Do you remember the culture wars over whether stores should be stocking their shelves and playing Christmas music right after Remembrance Day, well before the beginning of Advent?
Or remember when the debates about replacing “Merry Christmas” greetings with “Happy Holidays” salutations raged?
Stores used to be closed every Sunday, keeping the Lord’s Day sacred and holy, whereas now it’s questionable if they will remain closed even one day a year on Christmas day.
How do Christians keep Christ in Christmas in today’s post-Christian age awash in secularized culture?
Gratitude is the interior posture the Calgary Diocese invites us to cultivate this Advent in preparation for Christmas. Rather than largely focusing on gift buying and acquiring, let the focus be on having eyes to see that All Is Gift. How are the ways that I Am Blessed in this Advent and Christmas liturgical season?
The annual diocesan I Am Blessed campaign is an opportunity to reflect on how we can each pray, act and give to become more other-focused during this holy season.
Peter Baltutis shared some of his thoughts on this with Faithfully and he talked through some of his family’s Advent and Christmas traditions. He’s husband to his wife Leanne and father of three children aged 14, 12 and 6, as well as the associate professor of History and Religious Studies at St. Mary’s University in Calgary.
“It is really hard to combat the commercialism and materialism and constant bombardment of ads on TV, ads on the radio. We feel countercultural trying to deemphasize that and focus on spirituality,” said Baltutis.
When he and Leanne first got married they had intentional conversations about how to keep the focus on the birth of Jesus and His Incarnation rather than buying goods.
They begin each year by recognizing that Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas Day. On the first Sunday in Advent they place their Advent wreath at the centre of their dinner table and light the first candle at suppertime. It’s a simple reminder that they are assuming a posture of waiting for someone special and important to arrive.
During Advent they decorate their Christmas tree with ornaments that hold meaning and memories from years past. They see this as a sacred time of passing on family stories and sharing memories from the past year.
The most important Christmas decoration is the nativity set at the base of the Christmas tree. The children build a stable with Lincoln Logs building toys around the Holy Family figurines.
“It’s a fun exercise as a metaphor, this idea that we are cooperating with God on Earth, the Incarnation is here, we need to help it, give a home to it,” said Baltutis.
The Baltutis Family attends an Advent retreat at the FCJ Centre in Calgary as a way of preparing their hearts for Christmas. They also avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to turn back to Christ and make interior room for Him.
They pray the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Christmas Eve followed by a celebratory meal.
When it comes to Christmas Day and gift-giving, the Baltutis Family tries to keep a focus on gift-giving, rather than gift-receiving. Peter is originally from the United States of America and so at Christmas he flies his family back to Florida to celebrate Christmas Day with extended family. They each draw a name to buy a gift for and on Christmas Day they intentionally go around a circle, taking turns giving the gift they took time and care, to either make or buy, for that family member. Often the emphasis is on family time -- so giving the gift of an experience, such as candy and movie tickets, for example.
“There is a real concern about spoiling our kids,” said Baltutis. “We don’t want them to expect or demand a lot of gifts, walking around with a sense of entitlement. We try to counterbalance that by doing a service to those in need around us.”
The children consider the needs of the broader community by choosing a name from the Jesse Tree at their St. Patrick Parish in Calgary. The children help choose the gift items and wrap them.
“We are intentional about our messaging. It’s not simply doing things and assuming the kids pick up on it…. It’s having intentional conversations about key themes like generosity, giving, loving our neighbours, serving those on the margins of society,” said Baltutis.
On the other side of the city at St. Joseph’s Church, Marilou LeGeyt is trying to cultivate a similar focus on intentional gift-giving with her family and church music ministry members.
“We love Christmas gift giving, but we also want to teach our children the real gift of Christmas. How do we give thanks to God who has given us everything? And how do we share this gratitude with each other? I think for a start, we have to appreciate what we’ve been given and to take care of it really well.” said LeGeyt.
She is encouraging her family and friends to show their love for one another by either making a gift, upcycling/regifting, offering a talent/act of service or the gift of time together creating a shared experience.
It’s the time spent with our loved ones, not our material possessions that makes Christmas extra meaningful, said LeGeyt.
“We can’t be more excited!”
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers