Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Light One Candle
It's up to us to keep Christ in Christmas

by Dennis Heaney

(From the Dec. 20, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Dennis Heaney A friend of mine loves to tell how his grandfather would start complaining on Thanksgiving every year about how much he dreaded the coming Christmas. My friend said that if you took his grandfather seriously, which no one in the family did, you’d assume he was the role model for Ebenezer Scrooge.

As my friend got older, he saw through the complaints. It became very clear that his grandfather absolutely loved Christmas, but wasn’t going to admit it. He had made it his role to complain, and part of the annual ritual was that when Grandpa got started Grandma would chime in to say, “Don’t pay attention to him; he loves Christmas” – which Grandpa would vehemently deny and go on to gripe some more.

Everyone saw how important Christmas was to Grandpa when he led the prayer at Christmas dinner. It was evident that he put a lot of thought into the grace he said at the beginning of the meal.

He would open by thanking God for the blessings of the year and he’d enumerate them. If there was a grandchild born, that would be noted, along with the name, the date of birth and sometimes the name of the delivering physician. He’d pray for the deceased, the sick and the troubled in the family and then he would go around the table thanking God for each individual there by name.

The prayer took a little time (my friend, now a successful manufacturing executive, said that his earliest lesson in scheduling was when he learned that sometime before Christmas his grandmother reviewed the year, then estimated the probable length of the prayer and timed her dinner accordingly), but it was a family tradition and a very special time for all present.

My friend laughs when he tells that story because since his grandfather passed away his father has taken on the role, complete with the complaining. As my friend muses, “My day is coming and my kids are already kidding me about it.”

I really enjoy hearing about the Christmas traditions that families pass from generation to generation. Another friend says that every year his family attends Mass on Christmas Eve and then goes home to have oyster stew. He doesn’t know when that tradition started, but his parents did it – and now he and his wife carry it on with their own children and grandchildren.

Two generations of another family I know volunteer on Christmas Eve to serve dinner at a homeless shelter. When they’re done they all go to church together. This year, they’ll be joined by two members of the third generation.

Interestingly, many family traditions center on church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I think about that when I hear people say we’re losing sight of what Christmas is really about, because I firmly believe that despite the secular world around us the only way Christ will not be in our Christmas is if we let it happen.

Granted, Christmas is a busy time and it’s easy to get caught up in the shopping, the travel, the parties and all the other busy-ness. However, we have the power to continue or create traditions that are annual reminders of Who and what we’re really celebrating.

It doesn’t have to be big. Say a special prayer; help at a shelter or soup kitchen; go to church as a family. Traditions have to start some place. Think about one that helps your family keep Christ in Christmas.

(Dennis Heaney is Director of The Christophers, an organization dedicated to the proposition that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. For a free copy of the Christopher News Note “More than a Holiday - Christmas is Christ,” write to: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail:

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