Christmas is going to be different this year.
It will be a somber and perhaps mournful season, for those suffering from the multiple effects of the pandemic.
For many of us, however, this could be our best Christmas ever. We have every reason to skip the frantic shopping and awkward gatherings that cause us stress during the Christmas season.
As we hunker down at home, we have an unprecedented opportunity to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. We can establish new holiday traditions for ourselves and our families.
I suggest that we make it a do-it-yourself, family and Christ-centered Christmas.
Suggesting “DIY” may evoke memories of childhood disasters involving burned cookies or spilled paint, but I encourage you to give it a try this Advent. Don’t worry about perfect results – instead, enjoy the calming effects of a familiar, repetitive craft, or the challenge of learning a new skill.
Choose a collaborative project that can unite everyone in your household, or an activity that can provide you with some much-needed quiet and solitude.
Numerous studies show that hands-on activities – even something as basic as coloring – provide important mental health benefits. These include a sense of relaxation, reduced anxiety, improved mood and concentration, enhanced self-confidence, a sense of purpose and accomplishment – and when efforts are made in collaboration with others – an enhanced sense of community.
Many individuals who participate in DIY activities also report that these pursuits refocus their minds and distance themselves from negative preoccupations and emotions.
With hundreds of cooking shows and craft magazines, online tutorials, idea boards such as Pinterest and marketplaces like Etsy.com, creative possibilities are limitless – and they need not be expensive.
Collaborative DIY activities can be a great way of involving young and old alike in Christmas preparations.
After spending months cooped up with our closest loved ones, and with public health authorities recommending that the safest way to celebrate the holidays is in a “bubble” with our immediate household, patience may be wearing thin.
But let’s try to make the best of this enforced “quality time” with our families.
The key to making this Christmas a positive experience is to see value in little gestures, rather than the end result of our efforts.
During the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in 2015, Pope Francis said that happiness and holiness are always tied to little things. “These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children, by brothers and sisters. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.”
I suggest that DIY efforts this Christmas focus on a family crèche or nativity scene.
Pope Francis penned a pastoral letter last December on the meaning of the nativity scene, in which he encouraged this “beautiful family tradition. Great imagination and creativity is always shown in employing the most diverse materials to create small masterpieces of beauty.”
The pope wrote, “As children, we learn from our parents and grandparents to carry on this joyful tradition, which encapsulates a wealth of popular piety. It is my hope that this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived.”
Setting up the Christmas crèche in our homes helps us to relive the history of what took place in Bethlehem.
Pope Francis tells us, “Naturally, the Gospels remain our source for understanding and reflecting on that event. At the same time, its portrayal in the crèche helps us to imagine the scene. It touches our hearts and makes us enter into salvation history as contemporaries of an event that is living and real.”
This Christmas is the perfect time to rediscover and revive the tradition of the crèche, giving it a prominent place in our homes.
With COVID-19 again on the rise, many of us might not even make it to Mass on Dec. 25, so let’s make our homes like little churches with our DIY nativity scenes the focal point of our celebration of Christ’s birth.