By Cathi Douglas     12/21/2016

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.
—Charles Dickens


In the weeks of preparation for our Savior’s birth, Catholics recognize that the Christmas season is a wonderful time of anticipation, Advent devotionals and church celebrations. Still, the Christmas season’s many secular festivities and obligations often overwhelm even the most conscientious faithful and their families.

In our family, I’m known for slipping into Christmas mode almost as soon as the last bite of pumpkin pie is eaten on Thanksgiving Day. I beg my sons and husband to haul in the 12 big Christmas boxes stuffed with decorations. We assemble our artificial-but-attractive Christmas tree and adorn it with hundreds of ornaments. The nativity scene is displayed in an honored place. My daughter and I spend a couple of weekends baking cookies and making candy. We wrap presents behind closed bedroom doors to keep everything a surprise.

My husband calls December the Christmas Frenzy. Until he met me, he had no idea how much cheer Christmas could contain.

But it’s not so this year.

Because a clogged kitchen sink morphed into an emergency restoration project, we’re camping in the living room for the next few weeks, making do with a microwave and coffeemaker.

It has taken me some time to accept the reality of a Christmas without all the usual fanfare. Then I asked myself, what is really important about this holiday?

Everyone remembers the Grinch accepting that he can’t stop Christmas. “He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought… doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps… means a little bit more!” And we have taken his words to heart.

But I needed more. Then I came across an article by Bishop Matthew H. Clark published in December 2011 in the Catholic Courier, and his words resonated:

“This gift that changed humanity forever came to a couple without much means, without the ability to lavish presents on anyone, in the form of an innocent child born in a simple manger full of animals and straw. All they really had was each other and a love that gave them the drive and confidence to endure all, and to do God’s will.

“There is a lesson for us all in this. God could just as well have chosen a rich woman to give birth to Jesus, but he chose a poor one. God could just have easily ensured Jesus was born in the finest beds surrounded by silk sheets and servants. God could just as easily have chosen to make life easy for Mary and Joseph, but instead they faced many obstacles and hardships before and after Jesus was born.”

Out of necessity our 2016 holiday will be simple. Instead of rush and stress, tasks and obligations, baking cookies and choosing tons of gifts, our family will celebrate Christmas in the humble way Jesus did.

As Bishop Clark notes, “Presents are wonderful, of course, and we do well to make others happy by giving them, but Christmas and what it means for us would be as powerful and as life-changing without them. Lights, tinsel, candy canes and all those things that have come to symbolize this magical holiday are fun and do make Christmas special. There is nothing wrong with that.

“But would you agree that what really matters — 2,000 years ago and today — is the spirit of love that is Christmas — God’s love for us and our love for each other? Just ask any modern-day family struggling to make ends meet and who survive on little but the warmth of their love for each other.”

Truthfully, I will miss our tree and decorations and the baking my daughter and I enjoy this time of year. I appreciate, though, that the Lord has chosen this particular time to remind my family about the powerful importance of love above all else at Christmas.