Don’t forget the reason for the season

Parents need to take some time out to actually focus on what Christmas is all about

I disagree with the view that Christmas is “all about the children” or that the magic is gone when Santa’s not making his regular calls anymore and there are no little ones leaving a few mince pies out for the jolly old benefactor. Almost as deflating is a somewhat similar statement that’s invariably uttered by someone, along the lines of, “Ah, that’s it now for another year!” The Christmas dinner is barely digested and they waste no time in taking down the tree, silencing the celebratory Christmas carols and getting on to the serious business of preparing for the New Year. Christmas is definitely not a celebration only to be enjoyed and appreciated by children and it doesn’t end half way through Christmas Day. However, there’s no doubt that viewing how we celebrate Christmas through the eyes of a child and seeing the preparations and celebrations from their perspective gives adults a fresh insight into what Christmas is really about.

True encounter

At the beginning of Advent, Pope Francis explained that Christmas was “a time to encounter the Lord in faith and allow him to renew our lives”. He urged Christians to seek a true encounter with Christ, to see Christmas as more than a merely secular occasion, a pleasant celebration or memory of a beautiful event. We appreciated his words, but, when argumentative Aunt Annie rings to say she’s popping in on Christmas Eve or our tearaway toddler makes short work of our latest batch of iced snowmen, all our best intentions fly out the carefully stencilled Christmas-themed window. While we’re giving vent to our extreme exasperation, we forget that little eyes are looking to us, depending on us to bring the Christ Child into Christmas. However, we can be so intent on preparing a room at the inn that we forget about the baby who’s birthday is the reason for the season.

In spite of sometimes being portrayed negatively, most children have pretty basic needs. They want Santa to check his list and find that they’ve been nice, not naughty. They want to dig into selection boxes and watch all their usual line-up of Christmas movies, play games and have fun with their new toys. However, what they really want is quite simple, and keeping it simple is the key to a happy Christmas. Every child wants to be loved and to feel love. Every child wants to feel that their parents have time for them and, in the middle of the panicked preparations, they need mum or dad to take some time out to actually focus on what Christmas is all about. It’s really as basic as getting our priorities right. When the stress levels start to rise, we need to question what’s more important – beautifully tied bows on our perfectly-presented gifts, or the people who all our elaborate efforts are centred on? On more than one Christmas Eve, I was up until the early hours wrapping presents, polishing every last picture and pursuing a dream of perfection for the ones I loved. If anyone dared to upset the apple cart of my most cherished illusion of the picture-postcard Christmas, I viewed them as being akin to the Grinch that stole Christmas.

Reflect on what matters

If the Christmas dinner turning out a little less perfectly than we desired is more of a crisis than forgetting that Christ is at the heart of Christmas, out little children, and not-so-little ones, will immediately detect what’s really important to us. Sometimes, all we need is a few minutes apart to just reflect on what matters most on Christmas Day, and during the Christmas period. A short time away from the hassle and stress might be enough to help us organise our thoughts and refocus our priorities. How we start the day sets the tone for everything that follows. Every family should develop their own unique traditions. In my family, we have a custom of starting Christmas Day with a prayer, a carol and singing Happy Birthday to Baby Jesus. The crib figures have pride of place in the sitting-room, but the figure of the infant child always spends the night upstairs, ready to be carefully carried to the waiting manger on Christmas morning. Every child, from the oldest to the youngest knows that not one present will be opened or one chocolate coin gobbled up until the smiling baby is placed lovingly and with great ceremony in his humble cradle.


The best laid plans of mice and men have a strange habit of not turning out the way we had imagined. We may have made great resolutions in the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent, but a poor night’s sleep due to a trumpet blowing in our ear at 6am is enough to turn us into a Christmas grouch. We just have to take a deep breath and remember that it doesn’t matter if everything is like a dream. Uncle Pat singing Deck the Halls for the 20th time and fights over who won Monopoly are all part of Christmas.

Turn on your favourite version of Adeste Fideles, enjoy the company of those you love and do something together that you all enjoy. Whatever your family traditions are, make them something that brings you closer together and puts the gift of the Child Jesus in the centre. That’s one way to ensure that you truly will enjoy the happiest of Christmases.