Music and the Gospel: “That’s Christmas To Me,” Pentatonix

Family traditions and rituals give us strength, teach us the meanings behind the things we celebrate, and connect us with our extended family and others around us. The song “That’s Christmas to Me” is not just a list of the things we value about the feast day but a reminder of the traditions we love and the closeness those traditions create between ourselves and those around us.

Key lines: The fireplace is burning bright, shining along me / I see the presents underneath the good old Christmas tree / …I see the children play outside, like angels in the snow / While mom and daddy share a kiss under the mistletoe / And we’ll cherish all these simple things wherever we may be / Oh, why? ‘Cause that’s Christmas to me

Questions: What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? What have you learned from the tradition about what Christmas celebrates? When have you experienced the traditions of a different culture? What new traditions would you like to create with your family and friends?

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Music and the Gospel: “That’s Christmas To Me,” Pentatonix; 4th Sunday of Advent

With the holidays come family, friends, food, and presents. Also with the holidays can come stress, materialism, and fatigue. It can be really difficult to step back and remember what’s really important: being grateful for what we have. We don’t have to be stressed out and tired, trying to find the perfect gift and spending money we may not have just to show our appreciation for our loved ones. We can instead spend something more precious: our time. We can give something more precious than any present: our unconditional love and support.

Key Lyrics: I’ve got this Christmas song in my heart / I’ve got the candles glowing in the dark and then for years to come we’ll always know one thing / That’s the love that Christmas can bring / Oh, why? ‘Cause that’s Christmas to me

Questions: How does your family celebrate Christmas? Does your family have any free or inexpensive Christmas traditions? If so, what are they? If not, how can you go about starting a new tradition? What are you most thankful for this holiday season?

Why Traditions?

via Flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

via Flickr user Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Rituals form around actions, symbols, and stories that are so sacred and so important people want to repeat them and take strength and meaning from them. However, many Christians may grow up taking part in rituals whose full meaning they don’t understand. They may participate with their families in rituals without knowing the stories that give rituals meaning.

The tradition of La Posada comes out of Hispanic culture, which understands God walking with them and strengthening them in their struggles. La Posada takes place before Christmas. Two people dress up as Mary and Joseph. Then many people walk with Mary and Joseph from house to house, looking for a place to stay. They get turned away from several houses until at a preplanned house, a family takes them in and serves refreshments to all the people who come with them.

La Posada celebrates God’s presence in a poor young pregnant girl. Among people who try to immigrate over U.S. borders to find a better life, who want to migrate out of poverty, this tradition celebrates God coming to dwell among those for whom the world doesn’t want to make room.

The Eucharist is a tradition that begins with Jesus at his last supper with his friends. He tells them to bless, break, and share bread to remember his love for them. Jesus tells his friends to bless and share a cup of wine to remember his love poured out for them.

Through the centuries Christians have gathered to do as Jesus asked. In every Eucharist Christians become what they celebrate. They receive the Body of Christ and become the Body of Christ. The sacramental traditions of the Catholic Church continue to remember and celebrate Jesus’ healing, forgiving actions among us.

New traditions arise. The pope usually kisses the ground when he arrives in a new country. Families join walks for breast cancer on Mother’s Day or other walks for good causes. It’s the stories behind the traditions that give them meaning.

What special Christmas traditions does your family have? What Advent or Christmas traditions do you experience that you don’t understand? Research their origins by talking with a grandparent or reading in a Catholic encyclopedia or searching online. What customs or traditions have you experienced among people of other religions? What is a tradition you would like to start in your family, such as alternative gifts or an Advent wreath and prayer time?

Music and the Gospel: “Below My Feet,” Mumford & Sons; Second Sunday of Advent

As we move into the second week of Advent and light a second purple candle on our Advent wreaths, it can be so easy to slip into the chaos of the Christmas season. This song offers a chance to set aside some time to contemplate the world around us. We can reflect on how we might use our hands and eyes to serve with and learn from those around us, for that is preparing the way of the Lord.

Key Lines: “Let me learn from where I have been / Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn”

Questions: How do you prepare spiritually for the coming of Christmas? In what ways are you utilizing your eyes and hands to learn about your faith tradition?

 

The Meaning of Christmas (Or How Not to Hate What You Receive)

What is the worst Christmas gift that you have ever been given?GIFT from  iMakeGuernsey

On the first Christmas I celebrated with my then-boyfriend now-husband’s family, they gave me a navy blue and white striped sweater from an expensive brand name label that I wore only when I knew I would be eating dinner with them. The nautical nature of the sweater reminded me of the way my mother had decorated our house in the 80s, and I hated wearing things with labels meant to show people how much you spent on your clothes. The second Christmas I celebrated with their family they gave me literally the same sweater, only this time with light pink and dark pink stripes to replace the nautical theme of the year before. At least this sweater could be worn on Valentine’s Day to look festive.

The year after that the family announced that they would begin a new Christmas tradition: buying presents for yourself. We were all instructed to purchase what we wanted for ourselves, to wrap these presents up, and then we went through a whole silly charade about how surprised we were to receive these awesome presents on Christmas Day. Admittedly, I was into this new tradition (minus the fake surprise) for the first few years. Having been disappointed by the twin striped sweaters in the past, it was much better to pick out a matching hat, scarf, and mitten combo that I really needed and really liked. Also, it was a relief not to go through the agony of trying to find gifts for this family that clearly did not know me that well, nor I them.

After a few years of this self-centered tradition, I started to realize how antithetical to the Christmas season it is to buy your own gifts. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the gift God gave to humanity of God’s only Son, a gift that is beyond measure, as it is the gift of God’s very presence among us. We celebrate that fact that God so much wants all of us to be part of God’s family that God gave God’s only Son for our salvation. Christmas should be about celebrating our place in God’s whole human family, as well as in the small human family of our birth.

Certainly, my husband’s family, and me as a part of it, took awhile to catch on to this meaning of Christmas. But this year, we just might be on to something. There are going to be no gifts in the form of boxes wrapped under the tree. The gift we are choosing to give each other is time spent together–cooking a meal, playing games, making puzzles, and just generally enjoying each other, something we do not get to do often enough because of everyone’s busy schedules.

Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate ConceptionAnd this year I have also come to a new appreciation of those striped sweaters that I finally donated to the Good Will last year. Unfortunately, this awareness has been raised by a good friend of mine who is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer. She has been receiving a lot of gifts this year, some of which bring her to tears because they speak to the bond she has with so many people, who know her so well that they know just what odd item will brighten her day. But she has also received the equivalent of the expensive sweaters my in-laws purchased for me years ago, things that cost quite a bit of money but that are really of no use to her. When I asked her if it frustrated her to get gifts like this, her response was that even if gifts seem stupid and unhelpful, they are people’s awkward way of saying that they care, and that we should cut the gift-givers some slack since it is the thought that counts.

So in addition to celebrating Christmas by spending quality with my family this year, my resolution is also to try to be appreciative of whatever anyone gives me, to approach gift opening with a stance of gratefulness that mirrors the gratefulness I have that God chose to be born of a peasant woman and made flesh among us. Merry Christmas!

What is the meaning of Christmas to you?

How do your family’s Christmas traditions reflect this meaning?

Photos courtesy of IMakeGuernsey and Roger Smith via Creative Commons License