Keeping Christmas

Last year, the week before Christmas found me in a panic. In a last-minute fit of anxiety, I wiped the family calendar clean of all outside activities and, in bright red marker, wrote the words “CHRISTMAS BAKING” on Dec. 23.

I was determined: We would have rum balls. We would have chocolate-drizzled pretzels. We would have delicate butter cookies filled with gumdrop surprises. We would have gingerbread men sporting button-down shirts and darling bowties. We would have peanut-butter fudge, chocolate fudge and penuche. Yes sir, we would have cookie platters to die for. Even if it killed me.

It almost did. You see, in all my optimistic planning, I had neglected to account for the fact that I was six months pregnant. I had also conveniently overlooked the fact that I had six other children who happened to be bouncing off the walls with a sugar infused, pre-holiday rush of energy.

But, at the time, none of that mattered. There was baking to be done. I started with the fudge. When I pulled out my mixing bowls and set the ingredients on the counter, several small bodies immediately descended upon me. They climbed chairs and elbowed their way toward the good stuff. They begged. They touched. They tasted.

I remained resolute. I muddled my way through a batch of fudge, set it aside to cool and then dove into the next recipe. It wasn't until I was midway through a double recipe of gingerbread dough that the commotion in the kitchen and the throbbing pain in my legs made me second-guess my culinary zeal. After breaking up a candy-cane sword fight, settling a toddler tantrum and retrieving my measuring cups from the toy box, I began to feel just a tiny bit discouraged.

Why is it that preparing for Christmas is idyllic only in its brainstorming stage? So often, executing even the best-laid plan is quite a different story. My saving grace — last year as in so many years past — is that, at some point, it always comes to me that the truest joys of Christmas are found in the least busy moments.

Mary knew this. At that first Christmas all those years ago, the Blessed Mother did not run around the stable in a panic because she had no egg nog to offer the shepherds. Scripture tells us very little about anything Mary might have said or done at the Savior's birth. This alone is telling: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Like Mary, we too can “keep” the things of Christmas — all the little details of the birth of Jesus — and reflect on them in our hearts

In the midst of the inevitable commotion of my family's Christmas this year, I intend to bear in mind Our Lady's example of doing less and observing more. I will keep my children's beaming faces and eyes wide with anticipation as they gather around the crèche before the midnight Mass. I will keep 4-year-old Stephen's precious voice belting out “Away in a Manger” with all his innocent heart. I will keep the candlelit beauty of the adorned altar.

I will keep the communal sense of warmth and joy that surrounds us in the pews at Christmas Mass. And when at last our Savior comes, I pray that I will keep him, too. I pray that I will welcome him with joy and keep him always in my heart.

Even when I'm in the kitchen.

Danielle Bean writes from Belknap, New Hampshire.

Horace Vernet, “The Angel of Death,” 1851

Don’t Wait to Cram for Your ‘Final Exam’

“Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (CCC 1022)

Francisco de Zurbarán, “The Family of the Virgin,” ca. 1650

Why Do We Ask Mary to Pray for Us?

“After her Son’s Ascension, Mary ‘aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.’ In her association with the apostles and several women, ‘we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation.’” (CCC 965)