This is the fifth of my holiday-themed posts on the Christmas traditions of St. Anthony Messenger Press (SAMP) employees. One more post with their reflections will be coming soon. These stories are a gift from our family to yours.
Gift-giving can be a source of tension at Christmastime. We try to balance being generous and fulfilling our kids’ and relatives’ wishes with being frugal and freeing ourselves from consumerism. So if you don’t have all your gifts bought yet, here’s some ideas for how to rethink Christmas gift-giving.
Media Producer Matt Wielgos and his wife, Mary Ella, say that their six children (Rachel, 19, Nicole, 17, Joshua, 15, Luke, 12, Kateri, eight, and Adam, five) are taught from the youngest age that “it is in giving that we receive.” Matt tries to connect the gift-giving on Christmas Eve to “the gift of Christ to the world.” He says, “The gifts are always within our means and often accentuate the interests and gifts of the receiver. It’s a moment of affirmation of the receiver as we recognize their gifts, interests and traits.”
They spend Christmas Eve with extended family: “We often employ the tradition of oplatki, a Slavic tradition that recalls the breaking of bread. It is a special time of hope and well wishes for all. Often, it’s a moment of reconciliation between family members.
“We’ve never really accentuated the Santa Claus theme. He is called St. Nicholas in our house. We’ve simply found that, by my wife and I not overdoing it, the kids seem to be able to focus on the central event of Jesus coming into the world.
“Christmas Mass is the highlight of our celebration. Our Christmas Day meal always concludes with a ‘birthday cake for Jesus,’ complete with candles and song. We may recount the story of the bishop (St. Nicholas) sharing his fortune with those who were to be sold into slavery unless they paid their debt. Like Jesus, he paid their debt; he gave so others might live. That’s why we give on Christmas.”
One of our book editors, Mary Hackett, has her children, Brigid (11) and Colm (five), save whatever money they earn doing household chores and helping neighbors or receive for birthdays. She asks that her children, instead of buying something for her or her husband, Greg, to pick a favorite charity.
“One night close to Christmas,” Mary says, “we have a mailing party—instead of a wrapping party—and talk about who we are donating to and why. We say a prayer for whomever we are sending to. My kids decorate their envelopes and write personal notes.
“Over the years, Brigid has protected endangered animals (Rocky, an endangered wolf, was one of her favorites) and helped children with terminal cancer. Colm has bought tents for people in India and fed impoverished people in refugee camps. As a family, we’ve helped children with AIDS, women with breast cancer and a Sudanese village to build a school. We don’t give much, but we knew that any little bit helped–and we knew that these gifts would not end up in a recycling plant or yard sale the next year.”
The family of Joan McKamey, editor of our newsletter Every Day Catholic, gets involved in her husband Jon’s projects for the Knights of Columbus. He’s a member of the local chapter in southeastern Indiana.
Joan explains one of the Knights’ projects is especially intense at Christmastime: “Our Knights and their families contribute gifts for the children served by Gibault Children’s Services. Founded in 1921 by the Indiana Knights of Columbus, Gibault serves children with mild emotional disturbances, aggressive and oppositional behaviors, substance-abuse issues, victims and perpetrators of physical and sexual abuse, learning-disabled children, and children with a variety of clinical issues in residential and detention environments.”
Jon, Joan and their daughter, Claire, joined the residents of the group homes in Shelbyville, Indiana, for their family Christmas celebration one year. “It was really touching to witness the young people celebrating Christmas with their families and each other,” says Joan. Claire, who will turn 16 on December 28 this year, was especially touched.
Stay tuned for one more Christmas-themed post from the employees at St. Anthony Messenger Press. We’d love to hear from your regarding your traditions!