I still fondly remember our simple Christmas celebrations in the Philippines. The houses on our streets were decorated with lights and colorful Christmas lanterns called parols.
Children would dutifully collect and flatten bottlecaps, put them together with hard alambre wire and use them as makeshift tambourines while singing Filipino Christmas carols.
We would attend Midnight Mass and come home to have our Noche Buena (Good or Holy Night) feast. Every year, my mother would use her special table cloth and hang a simple Maligayang Pasko banner on our bare dining room wall.
She served honey-glazed ham, a platter of freshly cooked rice, queso de bola and, of course, her famous Italian spaghetti. While it didn’t seem like we had an abundance of elaborate dishes, I distinctly remember how much love and tenderness my mother put into preparing our Christmas table.
After Noche Buena, we would gather around the Christmas tree to open gifts. Each child typically received only one gift. But if you were extra good that year, you would probably receive a special gift from Saint Nicholas himself.
I still remember receiving my special gift from Saint Nicholas when I was four years old… my very own set of jackstones!
Our Christmas celebrations in the Philippines were very simple and calm. It is this kind of Christmas tranquility that I want to pass on to my children during this typically busy season.
Below are simple things we have done to make it happen.
1. Meditate on the manger scene often.
Place a manger scene in a very prominent place in your home. Journey back in time with your children and encourage them to imagine the Nativity scene as if they were really there. Ask each child what he or she is seeing, hearing and feeling.
Remind your children of the cold stable, the warmth that the animals brought, and the Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a bed of hay.
Tell the children that Jesus loves them so much that He left the grandeur of Heaven and made Himself poor just to be with us. Meditate often on the words of St. Francis De Sales: “Let us learn from Jesus in the manger, to hold the things of the world in such esteem as they deserve.”
2. Give, give, give.
Advent and Christmas are ideal seasons for the family to declutter. If children have a difficult time detaching from their things, we simply remind them that they have to make room for the new blessings they will be receiving on Christmas Day.
Remind them that not all families can afford to give children Christmas gifts and that we should share with those who are less fortunate whenever we can.
While we can’t always control how many gifts our children will receive, we can definitely control how much we give to those in need.
3. Keep a simple kitchen.
I try to keep our Christmas menu as uncomplicated as possible. Every year, I simply prepare baked salmon with cream sauce, a vegetable dish and a side. The children and I bake a homemade cake or pie for Baby Jesus’ birthday. We can all attest that, with children, having cake or pie is guaranteed to make any meal special.
More importantly, I don’t think my children will remember the elegance of our Christmas fare. But they will most likely remember if their mother was irritable, short-tempered and impatient.
I have learned over the years that the gift of a calm mother is the best Christmas present I could ever give my family.
4. Give gifts with eternal value.
We try to give gifts that won’t clutter people’s lives and will help enhance their relationship with God and each other. Gifts that encourage a deeper relationship with God include prayer books, spiritual books or sacramentals.
Gifts that encourage bonding time between family members include simple board games or baking kits. Instead of Christmas presents, we encourage our own children to simply gift their siblings with good deeds and random acts of kindness.
We also have a tradition of giving homemade Spiritual Bouquets as Christmas gifts.
Every year, I always get a remark from a family member or friend who says that these spiritual bouquets have been the best gifts they have ever received.
Our spiritual bouquets read something like this: for Christmas, our family will offer up 12 Masses, 12 Rosaries, 12 Divine Mercy Chaplets, 12 Sacrifices and 12 Good Deeds for you and your family.
Encourage the children to handwrite and decorate these spiritual bouquets. It is an opportunity to give a gift that reflects a true labor of love.
Christmas is always a time of great celebration, but with all the details involved in planning, we can easily lose sight of what is truly important. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, we must remember that Christmas is simply a love story.
It is a story of a God who longed so much to be loved by us that He entered into this world and took the form of a little babe. This Christmas, let’s remain in a spirit of simplicity, calmness and peace so we can really celebrate the true meaning of the Christmas Season.