Messy Little Christmas

Do you know what two straight days’ worth of candy cane breakfasts, cookie lunches, and cupcake dinners — all washed down with sippy cups of juice — does to a 2 year old’s digestive system? If you don’t, Merry Christmas! Enjoy the blissfulness of that ignorance. If you do, Merry Christmas! And join me in gratitude for disposable diapers.

Christmas is a beautiful feast, but our human celebrations of it can be messy stuff indeed

This year, as always, midnight Mass was lovely. I loved the drama of waking the children at 11:00, dressing them in their Christmas clothes, and bringing them through darkness and cold into the warm glowing beauty of Christmas Mass. Afterwards, we listened to carols and looked for Christmas lights as bundled babies dozed in their car seats and our loaded van made its way through quiet, empty streets toward home.


It was delightful, but not without cost.

There was 6 year old Stephen who, though he had been warned several times before going to sleep, could not imagine why I was pulling him from the warmth of his bed in the middle of the night. He resisted, he complained, and finally he slumped to the floor — narcoleptic-style — several times over as I wrestled him into corduroys and dress shoes.

There was the baby who, once he woke up, woke all the way up and was ready to make merry. All through Mass. His fuzzy pajama-ed body wiggled and squirmed his father into distraction throughout the 90-minute liturgy.

There were heaps of laundry I found on the bathroom floor on Christmas morning. Perfectly clean pants and dress shirts now needed full treatment simply because no one had thought to fold them neatly after changing back into pajamas at 3:00 am.

There was that pasty, scratchy feeling beneath my eyelids as I nursed a cup of coffee and watched the kids open their presents on Christmas morning. I suffered a painful inability to focus on the tiny printed directions for assembling all the doodads and gizmos. I could not for the life of me recall where I had put the jumbo-pack of triple-A batteries. I suddenly remembered the new books that were intended for my oldest daughter’s stocking and searched for them in vain before finally concluding that I must have tossed them in the trash along with a pile of cardboard boxes and scraps of wrapping paper on Christmas Eve.

Then there was the children’s predictable refusal to eat the pork pie dinner I worked hard to prepare. The 2 year old performed a perfectly-pitched, complete and total melt down as bedtime loomed near, and I indulged a surly attitude as I kicked my way through a pile of plastic to clear a path between the kitchen and dining room.

Yes indeed, Christmas is a messy thing. There are hopes and expectations, pressures and demands that cause disappointment, anxiety, worry, and work. There are toddlers who skip their naps and relieve the nativity set of its angels, dogs that sample popcorn from the tree, and cookies that turn out raw in the middle and burned on the bottom. There are packages that don’t arrive on time, overextended credit limits, and strained family relationships. There are stacks of dirty dishes in the sink, paper-littered living rooms, crushed ornaments, and crabby babies who feel overlooked in the middle of it all.

As disappointing as the reality of our Christmas celebrations might sometimes be, this strikes me as an appropriate place to commemorate our Savior’s birth — right here, reveling in the messiness of our humanity.

Because, after all, this is why Christ came. He came because we need him. Because we are weak. Because we are hopelessly flawed and none of us can be whole without him.

At Christmas, Christ comes to each of us where we are. He comes in the rough wood of a tiny manger and the scratchy stiffness of straw. He comes as a baby boy — a real baby — with tiny lungs to breathe in the cold night air and let out a cry against the darkness. He enters into our human mess with sweet smooth skin, a tuft of hair, miniature fingers, and tiny legs that kick against the swaddling.

The messiness of celebrating Christmas is unavoidable. This year, may the mess remind us of our need for a Savior. May it make us aware of our unworthiness, and grateful for the gift of His coming.

Danielle Bean


Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

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