A called-off Christmas: Seven ways
to make it the best one ever

A glass Nativity set catches the sun in a display area at the home of Shirley Squires of Guilford, Vt., Oct. 23, 2019. Families can decorate for Christmas incrementally. They can wait to place Jesus in the manger until Christmas Eve, and have the Wise Men “travel” closer to the Nativity set each day until the feast of the Epiphany. (CNS photo/Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic)

The 1991 blockbuster “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” might not be worth a revisit this holiday season (not with the kids, anyway) but if you saw it back in the day, Christmas 2020 probably brings to mind Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham bellowing, “Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings and call off Christmas!”

Virus concerns and public health mandates mean this Christmas is sure to look different than Christmases past. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be meaningful and memorable … in a good way.

Family undertakings: This is the year

The silver lining of the COVID-19 shutdowns for many families has been a step back from overscheduling and busyness. Perhaps there’s finally time in our schedules for prayerful devotional activities like a Jesse Tree or a Christmas novena, fun and crazy projects for decorations and gifts, Christmas baking with kids and reading chapter books together as a family.

Busting out grandma’s cookie recipes can be an opportunity for family togetherness (and growing in patience) and also a good way to deliver some homemade Christmas joy to neighbors and friends whom we might not be seeing in person this year.

Charitable giving

The Sheriff of Nottingham canceled the kitchen scraps, so it’s up to us to help. Especially this year, when the livelihoods of so many families have been affected by the shutdowns, many of us can stand to tighten our belts and help out those less fortunate.

Charitable organizations can help put us in touch with needy families who could use our financial help with gifts and Christmas dinners. Those of us who are able can donate our time at a shelter.

Tune in for the “urbi et orbi” blessing

Remember that very moving extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) offered by Pope Francis on March 27? This beautiful traditional blessing is offered every year from the Vatican on Christmas and Easter. The faithful who participate via television or livestream can gain a plenary indulgence (subject to the usual conditions).

Gathering together as a family for this special blessing Christmas Day is a beautiful tradition just begging to be instituted in this unique year.

There’s an at-home version for that

There’s no getting around the fact that some beloved traditions at our schools and parishes are going to get the axe this year. But that doesn’t mean we have to give them up completely. We’ve been doing a family at-home Nativity play after Christmas dinner for the last decade and a half.

With dad’s T-shirts for costumes and stuffed animals and household objects for props, it has resulted in many memorable moments over the years. (Find a printable version of the script at CatholicAllYear.com.)

Remember that Christmas is a season

In our home we like to observe the traditional — but not necessarily liturgically current — “Twelve Days of Christmas.” We’ve been focused on waiting during Advent: waiting for Christmas treats and Christmas music and Christmas shows.

So we jump in and celebrate with those things on Christmas Day … and for the next 11 days as well. On each day we sing or listen to carols and enjoy a different type of Christmas cookie and watch a different Christmas movie together as a family.

We observe fun traditions associated with the different saints’ days that fall during the week after Christmas. The tree is still up (at least until Epiphany); there are toys in the living room; there are pajama days; there are more songs and prayers and treats and screens than usual. It truly feels like a unique and special season.

Maybe we can’t travel this year, but the Wise Men will

We observe Advent as a season of preparation, and we use incremental decorating in our home to help make that principle visible.

We put out the pieces of our Nativity scene slowly over the course of Advent, with at least a nod to historical accuracy. First the stable and the manger on the First Sunday of Advent, then the animals and other “extra” characters the second week, then Mary and Joseph the third week, and then on Christmas Eve we add baby Jesus with great fanfare, and … we start the Wise Men on their journey.

Our three Wise Men start out on the mantle with the rest of the set on Christmas Eve, but as far away as possible from the other pieces and pointing in the other direction. Each morning between Christmas and Epiphany, the kids look around to see where the Wise Men are stopped. (They only travel at night while watching the star, of course).

Occasionally, the kids will find that the Wise Men haven’t moved overnight. This can happen if a camel gets sick or there’s a sandstorm or something. But not to worry, they always catch up and make it through the house and back to the mantle on Epiphany.

Have an eternal perspective

Our Catholic faith gives us an eternal perspective and a long memory. We know that Christmases have been celebrated by the faithful through war and famine and plague and persecution.

The beautiful traditions of the church can give us a framework for a joyful, memorable, noncancelable Christmas.

Tierney is a wife and mother of 10 who, in her spare time, authors the blog Catholic All Year. Her books include “The Catholic All Year Compendium,” “A Little Book About Confession for Children,” and “O Come, Emmanuel: Advent Reflections on the Jesse Tree for Families.”

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