There was nothing more exciting for me as a child than to wake up on Christmas day and open ALL the presents underneath the tree. And there was nothing less exciting for my father than all his kids waking him up at 7am to do this. Children make the equation that Christmas equals presents. Gift giving is a nice gesture but eventually in our lives we need to move past the present equation and childish Christmas notions and draw into a deeper understanding of Christmas.
St Therese of Lisieux credits Christmas for her ‘complete conversion.’ She tells a beautiful story of how she discovered the beautiful spirit of Christmas and Christianity and moved beyond childish ideas.
“Now I will tell you, dear Mother, how I received this inestimable grace of complete conversion. I knew that when we reached home after Midnight Mass I should find my shoes in the chimney-corner, filled with presents, just as when I was a little child, which proves that my sisters still treated me as a baby. Papa, too, liked to watch my enjoyment and hear my cries of delight at each fresh surprise that came from the magic shoes, and his pleasure added to mine. But the time had come when Our Lord wished to free me from childhood’s failings, and even withdraw me from its innocent pleasures. On this occasion, instead of indulging me as he generally did, Papa seemed vexed, and on my way upstairs I heard him say: “Really all this is too babyish for a big girl like Thérèse, and I hope it is the last year it will happen.” His words cut me to the quick. Céline, knowing how sensitive I was, whispered: “Don’t go downstairs just yet—wait a little, you would cry too much if you looked at your presents before Papa.” But Thérèse was no longer the same—Jesus had changed her heart.
Choking back my tears, I ran down to the dining-room, and, though my heart beat fast, I picked up my shoes, and gaily pulled out all the things, looking as happy as a queen. Papa laughed, and did not show any trace of displeasure, and Céline thought she must be dreaming. But happily it was a reality; little Thérèse had regained, once for all, the strength of mind which she had lost at the age of four and a half.”...
More merciful to me even than to His beloved disciples, Our Lord Himself took the net, cast it, and drew it out full of fishes. He made me a fisher of men. Love and a spirit of self-forgetfulness took possession of me, and from that time I was perfectly happy.”
As a child she discovered something more profound than merely receiving gifts. She discovered that giving gifts is just as important - self-forgetfulness and awareness of others gave her perfect happiness – in the words of St Francis, “It is in giving that we receive.”
Christmas can have an ironic contrast. It is a time of peace yet the nibbling thought of unfinished present buying plagues my mind. It’s a time of generosity yet I expect to receive just as many presents as I give. It’s a time of friendship except do not put me in the same room as that relative.
St Therese shows us we need to put Christmas back into the right perspective – the way of simplicity, humility and self-forgetfulness – and all these things that Christmas is meant to be will fall into place.
This simplicity, humility and generosity is the true gift of Christmas. Christ child came in a humble manger, simply before us all as a Man, emptying, forgetting and giving himself so that we may be gifted with life.