At the heart of the Christmas, the message is the story of a family, the holy family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. There was a lovely tradition in the country, years ago, where a large red or white candle was lit on Christmas Eve at 6pm, Christmas night and St Stephen’s night to shine out a welcome for Mary and Joseph as they wandered in search of lodgings. On Christmas Eve, as the candle was being lit family members would sprinkle each other with holy water, then go out to the byre, where the donkey and cow were kept and sprinkle them too. In this we have an interesting open-ended idea of the family as a unit, even down to their animals, yet ready also to welcome others into their home.
The family is, of course, the cornerstone of society and the first community we experience. Almost all of us come from one we have memories of, be it large or small. The love that people share within the family unit, creates personal relationships and responsibilities, which last all lifelong. Families have a shared history and an affinity of feelings, affections and interests and they look out for one another. Family life is about being together and it is at Christmas time in particular that there is a special focus on this, as people traditionally ‘go home for the holidays’. In fact, I read somewhere recently that about 95% of holiday songs focus on home. Think about Chris Rea’s ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ or ’Wish I was at Home for Christmas’ by Jona Lewie.
For families who were in the past, and still are, separated by the quest for employment, Christmas may be the only time they see each other for any proper period. Young people return from big cities and abroad to be reunited with family and friends. It is a time to remember what is important in life, which is not the Christmas presents, but rather the people who give you those gifts.
Many of us have family customs which are treasured down through the years and can build up special relationships and fond memories. Every family has different traditions and related activities depending on their history, ethnicity and values, but what is common to all is to be with family and friends. It is important that the time shared is meaningful. No amount of glossily wrapped presents or expensive delicacies on the table can compare to sharing valuable time with loved ones. It would be of more benefit to help a child with a jigsaw, than leave them alone and to their own devices, with an expensive game.
We all enjoy the nice food and drink when relaxing at this time but hopefully not to the point where over indulgence can render us incapable of any communication at all! Also, Christmas is a time to put aside hostilities, to foster a toleration of people we may not always see eye to eye with. Adults owe it to children to be an example of how they behave and show consideration to others. The family is the community in which, from our early years, we learn moral values and is actually our initiation into society.
At Christmas especially we are asked to think about people outside our immediate circle. Our family relationships in lots of ways will determine how we see others. Parents have opportunities to help children look at what lies behind the giving of gifts, which is not the acquisition of ‘stuff’ but rather the spirit of giving. It is rewarding to choose something for someone else, think about them and what they might like, and wrap it with care. The emphasis is ideally on the love and thought that is put into the gift-giving rather than what ‘I got’. Making their own presents is a way to focus them away from the commercial onslaught, thus making the experience of giving more personal and rewarding, for both the children and the recipients of their gifts.
The annual Shoebox Appeal is an excellent means by which family members can work together to help other children, less fortunate, in parts of the world where there is war and poverty. Children will enjoy using their imaginations in a creative way, while parents can engage with them in the activities of deciding on the gifts, and designing the box or boxes. Thus the family is united in a project which is reaching out to others and showing younger people what Christmas is really about.
At Christmas, we are given the gift of the Christ child which is the greatest gift of all. None of us are entitled to gifts, however much the advertisers want us to believe otherwise. By helping others who are not as lucky, children can see all the wonderful things to be grateful for in their own lives, including of course the blessing of their own family.
May the Holy family of Nazareth be an inspiration to all families this Christmas as they come together to celebrate the Birth of Jesus our Saviour.
Written by Marie-Therese Cryan