By Teresa Tomeo
Those of us who are doing our best to try to follow the teachings of the Church know enough not to take our cues from secular society, especially at this time of year, in terms of what the world says is important. We try not to get sucked into the culture of consumerism and commercialism, which is what has become society’s idea of the reason for the season: an emphasis on the material instead of the spiritual. Many of us have been there and done that in our former lives and had our own “V8” moments, so to speak.
That said, some of us are now striving so hard to be good Catholics that we don’t allow for balance. We are replacing that former drive for materialism with the push for perfectionism. No wonder I hear many Catholics complain about the holidays — some even going so far as to say they can’t wait until the season is over.
We’re trying way too hard and missing the joy and beauty of the season because we try to do it all: the cleaning, the cooking, the planning, the wrapping, not to mention the organizing of an untold amount of parish Christmas events — all by ourselves.
I don’t know how we came up with this idea that being a good Catholic means we can’t ask for help or can’t use a store-bought pie crust, but I know it’s true, because I’ve fallen prey to this approach myself. I want to give till it hurts, and end up hampering the entire holiday experience.
A story my cousin shared with me a few years ago helped snap me back to reality and has now become a treasure that I pass on to other frazzled folks trying to be some sort of Christmas super-Catholic.
This happened when my cousin’s four children were still in grade school. It was Christmastime, and she was juggling a number of activities and trying to keep up. One morning, as she was getting the kids ready for school, her youngest son asked if she had baked a treat for his class goodie day. A wave of guilt and frustration came over my cousin when she realized she had completely forgotten to make a batch of cookies. But then as she was packing the last lunch, she glanced over at the pantry and had a flash of genius as she noticed a box of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls sitting there.
Since it was Christmastime and she — at some point — was planning on eventually getting around to the baking, she also happened to have icing, sprinkles, and all the fixings for cookie decorating on hand. Eureka!
After a few short minutes, with green icing, red candies and powdered sugar, she had a plate of what looked like those fancy, pretty as a picture, Yule logs you buy at the bakery. My cousin’s no-fuss Yule logs became the most popular item for goodie day. Everyone was happy — especially my cousin, because the simple but special treats, which became a tradition, meant less stress and more family time.
Now, I am not saying we shouldn’t try and do our best for our loved ones. I enjoy homemade meals and baked goods as much as the next person. And, especially as a full-blooded Italian American, any relative of mine would be quickly cut from the will or worse if they dared to use tomato sauce from a jar.
But we do need to get back to reality. We’re supposed to be experiencing tidings of great joy instead of tidal waves of great stress. Asking for help and applying moderation during this very sacred time of year can help us enjoy the moment and, more importantly, get closer to God and to each other.
So pass the Pillsbury crescent rolls and have yourself a very Merry Christmas.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.