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Making Christmas joy last

How can you experience Christmas joy year-round? Start by taking some of the best the Christmas season has to offer and adapting it for “ordinary time.” Share your ideas below!

  • Spend more time with family and loved ones.
    During Christmastide, friends and relatives whom we haven’t seen since the last holiday season, appear once more. Busy teenagers and college students return to the nest. Spouses’ workloads lighten. And in the time the holidays give us with those loved ones — time celebrating, talking and sitting quietly at home — we experience a small foretaste of heaven.

    With a little effort, however, that foretaste can last the whole year through. Start hosting dinner parties on high holy days for the friends you rarely see. Plan a weekly family game night, where the television stays off and every family member stays home. Or pick up the phone on Sundays and call that great-aunt whose conversation you relish at every Christmas dinner. Just make people your priority, and holiday cheer can be yours any day of the year.

  • Spend more time with God.
    If we’re doing the holiday season right, God inevitably gets more of our time. Advent prayers, daily Mass and an extra helping of liturgy on Christmas Day — all keep our focus on the ultimate reason for Christmas joy. When we return to ordinary time, however, our vision shouldn’t shift away from God and back to the everyday business of life. A relationship with him is not supposed to be seasonal.

    To help ensure that yours isn’t, resolve to continue one Advent or Christmas devotion into the New Year. Start now — praying the Rosary or Morning Office, reading one chapter of Scripture, saying the Angelus at noon — then, when the feast of the Baptism of Christ rolls around on Jan. 12, don’t stop. The formula — before, during and after Christmas — is simple: More God equals more joy.

  • Keep your eye on Christ.
    We do that easily every Christmas, filling our homes with Nativity sets, Advent wreaths and angels set atop a shining tree. All those little bits of Christmas décor are, in a way, seasonal sacramentals. Each plays their part in reminding us, day in and day out, of Christ and his birth.

    We need those reminders. And not just during the month of December. As creatures of matter and spirit, we experience the spiritual through the physical. That’s why God took on flesh in the Incarnation, and it’s why the Catholic Faith takes on flesh in the Church’s sacraments and sacramentals. With that in mind, this year, when the Christmas decorations come down, put other reminders of Christ up. Replace the Christmas tree with a family altar, the holly wreath with a crucifix, or the Nativity scene with a statue of Mary. Keep some physical sign of your faith in view, and the true source of Christmas joy will remain ever in your sight.

  • Be kind to strangers.
    It’s true: most holiday shopping outings involve an encounter with at least one frazzled Grinch. Those Grinches, however, are the exception, not the rule. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, smiles get bigger and greetings cheerier as people dash past bell-ringing Santas and into their favorite stores. Calls of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” ring out through the aisles, and, for no apparent reason, strangers grin at one another as they pass on the street.

    We don’t have to be toting packages, however, to do strangers a nice turn. Throughout the year, we can make a habit of spreading cheer simply by waiting patiently in line or graciously thanking store clerks. “Please’s” and “Excuse Me’s” spread good will among men, as does merrily waving someone into the stellar parking spot at the grocery store. Likewise, even when a Salvation Army bucket doesn’t present itself at every turn, our pennies (and checks) should find their way to those less fortunate. In all those little acts of human decency, we train ourselves to love as God loves — freely and gratuitously, without regard for self. We also, in some small way, imitate that supreme act of kindness and generosity that he performed on the first Christmas long ago. Which, in season and out, is a sure route to joy.

  • Give more gifts.
    Every Christmas we celebrate the great gift God gave us in Bethlehem: the gift of himself. Likewise, every Christmas, we imitate him by giving gifts to those we love. To see their anticipation, their surprise and their smiles, can bring us as much joy (or more) as the actual gift brings them. Which makes sense. God, in Heaven, as a Holy Trinity, lives a life of self-gift. And he made us in his image. We too are meant to live a life of self-gift. So, naturally we’re joyful when we live as we’re meant to live.

    Don’t stop living that way though, when the holly comes down. Keep giving. In fact, give more. But instead of sweaters and toys, give the gift of yourself. Give the gift of your time, your attention and your love. Lavish affection more freely. Offer praise more liberally. Strive to do the little things that let people know you care — turning off your cell phone when you spend time together, sending real birthday cards in the mail, talking less about yourself and listening more to others — and joy will surely follow, for you and for them.