Our holiday photo album from 2006 (back when I took real photos, and put them in real albums) tells the tale of a frantic family clawing its way through the Christmas season. I had organized the pictures into “rounds”, as though we were fighting a boxing match, not celebrating a liturgical season. “Round 1” was wrangling four children under the age of six into dress clothes and snow suits and then taking them to the Christmas Eve mass, where they would progressively become more tired and more cranky as the hour wore – sluggishly – on. Ding! “Round 2” was opening presents with my parents that evening, “Round 3” was opening presents with my husband’s parents the next morning, “Round 4” was brunch with my dad’s family, “Round 5” was supper with my father-in-law’s family, “Round 6” was supper the next day with my mom’s family. Ding, ding, ding, ding! By December 27th, I felt battered and bruised, exhausted from the busyness, and the constant on-the-go-ness of an event-filled Christmas season. I felt like I’d not only been in a boxing match, but that I’d been the sure loser.
Week 4: The Pre-Christmas Pause
“The greatest things are accomplished in silence – not in the clamor and display of superficial eventfulness…” – Servant of God, Romano Guardini
Since that Christmas, not a lot has changed, at least logistically. We are blessed to have the a good chunk of our family living nearby, giving us the opportunity to see an enormous number of relatives in just a few days, which is a blessing and a privilege not everyone enjoys. We still spend time with them all – Christmas Eve with my parents, Christmas Day with my husband’s, an afternoon come-and-go with my dad’s family, a sleigh ride in the country with my mom’s.
One thing we have tried to incorporate into our Advent season, in preparation for the blessed busyness of the Christmas season, is a pre-Christmas pause.
The idea came during a year when we were making a conscious effort to embrace my husband’s Northern European roots. We fine-tuned our Swedish meatball recipe, stocked up on lingonberry jam from IKEA, celebrated Midsummer’s Day and the Feast of St. Lucy, and instituted the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod in our family.
Jolabokaflod, roughly translated as “the Christmas book flood”, is the annual release of newly published titles right before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Icelandic families open their gifts, including a new book for each member of the family, then spend the rest of the evening sipping hot chocolate and quietly reading. I can’t think of a lovelier way to spend a tranquil and cozy Christmas Eve.
Except, if your family is anything like ours, Christmas Eve is anything but quiet. We’re eating an early supper, rushing off to get seats at the soon-to-be-packed Christmas Eve mass, then opening presents with five excited children and five delighted adults well into the night. Booking off the evening for silent reading is not an option.
So instead, I looked at my calendar, quickly being crowded with errands and events, and scheduled in a Pause. A Saturday morning when we were all home. I blocked it off in the family calendar, so that it wouldn’t get supplanted with play dates or errands or chores. I bought everyone a book (cheap, from the library book sale), made hot chocolate and the kind of cinnamon buns you buy in a tube, and invited everyone to the living room to unwrap their books and spend a few hours quietly reading.
Were the teenagers super excited to receive their newly out-of-circulation library books? They were not. Did the twelve-year-old boy thank me sweetly but swiftly, stuff a cinnamon bun down his throat, then spend the rest of the morning playing on his PlayStation? Yep. Did the two youngest girls tire quickly of reading and chose to watch poorly made YouTube videos together instead? Absolutely. And did my husband, once his coffee was done, wander off to watch sports highlights in his pyjamas? He sure did. But for one morning, one little slice of time before the frenzied festivity of Christmas began, we were all under the same roof, doing nothing. And it was lovely.
“Love pauses, contemplates the mystery, and enjoys it in silence.” – Blessed Charles de Foucauld