The joy and wonder of Christmas

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Advent, Christmas, New Year’s.

It is natural to assess one’s happiness this time of year. The holidays have their own culture – in stores, on the streets, in our homes – and with the completion of the annual cycle of the seasons, we return again to the snows and evergreens of winter, the long, dark nights and the waiting. As Scrooge did so unwillingly in “A Christmas Carol,” this is the time to consider where we are going, where we are now, and where we have been.

Where are you on the journey? My family feels blessed, richer for having added two small members in the past year, fortunate for having found the ideal permanent home – a 10-acre hobby farm that should provide ample growing space for three energetic little boys – and happy that my husband has settled into a non-traveling position, so we see much more of him. My parents also moved to the area, so our children greatly benefit from having a close relationships with their grandparents. Truly, the generous Spirit of Christmas Present is with us.

But there are difficulties as well – loved ones with failing health, sorrow for those suffering around us, the recent barrage of bad news in nearby communities, a divided society, a culture with little interest in Christian values. Perhaps memories of childhood Christmases are so nostalgic, etched in rose-colored sepia, because children are so blissfully unaware of such things. My toddler thinks of nothing but trains, it seems, and at the Thanksgiving table, he announced he was grateful for Santa and presents. He’s been campaigning for James the Red Engine, a Thomas the Tank Engine character, for months.

The lightheartedness of youth is what I see, looking into Christmases past, and that feeling returns most often during the Christmas season. It is always a blessing to mentally escape, for a time, the more dreary trappings of adulthood – the mortgage. The medical bills (twins are expensive). The responsibilities. Perhaps that is why I love the feeling of stepping off an airplane in a different country – the wonder and awe surges again, a glimpse of childhood. The experience is, for me, a source of great joy, a creative and intellectual stimulant (small children are many good things – but they are not intellectually stimulating) and an opportunity to encounter beautiful places, new people and interesting ways of life.

How can we experience this freshness of perspective, this joy and wonder, in everyday life? How do we keep it, once holidays have been celebrated, and the quieter months of January and February take hold? How do we savor it throughout the year? Pope Francis, Bishop Robert Barron and Little Sisters of the Poor Sr. Constance Veit suggest our lives will be richer through encounter – by interacting with those around us, whether we have backgrounds, religious convictions and political opinions in common or not. Indeed, in his column on page 7, Bishop Barron invites us to set out on the adventure of wearing and sharing our faith with others, relishing those differences of opinion, and then – in the vein of G.K. Chesterton – sharing a pint afterward.

In the New Year, many people will make resolutions designed to secure happiness. They will promise to eat healthier, lose weight, read more, save more money, learn something new. Others will spend countless hours staring into screens of various sizes, believing that endless entertainment yields anything but emptiness. I could plane-hop from country to country, trying to capture that elusive moment of joy. But, as the BBC reported last week, psychologists have learned that when we are most in pursuit of it, happiness evades us – the more we consciously strive for it, the less we achieve. A better resolution might be to count our blessings, venture out into the world to meet new people, glory in the love of a Savior, reach for God when we are struggling, and give our gifts back to the world.

From my family to yours, a blessed Christmas season! May the New Year bring you richer, deeper joy – and may we all say a prayer for those suffering around us, and give to them what we can.

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