Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 21, 2009
Celebrate Christmas in Peace, harmony
Local Catholics slow down to experience joy during both Advent and Christmas
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
For many Albertans, Christmas is all about buying expensive gifts, overeating fancy food, and celebrating at party after party. They get caught up in the frenzy of shopping, wrapping, baking and entertaining to the point of exhaustion.
Some Alberta Catholics shared their insights of how to slow down, experience the true joy of the Advent season and, most importantly, keep Christ in Christmas.
Robert Bailey, a renowned aviation artist from Stony Plain also known for his paintings of religious subjects, said part of the solution to this holiday craziness is reducing the number of gifts on our shopping lists.
"We try to avoid as much TV as we can because the commercials are becoming more and more invasive. I know it's not good for the economy, but we have ceased sending gifts to grandchildren and instead we are sending that same money to charities," said Bailey.
He finds the most enjoyment at Christmastime by being at home, in a quiet place, away from the hustle and bustle of crowded malls. Gift giving has reached ridiculous proportions, he said, especially for those children who have so much already.
"I was at West Edmonton Mall this morning on business, and there were lineups for the cash machines, and the parking lot was about 98 per cent full. It's become the religion of this day and age.
"I couldn't wait to get out of that place. We just like to be at home as much as we can and, of course, with family over Christmas," said Bailey.
STUDENTS AND STRANGERS
Susan Makale, principal of Edmonton's Ben Calf Robe/St. Clare School, said the students are thinking not only of themselves and their immediate family, but also of strangers far away. They are undertaking a special project this year to make Christmas a little merrier for Canadian soldiers overseas.
"We have within our school community three family members that are deployed in Afghanistan right now. Our school took it upon themselves this year to do a 'Merry Christmas, Soldier' campaign.
"There are many soldiers that don't get regular correspondence from people, so every child in our school wrote a letter to a soldier in Afghanistan, and they were mailed over," said Makale.
As well, many Afghani children request pens and paper from the Canadian soldiers, so the school launched a supply drive and sent the items over.
"We are going to focus this year, first of all, on the peacekeeping mission of our soldiers, but also the impact that something as simple as war has on children," she said.
PARISH FOOD DRIVE
Giving back to the community is something she focuses on not only at school but also in family life. One thing she has done with her children since they were four or five years old is participating in a parish food drive. After Mass they also go to the food bank and help sort the food.
"We talk about the need for giving to people anonymously, and that you can make a difference in the life of a stranger. That's something we really try to get across with our own children," said Makale.
Getting involved in an act of service as a family is a Christmas tradition that she recommends for other families. The tradition starts during Advent, and carries on into the following year.
"We don't like to do the hit-and-run charities, as we call it. The hit-and-run has limits to its value, so we'll look for different charities throughout the year to provide service to. Finding that one act of service that you can do as a family is huge," said Makale.
Christmas is in the doing, not the giving, she emphasized. Her children receive one gift that they really want. Instead of going out and buying gifts, her children make gifts for the other family members.
"I like the family time the best. It's the time when we visit and share the joy of one another, and just slow down and remember that we're more important than the busyness of the day," she said.
As a charitable organization, the St. Albert-based Catholic Family Ministries is a charitable organization that promotes the human, cultural and spiritual formation of people with a special emphasis on family as the prime entity of society.
Maurice Beier, with Catholic Family Ministries, agreed that spending time with family is a must at this time of year.
"We find the most enjoyment getting together at Christmas, playing games. A lot of times there might be a couple of games with the gifts that the children get. We sit around and play games at Christmas. Of course, we have the Christmas meal that we share together," he said.
SLOW DOWN AND PRAY
The Advent wreath carries great importance for many Catholics, including the Beier family. Lighting the wreath's candles is a tradition that helps them focus on slowing down and praying together.
"It's kind of nice to get together in a warm home and give thanks and pray for those who don't have what we have. Especially during these cold days, you really appreciate a warm home and family at this time of year when you know there are others out there struggling to stay warm and who don't have anything," said Beier.
His family used to put their tree up early, but lately it's become a tradition to wait until Dec. 24. They go into the country, perhaps onto a farm, and chop down a tree, then bring it home in the late afternoon and decorate it. Afterwards, they go to midnight Mass.
Neil Gannon, Knights of Columbus state deputy, said family activities such as weekly prayer with the Advent wreath, delivering hampers to needy families, and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus at Christmas dinner are activities that he and his family do to keep Christ in Christmas.
In addition, the Gannon family erects a large nativity scene in their living room, family room and smaller ones in other rooms, and lights up the front yard with another nativity scene. The family uses religious Christmas postage stamps. His wife sings carols and brings goodies to a senior's home, and helps decorate the church.
Common among these prominent Alberta Catholics, Gannon finds enjoyment by celebrating special Christmas events with his family.
Deacon Ken Noster, from Living Water School of the Arts in Derwent, said he and his family try to focus on Advent as Advent, not Christmas. Decorations go up in increments and they do not cut the tree until two or three days before Christmas.
"Traditions need to come out of what is possible within your own context. Some people are far away from their families," said Noster, who has developed meaningful traditions through family visits.
Around Dec. 17 until Christmas, he and his family relax by the fire and read Christmas stories - engaging in activities that transcend age.
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