A Parent’s Perspective
I recently returned from a week in the beautiful Canarian island of Fuerteventura. Located just 100km from the coast of north Africa, it’s no wonder that it’s referred to as the island of eternal spring. It was very strange to be strolling around in shorts and t-shirts, sipping cool drinks and slapping on the sun protection while the strains of Christmas music played in the local shops and restaurants.
Christmas bells and decorations shone merrily in the malls and squares and Christmas fare was being sold in the various souvenir shops alongside beach balls, buckets and spades.
Being in such a warm climate so near Christmas was all a bit surreal and was definitely a novel experience for me, my husband and two youngest children.
The day before we returned home was the first Sunday in Advent. Mass in the Church of Nuestra Senora del Carmen, not far from the idyllic beaches and turquoise waters of the North of the island, was very different from our usual Sunday Mass in Ireland. However, there was a warm familiarity about the liturgy and the reassuring thought that, even thousands of miles away from home, we were all part of a Church that was entering a period of devout and joyful expectation.
One thing that really struck me about the lead up to Christmas in Fuerteventura was how low key it seems to be. The HiperDino supermarkets had modest displays of seasonal products but they were nothing like the rows and rows of Christmas foodstuffs that are found in Irish supermarkets from Halloween onwards. I found myself quite liking the simplicity and lack of fuss.
The decision to take a break so late in the year meant that we’d be arriving home with three weeks to go until Christmas Eve. Being a typical Irish mother, that would leave me a short frenzied few weeks to pack in all the pre-Christmas preparations.
If I lived in the Canaries, I could pop in to the shops, pick up a few boxes of traditional treats, some speciality meats and sea foods, and be all sorted in less than 20 minutes. An Advent that embraces peace and tranquillity with a focus on the true meaning of Christmas could actually be on the cards.
As we packed to leave the light and warmth of our home for an all too brief week, we got tragic news from our son in Ireland about the sad death of one of his dear friends, a young man who he went to college with had died following a battle with a severe illness.
I sat on the balcony of our little apartment and pondered on how nothing in life is predictable and how, even in the midst of joy, a dark cloud of sadness and grief can suddenly descend. It didn’t seem right that the music continued to blare from the poolside bar, that the sun continued to shine and that people were still laughing and splashing in the pool totally oblivious to the fact that a light had gone out in the lives of one devastated family. For one family, rushing around in the lead up to Christmas wasn’t going to be a priority anymore.
That’s what the really important message of Advent should be, an invitation to turn to the joy of Christ to find the true meaning of Christmas. Earthly joy is fleeting and short lived; one day we’re on a high, the next cast into the depths of sorrow.
Our only solid anchor is the love of God and, as we follow all sorts of stars, the star we truly seek is the one that leads us to the stable in Bethlehem.
As the candles on the Advent wreath are lit each week leading up to Christmas, we in turn can be a light for people around us. My father was the principal of a small country primary school. He put a big emphasis on starting each day with a prayer. One of the most memorable was a simple: “Bless me Lord with a smiling face.”
My own sister who’s also a teacher told me that she uses the exact same prayer with her own young students. It’s a great prayer for Advent, a prayer that urges us to share our smiles, our love and our joy.
As my son said his last goodbyes at his college friend’s removal, he also assured his friend’s mother that he’d be back to visit her. Spreading the light of Christ can involve the smallest gestures but it’s the little things that mean a lot when we do them well and for the love of God.
I spotted a Facebook post that had a Christmas version of 1 Corinthians 13 with points like: “If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtimes, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.”
Christmas is a happy time but for many it can bring up sad memories. In the middle of all the endless parties and celebrations there can be a lot of heartbreak and pain.
Our Christian hope is that in the midst of all the crosses that come our way, we’ll infuse everything with the love of Christ the Lord, who is our light and our strength, at Christmas time and always.