won't be Christmas without any presents!” Jo March wails in the opening line of Louisa May Alcott's classic, Little Women. And then the March family goes on to experience its best, most meaningful Christmas ever.
I wish I could say that my family pulled off the same feat last year, when an acute shortage of time and money made it impossible to put gifts under the tree.
Not that our children—all in high school, college or beyond—complained.
Still, our pared-down celebration had a meager, unfinished feel. It's not yet something I'd choose to mention in a “memorable family Christmas” story of the type that I've often written for Catholic publications in December.
As I have interviewed people for Christmas stories, though, it always struck me afresh that what makes Christmas memorable isn't the presents, but the moments of insight into what it is that we celebrate.
Such a moment came to me at age 6 when, in my pale-green-satin angel robe and cardboard wings, I helped create a living Nativity scene.
Over the years, other insights came as I sat quietly in front of the crèche, sang carols at a nursing home, pondered the Gospel at midnight Mass, took a long walk one snowy Christmas afternoon.
For all of us, glimpsing something of God's great love revealed in the Incarnation is the best Christmas gift imaginable. And the personal transformation that God can effect as we open ourselves to these glimpses is the best gift we can give others, starting with our families.
Moments of insight can't be produced. But, by our approach to Christmas, we can welcome them. Simplifying our lives so as to include time for prayer, reflection and service to others furthers that end.
Yes, a “Christmas Gift Guide” like the one you hold in your hand can be helpful. Not so helpful is secular America's approach to the season—a frantic social schedule, long hours at the mall, and a focus on material things that takes its cue from “Greed” and “Who Wants to Be a Milionaire.”
This “Shopping Season” approach to Christmas makes me grateful that, in my family, last year's financial constraints apply this Christmas, too!
Louise Perotta writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.