast to the bellowing semi-professional choir. The liturgy was celebrated by every priest, deacon, and seminarian in the parish, and we had quite a few. I wish I could transport my husband back to those times.
Well, now, dear reader. Right about now you might be wondering, “Just what is your remedy to the effects of the dreaded bah-humbug?”
I have but one word, and it’s one I didn’t embraced very easily myself. It’s “patience.” I tried different tactics, but only patience worked. I found that it was best to simply live my faith and bring our children along with me. I made the Advent wreath. Took my kids and myself to Confession. Baked the cookies. Read the Good Book. Taught my children the story of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. And I made Christmas Mass a priority.
Patience also means that you will need to let in your spouse. No matter how difficult it is to dance with his holiday blahs, don’t put him in the dog house for good. Take his suggestions to help him be a part of the festivities. For example, I had to give up hope of Santa bringing the Christmas tree and trains to our children; my husband liked the idea of picking out a tree together as a family. So each year, a week before Christmas, we visit a local tree farm and cast our votes on the best tree. Whoever is outvoted usually comes around by the time the lights are strung.
In addition, I found that it’s best to resist pushing him to do things he doesn’t want to do. It’s better to let him observe your joyful practice than to make him a victim of nagging. If he rebels, let him, but gently ask him to think about what you are trying to give to your children—the beauty of the Christmas season.
Maybe it would also be advantageous to point out what that means. There is indeed a reason why the season is so magical—and it’s not the traditions, lights, and festivities. Far from it. In fact, it’s the root from which the traditions grew. The root of our Faith, the arrival of Our King. Heaven became united with Creation. It’s magical, mysterious, bountiful, and certainly plentiful. It’s out of this from which our traditions grew, not the other way around. Even if our traditions were taken away from us, Christ would still by our King. This is our joy, our Heaven.
In a movie of Pope Paul VI, which aired on EWTN, the pontiff announced to a friend that the strategy of patience is always most successful. I wish I had known this when I was a new wife and mother. I would have used it more aggressively. But eventually, the Holy Spirit won and forced me to adopt the strategy after all. Simply put, I went about my Catholic business. It took practice, and I want to admit right here that I was not the only one to adopt the Pope’s advice. So did my husband, albeit perhaps unwittingly. His joy has come about not because of my efforts alone, but because of his as well.
Did it work? I think so. My formerly bah-humbug tainted husband cooks Christmas dinner, and it is gourmet by every measure, yet down-home enough to satisfy my provincial heart. And something that tasty can only come from a joyful and comforted man. Roger is also bound to be the first to admit after a day of tree-fetching and decorating, “This is our best Christmas tree ever!” It’s good to see the happy boy in the man. It’s particularly nice when he’s sitting next to me at Christmas Eve Mass.
Have a blessed and Merry Christmas!
Copyright 2010 Kathleen Blease