1. Be a witness to the Incarnation of Christ by only buying and sending Christmas cards that use religious art connected with the birth of Christ. Even if your friends are not Catholic or Christian; even if they send you card with pictures of elves and snowmen, as a Catholic, you can witness to your faith by always choosing cards that have good religious art on them and have an appropriate message about the Birth of Christ inside them. Even secular and non-Christian people are affected by the beauty of Christmas, so it’s unlikely that anyone will be offended if you share and declare your faith in this way.
If you run a business and you send out ‘Holiday Greetings,’ make sure that your cards have pictures of the Nativity of Christ on the outside and a Bible verse about Christmas on the inside. Consider using Isaiah 9:6: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. If you have non-Christian customers on your mailing list, they can simply count themselves out of those to whom ‘a child is born…a son is given.’ Your own message can say, ‘We at [name of business] greet you at Christmas and wish you a Happy New Year.’ There’s nothing wrong with ‘greeting’ people at Christmas; you aren’t insisting that they celebrate Christmas with you. However, you are witnessing to Christ and refusing to hide your faith. Remember Matthew 10:33 – But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven – and do not be ashamed of Christ at Christmas!
Business owners who distribute free calendars at the end of the year should also consider using beautiful Catholic art with religious themes. ‘Fine art calendars’ are a big business, and even people who are not religious can appreciate a beautiful painting. Dare to share the beauties of Catholic culture at Christmas and throughout the year. By doing so, you’ll be advertising your faith in Christ and His Church at least as much as you are advertising your business – an appropriate ordering of your values.
2. Remember the lesson of ‘no room at the inn.’ Christmas is a time when many people are depressed because they find themselves alone and neglected. If you are planning a Christmas celebration with your family, invite someone who is far from home – perhaps a co-worker who will not be going home for Christmas this year. If you are one of those people who has nowhere to go at Christmas, consider hosting your own meal or an outing and invite others you know who might be alone for Christmas. Invite someone – even a non-Catholic or non-Christian – to go to Christmas Mass with you. It might be an opportunity to explain to them that the true meaning of ‘Christmas’ is ‘Christ’s Mass,’ and that it is first and foremost a Catholic liturgical celebration.
If you have plans for Christmas already, consider organizing a ‘12 Days of Christmas‘ outing with people who don’t celebrate Christmas or who have no one to celebrate with. A caroling party; outdoor activities like sledding; taking your children or a youth group to an old people’s home to visit the forgotten elderly; volunteering at a soup kitchen with some colleagues from work; inviting a young family to dinner or babysitting the kids so the parents can have a break — use your imagination and ask family and friends for ideas of how you can celebrate each of the 12 days of Christmas in a way that welcomes ‘outsiders’ into your heart, your home and your life.
3. Recall the poverty of the Holy Family. Look around you for special initiatives to help poor families at Christmas. Caritas is an international Catholic charity organization. On their website, you can easily find information about people in need or find your own local Catholic Charity. Aid to the Church in Need does wonderful work helping Catholic priests and religious communities to do their work – whether charitable work, education, hospital and hospice care or simply running a church or mission in a poor country. You can help the needy at Christmas with just a few mouse-clicks, or you can ask your priest or others in your parish to point you to a charity that is run in accord with Catholic principles of respect for the life and dignity of each person. Be aware when you choose your charity, that Catholic organizations as a rule have the lowest overhead for running their charity. That means that more of your donation will go directly to help the needy than in organizations with a large, well-paid staff or who spend a lot of money on advertising, etc.
If you run a small business and you are open to having collection boxes for charities by your till, find out if you can collect for a Catholic charity. For example, Catholic Relief Services helps victims of natural disasters (such as the typhoon in the Philippines in 2013). Why not set up a collection box for CRS in your small business instead of one of the secular charities?
4. Acknowledge your own poverty. ‘Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:23-24). Christ came into the world to redeem us from our sins. Let us offer Him the gift of clean hearts on His birthday. Make a good examination of conscience and go to confession before Christmas. But don’t just bring the same laundry-list of faults: look at the pattern of your life over the past year. What are the root causes of your habitual sins? What is most difficult for you – to forgive, to be patient, to pray when tempted, to give up a sinful habit, to keep your good resolutions? Is there some cardinal sin – gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, pride, lust – that lies behind the sins you confess regularly? What do you need to work on in the new year?
