By Ambroise Ntumba
St. Aloysius Catholic Church
We had light snow about two weeks ago in Buckley and one of our parishioner’s children told his parent that it was Christmas and consequently claimed his gifts. We know how it usually goes. In fact, Christmas has been paired with Dec. 25 and our conditioned learning has linked it to snow, and then to Santa Claus with his various gifts. Our minds have been working hard these last weeks to organize family gatherings and accommodate our schedule to attend church celebrations or find gifts to satisfy Christmas wish lists.
Yes, the fourth century Saint Nicholas is believed to give presents secretly. After his death there was a popular custom around his feast day (Dec. 6) where a visitor would dress in bishop robes and a long white beard, question young children about their behavior, encourage them to prepare for the coming of the lord at Christmas and distribute simple gifts of candy, fruit or toys. Sometimes this visit was secret during the night and shoes put out by children were filled with gifts. In some form, a similar tradition of giving gifts to children continues today in many families regardless of their faith, tradition and beneficiary behavior.
This current practice of exchanging gifts with family members is more likely to help us understand that actually God is our Santa Claus who has unconditionally and indistinctly granted our wish list with the precious and immeasurable gift of his love: baby Jesus. However, we shouldn’t overlook the purpose of Christmas as Jesus’ historical birth in Bethlehem: “God has become man so that man becomes God” (St. Athanasius).
Today, families get together around a Christmas tree as everyone opens his/her gifts with smiles, and hugs or kisses his/her Santa Claus. Do most family members look forward to this gathering, or do they find it difficult? I am in love with the “Little Books” series published by the diocese of Saginaw and have found their following reflections very meaningful. At these family gatherings, some members worry about the relative who is likely to get drunk and soon starts “talking in tongues” making everybody uncomfortable. Some are not sure what to do about divorced and re-married members who bring in-laws they have never introduced to the family before. Or someone else is currently on the outs with other family members. It’s quite a mix, like in “Heinz 57 varieties.” Some find it disgusting or boring and decide to not participate next time.
It takes a lot of virtue and patience to be part of such an extended family. In lieu of boycotting these key socials, let’s do our best and try to be kind, knowing that we can’t single-handedly change things around. There probably isn’t any extended family that does not have some type of rift within it, some of long standing. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do when it comes to someone’s personality. Those differences in family if successfully harmonized may be what make life as pleasurable as the various colors in a rainbow make its beauty.
Jesus was part of an extended family no different from yours. The holy family lived in close quarters with cousins, in-laws, shirt-tail relatives of all kinds, many of them referred to as Jesus’ brothers and sisters in Jewish culture. There is also comfort in looking at the trinity family to enlighten our biological/adoptive one, with his relationships and co-responsibilities while different but sharing the same divine nature as we do besides our genes and blood.
Every birthday we celebrate should call upon a mother’s day, too, and Christmas calls upon the motherhood of the blessed Virgin Mary which we celebrate on New Year’s Day. After all the burden of worrying about fulfilling Christmas wish lists, there it comes again for our mind to work on New Year’s resolutions. Looking back we may see that some of those 2009 resolutions were not effective. Part of it is that we made too many of them, or we didn’t think them through or prepare for them very well, or they didn’t have roots and consequently lasted the life of our enthusiasm in welcoming a new year. What if I don’t make many resolutions this year and just reflect on my assignment to become God, a loving person and Santa Claus doing good for people? Then Christ will have been born in my heart – then my heart will be a spiritual Bethlehem.