By Becky May
Whether it is watching A Christmas Story on repeat, baking a homemade cookie recipe, or decorating the tree with family members there is something people take away from their own childhoods and incorporate it into a family tradition of their own. Fathers Art Flores, OMI and David Muñoz, OMI tell some of their own holiday habits.
“As a child, I have fond memories of celebrating Christmas with family and friends. For many years, our family has gathered on Christmas Eve to visit and celebrate. We share a meal of tamales and turkey. Actually, making the tamales is very typical Mexican custom that gathers us together as we make dozens of tamales we eat on Christmas Eve. Presents, caroling, “catching up,” going to Mass – all of these things I remember, and it makes me smile,” said Fr. Flores, OMI.
Sometimes we take these traditions with us even when we cannot be at home. Father David says that is what he did when he traveled across the country on the holidays.
“I have two main traditions that I follow during Christmas time. Decorating the Christmas tree and setting up the Nativity scene is by far my most favorite tradition. I remember when I was in Rome being asked by a brother Oblate to help with decorating the Christmas tree because he was not familiar with the tradition. When I arrived to help I was amused to see that one could see the decorations but not the tree. My second tradition is more recent. I was introduced to the film “The Polar Express”. It has become a tradition because of its emphasis on belief. Christmas is the time for us to celebrate the gift of faith. It may begin with believing in Santa Claus, but ultimately leads us to the true “spirit of the season”, Jesus Christ who brings joy and peace to all hearts,” said Father David.
Although Christmas is a time for family togetherness, pastoral duties can often times make it more complicated for priests to see their own families. Father David expresses his excitement for this year’s holidays just to spend quality family time.
“This Christmas will be a joyous one for me. I have not celebrated Christmas with my family since 2005, my first year as a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate. This does not mean that those other Christmas celebrations since 2005 were not joyous, just that there’s something about being close to family. As Oblates these opportunities are rare. St. Eugene de Mazenod understood that. On December 25, 1808, St Eugene de Mazenod wrote a letter to his mother in which he stated the following: ‘Ah! My very dear mother, did you think that I was not with you this night. Indeed, yes, darling mother, we spent the night together at the foot of the altar, which for me represented the crib in Bethlehem; together we offered our gifts to our Savior and asked him to come to be born in our hearts and strengthen all that is weak in us.’ This letter from St. Eugene inspired me during those years when I was far from home and could not celebrate Christmas with my family. St. Luke says that the Blessed Mother places Jesus in a manger, a container from which animals are fed. In this way he is prefigured as the Bread of Life given for all, the Sacrament of the Eucharist whose presence fills us. We are nourished at the Altar of the Lord. I came to understand that it was precisely at the celebration of the Eucharist each Christmas that I encountered my family as they themselves celebrated in their own parish church. Although we as Oblates may be far from home, we are never far from our families. For St. Eugene, the Eucharist allowed us to transcend time and place,” said Father David.
Attending church is often times one of these family traditions on Christmas, and both Fathers Art and David stress the significance of Christ in Christmas that is sometimes cast aside by presents and the commercialized Christmas.
“The foundation of all our family gatherings, however, is the faith we share in the birth of Jesus. Now that I’m ordained, our gatherings begin with Mass on Christmas Eve. St. Eugene’s words in the Preface are very relevant to me: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, when the appointed time came, was sent by the Father and filled with the Spirit ‘to bring the good news to the poor…’ St. Eugene’s charism that he gave to the Congregation is his deep love for Jesus and the desire to share the love of Christ with everyone. These days, our family chooses not to exchange gifts anymore, but we still gather to welcome the Christ to our world, grateful for the salvation we have received from God,” said Father Art.
Father David says it is prayer that is essential on Christmas.
“As we are present before Christ in the Eucharist we are present also to each other united as the Body of Christ. At Christmas we pray that Christ be born in our hearts and in the hearts of our family members.”