Nachos, Pop-Up Books, Presents, and Presence

December 19, 2018

The following is my weekly letter to the Bishop Chatard parent community:

I post this gentle ‘reason for the season’ reminder each year. May you and your family enjoy your time together this holiday season, and may you feel the loving presence of Christ in your homes now and always.

Let me start by saying my kids love Christmas presents as much as any other kids — always have. But now that the four of them are older (ages 27 and up) and have families of their own, we take more opportunities to sit around during the holidays to reminisce. And when it comes to their Christmas memories, it is not about what presents they received. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember talk of presents ever coming up at all.

We talk about going to 6:00 p.m. Mass and then home to change into pajamas and enjoy our Christmas Eve nachos served with a glass bottle of Coke. We talk about our family sitting in a circle and each of us reading a Christmas book. We laugh about how our oldest son always chose a pop-up book and read the book with different voices for each of the characters.

I share how each year I would go up in the attic, get an old pair of boots I kept around just for this reason, rub ashes from the fireplace on the soles of the boots and proceed to make Santa footprints all over the living room. We would always remember a plate of cookies with milk for Santa and some carrots or apples on the front porch for the reindeer (FYI – if there is snow, a small potato cut in half the long way with an additional v-shape wedge cut from the end makes for a great reindeer hoof print).

The kids share stories about all of them sleeping on mattresses on the floor of the same bedroom, and finally the excitement and fatigue catching up with them and one-by-one falling asleep. They were always careful to have new batteries in the walkie-talkies, so that bright and early (never later than 5:00 a.m.) they could call Dad on the walkie-talkie and tell me they were awake and ready. I would tell them to stay in their room while I went out, turned on the tree lights, lit the fireplace and made sure everything was ready. They would run out and stare at all of the wrapped presents that had appeared overnight.

We would begin by reading the letter Santa always left, which told the kids to keep being good and always  mentioned at least one good thing each of them had done. The letter ended with a reminder that the day was not really about him but about Jesus. We talk about how we would open presents, eat a Dad-cooked Christmas breakfast and clean the kitchen all before 8:00 a.m.

And never once in this walk down memory lane is there mention about what was inside any of those wrapped presents. Our memories are about being together. Our memories are about how much love there is in our house during the holidays. The goofy traditions are our goofy traditions. We love these traditions because we love the people with whom we are building and perpetuating these traditions.

That is the gift I receive each year. Like so many of you, I am blessed with a beautiful, caring family whom I love and who love me. I thank God every day for this gift and around the Christmas holidays, make every effort to double-up on those prayers of gratitude.

During the Christmas season, we celebrate the birth of Jesus and ask him to be present in our lives. If you are feeling like He has turned down your invitation, look around. He may look a lot like your spouse or your children or some other friend or family member.

Christmas is about the Presence, not the presents.

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