‘Tis the season to welcome the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords: Our Savior, Jesus Christ!

This Christmastide we’ll have five children, my parents, and two dogs (puppies, really) under our roof to celebrate the arrival of the Prince of Peace. Unfortunately, my sister, her husband, and their four children can’t come, although it’s probably for the best. The last time we got together, the neighbors called the police to report a domestic disturbance. The poor dears thought the yelling, screaming, and thumping was indicative of some criminal occurrence, when, in actuality, we were merely enjoying a family birthday gathering. Next time, we’ll invite them over.

Traditionally, we attend the family Mass on Christmas Eve together, where children of the parish sing carols and hymns and participate in a pageant featuring Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, a cadre of angels, and a handful of squirmy but cute preschool-aged farm animals. At our parish, the part of Baby Jesus is played by a real baby. We aren’t sure how this year’s Jesus can hope to compete with last year’s, an infant boy who slept peacefully through all the knocking on inn doors, Gloria in excelsis Deos (complete with ringing bells), and the many, many visitors to the manger. 

I can’t remember being more excited than I was as a child at Christmas Eve Mass, knowing that Jesus AND Santa Claus were coming. When our children were younger, I attempted to get them to calm their wiggly bodies and quiet their flapping gums during Mass by reminding them that Baby Jesus was coming, and we wanted to be quiet for the baby. “Is he sleeping?” at least one child would ask in the world’s loudest stage whisper. I wanted to snap, “Well, not anymore!” Instead, however, I would smile and nod with my finger pressed to my lips, hoping against hope that no one would start singing “Away in the Manger” during the consecration like last year, or pull out some other mortifying-slash-sanctifying behavior they seemingly reserved for high holy days alone.

If you’re a parent of a busy and/or vocal little person or persons, I pray you won’t feel guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed if your kiddo is extra amped at Christmas Mass. The God of the universe humbled himself to come to us as a helpless infant — to be like us in all things but sin. And so we parents are often humbled by our children as they learn to turn their hearts ever more to the Christ Child. By bringing your children to Mass, you are doing very holy work, even if it doesn’t look or feel like it on the surface. And, if you’re a parishioner sitting near a family with young ones, I pray you give both parents and children the gift of a sincere smile. By doing so, you show these brothers and sisters in Christ that there is room for all God’s children in his house – even those who leave you longing for a well-earned Silent Night.

This year, we used a couple of family-friendly Advent devotionals with scripture and stories to focus our intention on preparing the way of the Lord. Each of our children took turns reading aloud, and I used the provided prompts to ask poignant questions so the kids could talk over each other in an attempt to contribute nonsensical responses. Nearly halfway through the Advent season, the reflection question asked us to name our favorite part of Christmas. “No school!” was a popular answer. “Getting presents” came in a close second. “Jesus being born in our hearts” was the response that made me think I could hang on to my “World’s Okayest Catholic Mom” title for at least another week or so.

One of my favorite things about this time of year is sitting in the silence with my husband after the children and dogs have settled in for the night, gazing at the flickering lights on the Christmas tree. I never quite appreciated the lyrics, “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again,” until I had a gaggle of children running around the house alternatively provoking undesirable behavior from their siblings and complaining about being boooored or hunnnngryyy all day long. After another loud and crazy day, quiet stillness is exactly the balm the Divine Physician (and my ringing ears) ordered.

When the last Christmas card has been mailed, the final gift has been given, and the recycling bin is filled to the brim; when the friends and relatives have taken their leave and the dishes and laundry and other piles threaten to overwhelm; when the last piece of pie has disappeared and the final slice of Christmas ham has been snatched off the kitchen table by the big dog, the love of God alone endures. May the light of this love shine within and through us at Christmas and always. Amen.

Renshaw is a mother and author who lives in suburban Portland.