Christmas Day has come and gone and we have entered into the New Year. Back to work, back to the routine. And it seems that, for the most part, Christmas itself is gone. Many people have taken down Christmas decorations already. The Christmas tree in our office at work has been put away. The radio stations are no longer playing those joyful Christmas melodies. And it has only been a week yesterday since Christmas! In the Catholic faith, the season has only just begun, but in the secular world that surrounds us, it has already ended and the stores are gearing up for Valentine’s Day!
In my house I leave my decorations up through Epiphany, the day we celebrate the arrival of the three wise men to see our Lord in Bethlehem. The tree still gets lit every night. Christmas music still plays. The stockings are still hung and the Nativity sets are still proudly displayed. After all, why put away my display of those three kings coming to greet our Savior before we even celebrate it! After Epiphany Sunday, I will take down the lights, back away the tree, and return my house to its “normal” state. A part of me gets sad every time I take down the Christmas décor. It is so fun to see all the ornaments and reminisce about who gave them to us for what occasion or who might have made this for us a Christmas long ago. I love to set up the nativity set which is the same old set of wooden figures that we set up in our home as a child. I love to find the perfect place to place my other manger scenes that my Grandmother has given to me over the years. I find such joy in stringing lights and garland on the tree with my husband (even when we discover that one stubborn bulb has once again caused the entire strand to go out!) I love making Christmas cookies with family and friends, singing Christmas carols, and watching all the Christmas movies I can get my hands on! I love setting up the Advent wreath and lighting the candles each night at our table, adding one every week as we wait for Christmas. I love shopping for my loved ones, sending Christmas cards, and going to Christmas Eve Mass. When the season brings me such joy…why would I want it to end?
What if we kept the tree up all year? What if we were the crazy neighbors who left Christmas lights on through the summer? I know what would happen. I would become bored with the tree. The lights wouldn’t bring me as much joy when they twinkled. As Christians we are called to keep the spirit of Christmas alive in our hearts throughout the whole year. So why not leave these Christmas reminders up all year round? Because that is not Christmas. Those lovely traditions, decorations, and lights are not what Christmas is. They serve as a reminder that the Christmas season is special. Holy. Worthy of that extra cheer, goodwill, and love that surrounds the season. We decorate to visually elevate the spirit of Christmas that should already be present within us! While we strive to maintain this joy in our hearts all year, we are only human. We face trials, times of sorrow, of heartache. During these times throughout the year, we may lose sight of that star over Bethlehem. By the time December rolls around again, as the song says, “We need a little Christmas right this very minute!” To refresh our hearts and souls and to show the world that the Christmas spirit is not gone!
My family has attended Christmas Eve Mass every year since we were old enough to stay awake. While many churches have switched to a 10:00 pm service instead of the traditional midnight, my parents’ church in Georgia has not. We got dressed up in our finest to go to God’s house and celebrate the birth of His Son. We arrived early to make sure our large family could all sit together. And as we prayed and waited for the Mass to begin, the choir sang beautiful Christmas carols. It was absolutely beautiful. Throughout Mass we sang together and prayed together with the special joy and peace that Christmas brings. When it came time for Holy Communion, we sang and sang and sang through every verse of one, then two, then three, and finally a fourth Christmas song! We prayed as we sang while so many people approached the altar to take the Body and Blood of Our Lord. As I sat in the pew praying and singing with my husband, my three sisters, and my parents, I couldn’t help but meditate on the singing. What a beautiful form of prayer song is. I could just picture the angels in all their splendor singing along with the whole congregation. I imagined the angels taking our beautiful songs as beams of joy and light and lifting them all the way up to God. I imagined all of creation singing. The birds, the wind in the trees, the waves on the shore, the rain that falls, even the quiet song of the gentle snow. And I thought how happy it must make God to see us all here singing the praises of His wonder and glory and celebrating the awesome birth of His only Son, our Savior. I imagine that in heaven we will all sing all the time with a never-ending joy!
And then I realized. This is how I should keep Christmas in my heart throughout the year. The feeling of peace, joy, pure happiness and love for our Lord and for my family as we all sat together. This is what I want to feel in my heart throughout the year. And I don’t need my Christmas tree, or stockings, or twinkling lights to remind me of that. I only need to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and see again that picture of all creation in songs of praise to the Lord.
And so I have decided for my New Year’s Resolution to be one of song. To keep Christmas in my heart by keeping Christ Himself in my heart and at the center of my life in all that I do. To remind myself daily of the joy that I found in those beautiful Christmas songs all season and especially during that wonderful Midnight Mass. To sing to the Lord the whole year long, not just in church. Whether it is the familiar Christmas carols, the upbeat praise of Christian Rock, hymns from Mass, or simply the song of my own prayers to God. Whether the songs actually come out of my lips to be heard by others, or whether it is a silent song within myself, to offer up my praise, the prayers, my hopes, and even my struggles to God as a song. To greet everyone with a song in my heart. To approach life itself as though there is music within me! This is how I want to keep the spirit of the season throughout the year! Christmas Day may have ended, the Christmas season my come to an end, but I am making a resolution to keep this joy going through the music of the angels all year. To picture myself singing with the angels in a never-ending hymn of praise and thanksgiving to our awesome and loving God. The true song of Christmas. The song of Christ’s love for us. And with this song of joy within me, I pray that I might be able to shine that joy and love to those around me as I share His love for us in my thoughts, my actions, and my words, the whole year through.