Christmas Rejoicing versus Christmas Discouragement

December 2, 2016

A Paraguayan nativity from

Christmas was always my favorite holiday when I was a child. And not just for the obvious reason. It was more than the presents; it was the general sense of goodness in the world around me—from the Christmas music to the Salvation Army bell ringers, the carolers to our own little acts of service around the house and around the neighborhood.

For the last few years, though, Christmas has been a disappointment to me. Mainly because I feel like I’m failing at teaching my children the real meaning of the holiday and at helping them feel and want to be a part of that sense of goodness.

I sure try. We draw names every Sunday and do secret acts of service for family members. Or we are supposed to. It’s now Friday and there are 4 pieces of straw in the manger. So between the 6 of us and 4 days, we managed a collective 4 acts of service, one of which was my 4 year old who laid out my pajamas last night. And while the church’s new Light the World campaign warms my heart, my children have shown no enthusiasm for it so far and couldn’t manage to do any lifting of my household burdens today as I stayed in my bed all day with the stomach flu.  Every night of the week preceding Christmas or every Sunday preceding Christmas (depending on the year), I try to do a little devotional with the kids. It’s based on the Christ-Centered Christmas book. We read some scriptures about one of the figures central during the Savior’s birth, we watch a related Bible video, sing a song, and I give them a figure to add to their own little nativity set.

It’s important to me. But it’s not important to them. I’m hoping it will be some day. But it’s hard on nights when my 4 year old prattles on the entire time about why the angels in the video don’t have wings and my 7 year old throws his angel figure up in the air over the over again, trying to catch it, and my 11 year old puts hers in her mouth (???) and then complains that she already saw the video “A World without Jesus” in Primary and when none of the kids have even heard of the song A Little Town of Bethlehem,  yet they know all of the words to Frosty, Rudolph, and Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree.

At least the devotionals are good for me—they help me re-focus, even when they don’t help me refrain from losing my temper. Tonight I am thinking about the anticipation of Christmas. That feeling that I still remember from my childhood that’s so keenly part of the magic of Christmas.  I explained to the kids that if they magnified that feeling by 100, they still would not come close to the anticipation that we felt the night the Savior was born. A night we had been anticipating since the creation of the earth, for thousands of years. No wonder the heavenly hosts could not contain themselves from singing their praises as they celebrated the baby whose birth was hard-coming and long-awaited.

The speaker in church last Sunday is a famous artist who lives in our ward. He spoke about the color crimson–alizarin crimson. For an artist, it’s a hard pigment because it’s impossible to cover. Even if an artist applies a thick coat over it, in time, you will still see the crimson below. It’s called “ghosting.”  The only way to erase the color is to subject it to continuous bright sunlight, which will fade it to gray and eventually to white.  The speaker applied this to our sins, which are crimson, as Isaiah said, but, if we subject them continuously to the light that is the Savior, they can be white. Christ’s gift to us, said the speaker, is forgiveness. Our gift to him is repentance, is our sins.

And that is why I think I was among those heavenly hosts, even if I wasn’t in Bethlehem singing, I’m sure I was singing and rejoicing wherever I was, even if I was surrounded by small spirits who were throwing things and prattling on and complaining. Because of that, I need to hold tight to the rejoicing aspect of Christmas and the goodness in the world around me, even if that goodness seems to be sorely lacking in my own home! So tell me, how do you rejoice at Christmas? And what can I do to keep from getting discouraged at my children’s seeming inability to grasp my efforts to rejoice?



  1. Sage

    December 2, 2016

    Catherine, I hear you! I struggle to make Christmas Christ-centered every year. I am even one of those moms that tells the kids I am “Santa” and that this story is based on St. Nicholas who lived a long time ago. Reading of your kids reactions made me realize that we want our kids to know things we know because of experience and age, but they are just kids. I think you’re kids are probably getting more than you know from your example. It is like me wanting my 16 year old daughter to know that falling in love now is a bad idea.

  2. Catherine

    December 2, 2016

    Thanks, Sage. That’s a good point. My oldest is almost 14 and I just keep thinking that it can’t be too much to ask that he grasps some of this . . . . I guess I have my own set of Christmas expectations that are hard to meet.

  3. Sel

    December 2, 2016

    I had similar difficulties when my sons were little, and different (but still similar) difficulties now my sons are mid- to late-teenagers. I just throw prompts around like glitter grenades, and hope something will stick. My youngest (14) hates that Christmas decorations and hymns are happening WEEKS before Christmas Day, and is huffy in his dislike. I try not to get irritated by it, and make sure that I’m not sacrificing my contemplation to frustration (way easier said than done).

    Then again, last night I put on a Christmas soundtrack that I know he adores (and had forgotten about) – he cleaned up the kitchen singing full bore to the songs, and even repeated a couple when he was done. Glitter grenade casualty! Success!

    (I use this clip every year for FHE or on an ordinary Thursday/whatever leading up to Christmas – my teens can’t help but watch it. )

  4. Lisa

    December 6, 2016

    I can really relate to the issue of children resisting the spiritual aspects of the season. I have been trying for almost 10 years to observe the four weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas by lighting candles, singing carols, and reading selected scriptures on each of the four Sunday evenings prior to Christmas. For most of this time, it has been a fight with my kids. They argue about who gets to light which candles. They can’t keep their fingers out of the candle wax. They don’t want to sit still. They fight and argue with each other. They make weird noises to distract from the spirit. Sometimes I wonder why we do this or if the tradition is really worth it. A year ago, when someone complained about how “boring” Advent was and why did we have to do it, I had a thought that I shared with them. I told them how I go above and beyond to make their Christmas season special. I plan scads of fun crafts, bake treats with them, decorate the tree, make St. Nicholas come on December 6th, seek out special stories to tell and books to read, go to parties, etc. I do this because I love them and want them to have a fun holiday season. They can return that by acknowledging that Advent is important to *me* and cooperating with this tradition because it is my favorite, and they love *me*. It doesn’t have to be their favorite, but they can respect that it is mine. I think that had some effect on them, at least on the older ones, because things have been better. In fact, our first week of Advent this year, although the 6-year-old was a pill and eventually had to be removed from the room, my 10 and 14-year-olds were cooperative and even posed thoughtful questions and gave thoughtful answers in our discussion time. And the spirit was actually there! A miracle, after all those years. Now, our second week, this past Sunday, everything returned to total disaster, and it sucked. But at least I have seen moments of progress. I figure in a way this is like Family Home Evening… you keep doing it, keep trying even through the difficult moments because it is important. These spiritual aspects of Christmas are important, whether our kids immediately see it or not.

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