Celebrate a Truly Catholic Christmas

Tips for families on fully honoring the season’s spiritual reason

The Malloy family fully celebrates Christmas, keeping Christ at the center of all festivity.
The Malloy family fully celebrates Christmas, keeping Christ at the center of all festivity. (photo: Courtesy of Emily Malloy)

The hustle and bustle of shopping for gifts. The decorations and displays going up even before Advent starts. Parties and plans for baking goodies begin. With all the distractions, what can we do to keep our attention on the wondrous event in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and fully partake in the joyous time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior?

“While there are many customs in the Church’s spiritual treasury that families can use for a truly Catholic Christmas, there’s one essential point for parents to remember and use as a guide. Parents need to always keep in front of them the spiritual nature of Christmas,” Father Jeff Kirby, pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church in Indian Land, South Carolina, told the Register. 

“We can’t replace secular busyness with Christian busyness. Parents have to discern what customs might, or might not, work for their families. The task isn’t to do a lot of things, but to focus on the right thing: the coming of the Lord Jesus. With this point of discernment in place, parents will be better prepared to lead their children and families into a truly Catholic Christmas. As parents discern the customs and traditions of the Church, they should select the ones that best suit their families and help their children to love and grow closer to the Lord Jesus and the joys of heaven.”

Father Kirby pointed out some of the many customs within the Church’s spiritual treasury that “families have found great help in” during this season. 

“We are a universal family, and our Church has countless customs and traditions for the Catholic family.” Among them are the Jesse Tree devotion, Advent calendar with Bible verses, weekly family blessing of the Advent wreath, singing Advent songs instead of Christmas ones, and performing weekly works of mercy as a family. These might include making cards for the homebound and helping at a social-outreach center or food pantry.

Families can together sing the O Antiphons from Dec. 17-25, celebrate the Las Posadas (“The Inns”) religious festival with Latino friends, pray the Church’s evening prayer daily and offer petitions together as a family. In addition, families can slowly decorate their home in preparation for the Christ Child — including setting up the crèche, with the manger remaining empty, awaiting Christmas Day.

Acts of charity are important to the celebrations and preparations in the Mississippi home of Timothy and Emily Malloy, and they center on the crèche. The Malloys have four children ages 3 to 8. “Often in our family, my kids will do something selfless and not prompted by Mom and Dad,” Emily told the Register. For every kindness, the children get to place precut pieces of paper “hay” into the manger, “with each little act preparing a home for Christ. And, finally, as we welcome him, that external sign of how we prepared our hearts for him carries through the season as well.”

Emily, who serves as the floral and food editor of TheologyofHome.com, thinks of Advent as “a spiritual gestation, gestating with Our Lady, to prepare for the coming of a Child. … It’s a sacred special time. The whole idea is waiting — not for something, but for Someone.” We must strive not to “get caught up in all the pomp around us.” We must remember “the Baby was born into the most quiet, humblest, obscure situation. When we’re noisy, we don’t hear him.” She added, “The surest way to have a holy Christmas is to right order or focus our priorities of the season.” 

Emily is writing the forthcoming book Theology of Home IV: Arranging the Seasons, which will be published next year and which deals with living “in the present moment.” She said arranging the seasons is at the heart of it, and “keeping a holy Christmas is essential to the book about living in the present moment. The Church in her wisdom has arranged all in preparation for the big highlights of the liturgical year, Christmas and Easter.”

John Cuddeback, professor of philosophy at Christendom College and founder of the “LifeCraft” blog (Life-Craft.org), explains that Christmas has the Catholic dimension, of course, and “also has the dimension of eating and other simple but rich ways of being together with family and friends.” He believes these “ordinary” activities in the celebration of Christmas are imbued “with supernatural significance,” such as reading aloud and singing together as a family, which “are two ways of deepening relationships and strengthening the domestic church.” For example, “read aloud Dickens’ A Christmas Carol rather than watch the movie,” he advised. He offers a reading list. “Do people genuinely say, ‘Let’s observe Christmas by taking out our great inheritance of Christmas carols?’ Really do the singing thing,” Cuddeback emphasized. 

Then there is also the singing of carols at Christmas Mass. Emily said her family makes it a priority to go to Christmas Mass on the morning of Christmas. Although midnight Mass is a favorite for many, at the morning Mass, “you can sense the stillness and quiet of the manger on Christmas morning.” 

Outlining the family’s priorities for the special day, Emily said, “We have breakfast, then go to 10 o’clock Mass to remember the point of the day. Not till we get home can they open the goodies under the tree. Doing this within the domestic church is extremely important because the relationship with God Incarnate is the point of the season — and that naturally carries on through the season.”

Emily stressed that the liturgical calendar rightly orders the domestic church during the 12 Days of Christmas. The Malloys’ celebrations include the family hosting a New Year’s Eve party at home with friends to honor Our Lady. 

“On Christmas Day,” Emily said, “the fun is [and should be] just beginning!”