Michelle Martin

Keeping Christmas

Thursday, December 19, 2019

This Christmas season, we plan to attend a Simbang Gabi Mass for the first time.

It’s not so much that we are seeking out the traditional Filipino pre-Christmas novena to the Blessed Mother. It’s more that we have to be picking up Caroline from the train station at the time we would usually be at Mass for the last Sunday before Christmas, and the Saturday vigil Mass at our parish that weekend is part of the novena.

There’s a reception with food afterward, to make it even better.

That’s just one of the new things our family is doing this holiday season, the first where we have two kids in college.

Over the years, our Christmas celebrations have changed dramatically. When we first married, and had all of our parents and extended family in the area, the two days of Christmas Eve and Christmas were kind of a marathon. Tony and I tried to start it off each year by going out for lunch, just the two of us — the calm before the storm. Then there was Christmas Eve Mass with his family, followed by Christmas Eve dinner with his family, followed by a trek out to the suburbs to catch the end of my parents’ Christmas Eve party, help clean up, and then go to Christmas morning Mass, early gathering at my uncle’s house with my dad’s side of the family, later gathering for dinner with my mom’s side of the family, and finally home to collapse.

That didn’t last long. Then there were years of staying up late (with toddlers even) for Midnight Mass, coming home to get the house set for Christmas morning once the kids were finally asleep and traveling to see grandparents on Christmas Day.

Now, as people have passed away and moved away and kids have grown up, we’ll mostly be home for Christmas. We’ll make it to Mass, probably on Christmas Eve, welcome family and friends who stop by, call those who are too far away to visit and sleep as late as Teresa will let us on Christmas Day.

In the afternoon, we’ll likely see a movie, something that’s become our own tradition over the past several years. At the end of the day, I hope we’ll be in good spirits, ready to keep celebrating the Incarnation instead of ready to drop from exhaustion.

That doesn’t mean we’ve dispensed with all the traditions. We still have at least six Nativity scenes displayed, we still make and share our favorite Christmas cookies and we still wake up to full stockings Christmas morning. And in our house, those stockings always have a new toothbrush in with the candy canes and chocolate Santas.

Changing some Christmas traditions is fine, good, even, as our families grow and change. The feast, after all, is about something that was entirely new: God becoming human, in the form of a baby. Accepting that required some pretty big adjustments, starting with Mary and Joseph and extending to the rest of us. Let’s keep Christmas this year by remembering that there’s not one right way to do it.


  • christmas
  • family life