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Bringing joy back to the Christmas season

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Jeanne Hunt
Jeanne Hunt

By Jeanne Hunt

St Augustine tells us that when you sing, you pray twice.

Well, it looks like the marketplace has taken this advice too far. Early in November, the Christmas carols started singing their hearts out in the malls, discount stores, and even in the grocery. Shortly before Thanksgiving, we could find a radio station that plays Christmas music full time. I love the first time I hear it because this is the audible key that opens the door to the holy feasts of winter. Yet, this prelude means that by the actual feast of the nativity we are not even listening to these prayer songs. They have become worn out reminders of all that is left to be done before Christmas day.

As soon as Dec. 25 comes and goes: The Christmas tree is in the garbage, the dog is eating the cookie bits and the carols are silent once again. Can we resurrect the old tradition of saving the Christmas carols for their rightful place and praying with them and St Augustine recommends? When we use these hymns as touchstone to prayer, Christmas can be holy once again.

First, sing a heartfelt ” Do you hear what I hear…” The invocation is to be still and listen with the ear of your heart to “a child crying in the night.” This means that we must quiet down a bit.

In the days before Christmas and into the octave, we need to shut out the noisy world. We can take time to be with God, shutting out the clamor and entering God’s wordless heart. We can then start to hear the authentic sounds of Christmas: the laughter of children, the words of hospitality and love as we gather with family, the bells beckoning us to worship, and even the birds of the air and our beasty, old dog crooning to the Savior.

Turn the page in the hymnal and join in the chorus, “… all is calm, all is bright.” We need to get the hint that a real Christmas is not about stress over perfect gifts, food, and decorations. There is this grip of anxiety when we discover that our schedule is overwhelming and we cannot possibly be and do everything that others expect. Blow the whistle and go home to a place where calm awaits if we choose to stop the roar of the “holidays” and be a family doing much less. A “Silent Night” Christmas is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. We must work hard at protecting the peace. I invite you to say “no” to a few things this year. We can create time for winter walks, music and roaring fires, quiet dinners with our children. Calm and bright will not happen if we do not actively pursue them.

I saved the best for last: “…Tis the season to be jolly..” Christmas is the only time of year when the word jolly really fits. The dictionary explains that jolly means “full of happiness and joy; happy and cheerful; very pleasant or enjoyable.” Most of us are considerably low on our jolly quotient by Christmas Eve.

What God recommends is that these feast days be totally full of joy. It means spending a lot of time with children, wearing a Santa hat in public, watching old movies and classic Christmas cartoons, and it seems a little wassailing helps as well. For the holy octave of Christmas put on your jolly with gusto. There will plenty of time to wear a long face. Lent is just around the corner.

Hunt is a nationally recognized author and catechetical leader.

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