By Barb Arland-Fye
We were celebrating our first Christmas together as husband and wife and I looked forward to attending Midnight Mass with Steve. He teases me about that long ago-Christmas experience, which taught us to adapt traditions and expectations for this sacred season.
We arrived for Midnight Mass at least a half-hour early because as Steve recalls, I told him, “There are always a lot of people at this one.” I was wrong. Steve jokes, “We were able to park at the door!” The smaller-than-anticipated gathering left me feeling subdued. “I don’t think we ever did attend another Midnight Mass,” Steve said.
Two years later while navigating our roles as new parents, we took our baby son Colin to his first Christmas Mass, which was not the Midnight Mass. Sleep deprivation would have prevented us from staying awake. In those early years of our marriage, my parents were living in Europe and Steve’s parents lived in the Twin Cities. We traveled “home” for Christmas, winter-driving conditions permitting, and usually attended Christmas Eve Mass in the basement of a Catholic school within sight of the home of Steve’s parents. It would be several years before a new church was built.
When my parents returned home to the Twin Cities, we divided time between visits with each side of the family. Steve and I savored the gift of time with extended family, more precious and lasting than clothing, appliances, games and toys. We appreciate that the immeasurable value of familial relationships point us to the ultimate gift, Jesus’ birth into our human family, so that “we might receive our status as adopted sons” (Galatians 4:3-7).
A vivid but painful memory stands out during the Christmas when Colin was 7 years old and taking a new medication to address his autism. My parents joined us that year in Iowa and I remember us sitting around the Christmas tree coaxing Colin to unwrap his gifts. The medication had calmed him down to the point that he showed no emotion, no sense of being present. It broke my heart to see my son emotionally absent from our family.
The following Christmas, though, we reveled in joy as we watched our infant son, Patrick, cooing and smiling up at us from his blanket on the floor near the Christmas tree. The bond that he and Colin built has shaped our celebration of Christmas and our family dynamics ever since.
While material gifts pale in comparison to the gift from Our Savior, material gifts chosen with love speak to the generosity of the love of Christ. One year, Patrick purchased a set of sled hockey sticks for Colin for Christmas, which thrilled everyone because of Colin’s love for that inclusive sport. Another year, Patrick ordered a T-shirt featuring the host of Colin’s favorite movie series. Colin, with a little assistance, purchases gifts that Patrick also appreciates.
Our journey through Advent each year requires not only patient waiting but also patience with autism as Colin strives to cope with changes in routine that come with the Advent and Christmas seasons. The Holy Spirit who nudged Steve to be gentle and understanding with me that long-ago Christmas Eve continues to nudge our family to be gentle and understanding with each other so that we can celebrate the true gift of Christmas.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)