5. Imagine the surprise of the shepherds. We are so used to the Christmas story that it no longer surprises us and many of us would admit that ‘Christmas joy’ is more words than reality. Try to place yourself in the position of the shepherds who heard about the Nativity of the Messiah literally like a bolt from the blue: suddenly, angels were greeting them and singing, ‘GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO!’ What a shock! Try to recapture their wonder and amazement by letting Christmas come as a surprise. Go to smaller shops that won’t have Christmas carols playing during Advent and that might not have Christmas decorations (or shop online). Refuse all invitations to Christmas parties before Christmas (this might involve taking a stand at your place of work). Apart from a nativity scene (with an empty manger) try to avoid decorating your home until the last possible moment. Don’t play Christmas music or sing Christmas songs at home until after midnight on Christmas Eve. Let the birth of the Child Jesus burst upon you; make it as special and significant as having a new baby in the family.
Catholic shop-owners can strike a blow against the commercialism of Advent by not decorating your shops for the Christmas season until after Christmas Day; setting up a Nativity Scene instead of a Christmas tree or secular decorations; having a ’12 Days of Christmas Sale’ in the period between Christmas and January 6 instead of a ‘post-Christmas’ sale. Use your creativity to live Advent and the true Christmas Season in your business as well as in your home.
6. Focus on the newborn King. When a new baby comes into the family, everyone comes over to visit, to welcome the new baby. All conversation is about the child; everyone wants to hold the baby, speak to him or her, and welcome the child as a part of the family. Older children may want to hear the story of when they were born. Bring that awe, joy and excitement into Christmas by reading the Birth Narrative in the Gospel of Luke (2:1-14; if you have little children, encourage them to act out the story as a play). Sing or listen to your favorite Christmas carols, but make sure they focus on the Christ Child. Make a personal or family outing to look at the different Nativity Scenes displayed in your neighborhood churches or in the Cathedral, and when you are there, contemplate the Christ Child and speak to Him in prayer.
If you run a small business, you can welcome the Christ Child in a public way by taking part in (or organizing) a drive to collect clothing, diapers, formula and other new and used items for needy mothers of infants. If no such initiative already exists in your area, find the nearest crisis pregnancy center and ask them how you can help (your parish or diocesan office should be able to direct you to a pro-life pregnancy center). Offer to collect items donated by your customers; the pregnancy center might help by picking up the donations. Scout troops and youth groups can also join in the initiative by collecting donations at church or in shopping centers and delivering them to the crisis pregnancy center. Remember to declare your faith when you ask your customers for items: ‘We are preparing for the Nativity of our Lord. Will you help a needy mother prepare for the birth of her child by donating baby items that are new or in good condition?’
7. Make your entertainment meaningful. For many families, having the kids home for Christmas holidays means watching movies together. Unfortunately, most ‘Christmas’ movies have absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Christ! Whatever else you may watch at Christmas, make sure that first and foremost you find a good film about the Nativity and make it a family tradition to watch it every year. If you live in the US or have a DVD player that can play foreign DVDs, have a look at Ignatius Press Films (you may be able to rent some of these titles online). Consider adding a new ‘Christmas Season’ film from Ignatius Press to your family’s film library every year, with the aim of watching one excellent faith-affirming film on each of the 12 days of Christmas (December 25-January 6).
For an alternative to electronics, try building up a library of stories — written or passed on orally — that reflect the wonder and hope of the Incarnation of Christ. Every evening during the 12 days of Christmas, turn off the TV, the phones and computers and read a good story that is suitable for the season. Start with the Birth Narrative in the Gospel of Luke; try reading through Dickens’s A Christmas Carol; read aloud the story of the real St Nicholas or a story of the journey of the Three Wise Men; look for inspiring Christmas stories from other cultures. Grandparents and parents can start an oral story-telling tradition by telling their children the story of their first Christmas as a married couple or how the meaning of Christmas changed when there was a baby in the house; telling the story of the birth of each child in the family can bring the Nativity of Christ into the present and relate it to your children’s own lives in an intimate way. Host a story-telling evening: invite grandparents or elderly friends or people from other cultures to your home to share stories of ‘Christmas in the old days‘ or ‘Christmas in my home country.’ If you know any missionaries, invite them to tell stories of Christmas in the mission field. Children may surprise you with their most treasured memories of past Christmases or their impressions of the story of Christ’s Nativity. Some stories are bound to become family favorites, repeated from year to year.
8. Remember that ‘catholic’ means ‘universal.’ If you are at a loss how to replace the overly commercialized, materialistic, gluttonous consumption and frenetic activity of ‘the holidays’ with something more meaningful and wholesome, look to your Catholic roots for foods, games, prayers, songs, crafts and devotions that were customary in simpler — and more devout — times. Ask your friends from other ethnic backgrounds what their Christmas traditions are and adopt the ones that are meaningful to you and your family, or share your culture’s traditional customs with friends who may not know the real beauty of Christmas. Researching and recreating lost Christmas customs is a great holiday activity for children: if the children love it, you can be sure they will insist upon keeping up the tradition throughout their childhood and may even pass it on to their own children.
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