When you’re a child, there are few things that top the magic of Christmas. The entire month of December is leading up to the most magical day of the year, where you gather the whole family together for a giant meal, try to spy Santa out the window, and sit by the pile of gifts beneath the Christmas tree as you wait for the parents to wake up.
Over time, that anticipation changes. You become busy. Christmas prep is an obligation, and even the day itself passes in a rush. You try to integrate that childhood wonder into your now-adult life, but all you want is a break from the bustle.
I intended to attend Christmas Eve Mass this year. I’d made plans with my aunt to attend the four o’clock Mass at her parish, even though it wasn’t the closest to my parents’ house, because I wanted to go with family. But Christmas Eve is a big event for this Italian family. At the time I should’ve left for Mass, I was still setting up tables and helping to clean up for the twenty-five people who would arrive in three hours. I promised myself to attend on Christmas Day instead, when it would be less busy.
But as four o’clock came and went, I was overcome with a terrible guilt. Had I really just skipped the celebration of Jesus’s birth? When my aunt arrived for dinner, I immediately asked was whether attending Christmas Day instead was okay. It was a silly question, but I needed confirmation from someone else that it was fine, too.
Christmas Eve went beautifully. The big, Italian family; the meal with the variety of fishes. I went to sleep at one o’clock in the morning, after cleaning up some of the aftermath.
And the next day, after watching the nieces attack the pile of gifts under the tree, I attended the 11:30 Mass at a local parish.
I’d left early, not knowing how or if it would be crowded. There weren’t many cars in the lot, and the nave was only half full. When I claimed a pew to myself—it was only mine, throughout the entire service—the guilt of the previous day fully dissipated. I knelt before Mass began, smelled the incense in the air, and finally felt magic again.
It isn’t the same childhood magic. Childhood has its own excitement in innocence and naiveté. It’s okay when that begins to fade, because in its place is something more. During Mass, my gaze drifted to the manger scene before the altar. No, I couldn’t make Christmas Eve Mass. I wouldn’t have made Midnight Mass, either, after the all-day bustle of that giant meal. But being in church on Christmas morning is, for me, more right than attending with everyone else the previous day. There was joy, excitement, and the warmth of magic.
Christmas Eve is the day to spend with family, and Christmas Day is the Lord’s. It may not have ended up the way I’d planned, but many things often don’t. It ended up the way it should have, with celebrating Jesus on the very day we celebrate his birth. Not fitting it into our busy schedules, or half-asleep in the wee hours of the night. Christmas Day is the time He wanted to spend with me. That became the new magic of Christmas. One, I dare say, that is better than the magic of childhood.