My many, many Christmases

Sr Grace Lee

I will begin with a story from the late Fr Bill Heng, a popular Redemptorist preacher in Singapore. He related his best Christmas in the following way.

It was Christmas day in the Holy Land. It was a bad wet day full of mist and gloom. His mood matched the weather. I’m right here where it happened, he said to himself. As he jostled with the wet crowd of people, he thought of the bright lights and festive environment in Orchard Road in Singapore. I was expecting some magical scenario in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. But this is not Christmas as I expected it.

Suddenly it dawned on him…hey, this is it..!  Jesus was really born in a cold and desolate  place, and his parents had nowhere to find shelter. They finally hid in a disused barn. Joseph valiantly gathered the stray straws to create a makeshift bed on the floor for baby Jesus. Mary drew her mantle and covered the shivering baby. She had prepared so carefully for the new baby, but now they had to hurry to Bethlehem to register for the census there.

Fr Bill said that when he realised the truth about the actual event in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, then he understood he was given the grace to participate in spirit in the first Christmas. All his eventual Christmases of light and warmth and merry atmosphere were superficial celebrations hiding the real meaning of Christmas, and it was up to him to relive the real genuine Christmas in order to honour the Jesus who came into this world to show us the real value of love beyond all telling.

Every year my Christmas begins with the traditional nine day novena. I love the songs with its beautiful music and inspiring lyrics. For me what makes Christmas is the midnight Mass where naively I used to expect something magical when I received Holy Communion. And yet I was too superficial to ponder deeply the real meaning of Jesus being born in my heart and to understand its influence in my life. As a human being, the physical and the supernatural elements are closely combined, so that the wonderful refreshments after the Mass made a complete celebration of this unique event.

When I became a sister in an Italian congregation, our Christmas always includes good food and Italian panettone (special Italian cakelike bread) and special chocolates. When I was a novice in Rome, our sister-leader always brought us to all the Christmas cribs around Rome. These were extraordinary cribs, some very elaborate with real scenes of village life. All these symbols and depictions made the Nativity event very real and exciting. After many decades of years, I can still see in my mind’s eye all these fabulous scenes and rejoice in these experiences. And I can now sing as the angels did: GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST AND PEACE TO PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL.

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My Many, Many Christmases

Every year my Christmas begins with the traditional nine day novena …

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