In this time of political turmoil – when will Trump stop claiming that he won the election, etc – it is renewing and spiritually uplifting to focus on the Advent season and the days leading up to Christmas. I have always loved this liturgical season. A week ago our two local families joined us for dinner . We placed our Advent wreath in the center of our socially distant family circle and lit two of the four candles since it was the second Sunday of Advent. Husband Jerry led us in prayer. It was a brief but meaningful start to our family gathering.
In the center of the wreath is a slightly falling apart Christmas angel. This is the first Christmas ornament that Jerry and I bought sixty years ago as we prepared to celebrate our first Christmas together. The angel used to have a place of honor on our Christmas trees but as it got more fragile we moved it to a more protected spot in the center of our Advent wreath. A lot of memories have faded for me but not when we bought this angel. Since we were newly married we had no Christmas decorations. One Saturday in early December 1960 we went shopping for Christmas decorations. It was so important to me that the first ornament we purchased would have special meaning. When we found the little angel, she fulfilled all our requirements. The angel is faded and a bit worn now – but then perhaps so are we.
The pandemic is not conducive to spending a lot of time on Christmas decorating because who is going to actually see the decorations. Though our local families come weekly to share Sunday dinner they are only in our house briefly because they are so conscientious about social distancing. We gather around the fire pit – weather permitting – on the patio, or in our garage with heat lamps. The garage might actually sound like a strange setting for family gatherings but we are fortunate to have an oversized two car garage which without cars in place is really quite roomy. Though as it gets colder and there is a weather induced need to keep the garage doors closed, the local families may each start coming on alternate weeks because social distancing in a garage where the doors are closed is not conducive to good social distancing.
My negative thoughts about decorating were actually short lived. We are not going to let Covid 19 dictate our holiday decorations. It will show its annoying presence in limiting our holiday get togethers but we are decorating according to our family traditions. The Advent wreath, the Creche or Manger, the wreath on our front door, the ropes of evergreens wrapped around our stair railings, the Christmas stockings I made for each of the children when they were small, the Christmas stockings that our daughter Maura crocheted for Jerry and me when she was a young teen, the Christmas star where Jerry, Maura, Joe, Jim and Meg each decorated one of the points of the star which has graced the tops of our Christmas trees since 1976, these and many more Christmas treasures are gradually being lovingly placed around the house. Grandson Jimmy started a collection of Christmas figures for us in, I think it was 2008. It is a collection which we treasure. We have so many Christmas treasures from our children, grandchildren and friends – we have always honored these treasures and will continue to do so this year.
When the children were small we had only one Christmas manger- along with the Advent Wreath it was a staple of our Christmas decorating. In early December we put the stable, with its animals on a prominent shelf in the far end of our living room. Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus, and the Shepards and the Wise Men were placed on a table at the entrance to the living room. We talked with the children about the meaning of the Manger. They were allowed to play with the figures and as the days passed they were encouraged to slowly move them around the room, closer to the waiting Creche. With five small children playing with these ceramic figures, the figures gradually lost an appendage or two but Jerry and I were OK with that. We wanted the Christmas story to be real for our children.
We were not opposed to focusing on Santa Claus during the Christmas season. We just did not want the visitor from the North Pole to be the main focus.
From an early age, our children loved performing. They were very excited when we proposed a Christmas tableau of the Manger scene. The performance took place on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I think this tradition started the year son Jerry was 4. He was a natural to be Joseph; Maura age three was Mary; Joe age two was a shepherd; six month old Jim in his infant seat was Baby Jesus. The following year the tableau was repeated – Jim at age one and a half became a shepherd and 6 week old Meg was Baby Jesus. I don’t know how many years we repeated this tableau but it is a memory I will always treasure.
Our family was blessed to have two wonderful sets of grandparents who doted on their grandchildren. Jerry was an only child but I had two older brothers, Bud was a Jesuit priest who spoiled us with his love, his caring and his home masses. When he died several years ago he left a void that will never be filled. My brother Pete and his wife Louise and their four daughters have always been an amazing and meaningful part of our life and our holiday celebrations. With the passage of time and the growth in our family sizes we no longer spend the actual holidays together. But we continue to get together for a brunch and a Christmas sing a long. Though in this year of Covid 19 there will be no sing a long.
This past Thursday and Jerry and I went shopping for our Christmas tree. In our sixty years of married life we have always had a big tree. In recent years it has gotten harder for us to actually put up and decorate a big tree and to take it down when the time came. Just as when we were newlyweds we searched for a meaningful first ornament, now we wanted a pretty but very manageable little tree. Such a purchase was an unspoken acknowledgement of our age and our capabilities. It was a bit difficult to accept but it was the right thing to do. When we brought the tree home we placed it on the now empty sturdy storage container where we stored all our Christmas lights. Covering the container with a green material that perfectly hides the container, it provides a pleasing and stable resting place for the tree. And once Jerry put the lights on the tree and we put our cherished star in place we were captivated by the tree. It is truly lovely. The decorations that used to adorn our big trees are now displayed in various easy to manage ways around the house.
The restricted socialization brought about by Covid 19 is at times difficult to accept. But it does promote introspection during this special Advent time. As Fr Joe Brennan OSFS recently wrote in our parish newsletter: “As challenging as these times are for us, I pray that all of us live in the hope that our faith proclaims that our God loves us so much that he sent us a savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. May our hope be expressed in the way we treat one another, especially the least among us”