The Anglican Journal asked readers to tell us about things they have done that have made Christmas more meaningful. Here are some stories:
A meaningful feast in the company of new friends
Christmas 2013 was everything we could have hoped for. Under the tree were treats for everyone. The turkey and trimmings were prepared with care. Our table was filled with the chatter and laughter of beautiful young people. But the young people were not our own children and grandchildren. They were students from several African countries attending McGill University. We had been delivering winter coats and jackets from our church community to the International Student Centre when we met Nellie, a vivacious young lady from Kenya. When we invited her to our home for Christmas, she asked if she could bring some friends who were also in a program for African scholars. Soon, we had invited 12 for Christmas dinner! Many of our friends offered to help. The students were from Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda, in touch with their families only through Skype and email. “My mother says thank you! She couldn’t believe you were having us all in your home,” one of them told us. Amid laughter and storytelling, we learned about one another. When we asked God to bless our food and our time together, the students nodded in delight. This was part of their tradition as well. The evening went too quickly. With hugs, and our hearts filled with gratitude, we decided it had been one of our best Christmases ever!—Sue Winn, Anglican diocese of Montreal
The songs that bind us together
I like to sing, but I usually just sing with the choir for Christmas and Easter. I think being involved just at those times makes it kind of a special thing, and I think that the close study of music and the words that go with it, going over the pronunciation and articulation of the words with a fine-toothed comb, really drives home what those words are and what they mean. They become part of me as I sing them in rehearsal every week, and this gives me a chance to dwell on their beauty.
I don’t necessarily have a favourite song, and the carols and music that are most meaningful to me change from year to year, but recently our choir has been doing pieces by Rachmaninoff. The Russian words are lovely and strange, and they drive home the beauty and strangeness and mystery of Christmas. When I sing these unfamiliar words in a foreign language, I feel the Orthodox sense of mystery and ancientness that the music reflects.
But there is one constant: every year we end with Silent Night. This is always a beautiful moment for the congregation, at midnight when it is snowing outside, and I think there is something important about this repetition.
This year was different for me. I didn’t sing in the choir because I spent the autumn months living overseas, and when Advent rolled around I was visiting some friends in Scotland. I went to the Advent service at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, and even though I was on the other side of the ocean, I noticed that they were singing a lot of the same music that we sang at St. Margaret’s, back in Winnipeg.
Every family has traditions, but sometimes we grow out of them. I have found myself wondering, with some of my family’s traditions, why we need to keep doing these things just because we’ve always done them. It’s different, though, when you share a tradition with a whole community. There are no blood ties binding people in a church together—instead we have liturgical traditions. I think it’s lovely that even if we don’t share things throughout the whole year, we still have that tradition and that liturgy every year. This is what we have in common.—Annalee Giesbrecht, diocese of Rupert’s Land
A time for reflection
One thing I noticed this year is that some of our Christmas hymns offer snapshots, “Polaroid moments” of the Nativity Story. Away in the Manger features the one moment when the baby is quiet, while In the Bleak Midwinter mentions the moment when Mary kisses Jesus on the cheek. There is no Christmas hymn I’m aware of that talks about Mary changing Jesus’ diapers or fussing with him during feeding time. As any parent knows, those messy moments are as much about parenting as those nice, sweet, sentimental moments.
Christmas is the Feast of the Incarnation. Incarnation is about God entering into the full range of human experience: the joys, the sorrows, and the boring mediocrities, and transforming them. To be incarnational in our spirituality is to be aware that those messy moments, those moments of failure and disappointment, can become moments of divine grace as well as those happy moments of triumph and success.
Some stress that in the commercial Christmas season, there is an unspoken obligation to be “happy” even when one does not feel particularly merry or joyful, especially if one is going through a difficult time. Christians can offer this: Christmas as a time of prayer and reflection as we offer all of our lives, both joyful and sorrowful, to God. For as Cecil Francis Alexander puts it: “He feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth our own gladness.” —The Rev. Justin Cheng, Assistant Curate, St Paul’s Nanaimo, St Philip’s Cedar, St John’s Ladysmith, diocese of British Columbia