Your Family Matters - Seven tips for a more peaceful Christmas

Photo: Gentile da Fabriano, "Adoration of the Magi" altarpiece (detail) Photo: Gentile da Fabriano, "Adoration of the Magi" altarpiece (detail)

Looking to the Holy Family can help you rise above the stress of the season

The Holy Family had the first stressful Christmas. Imagine what it must have been like for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Cross-country trip by donkey while nine months pregnant. Arriving late to a Bethlehem crowded to maximum capacity. No reservations. Dealing with a whole town full of in-laws. Giving birth in the equivalent of someone else’s garage. Visits from unexpected guests describing unusual visions. And, overnight, her husband decides that they need to flee the country. Because of a dream he had.

Not that it was any easier for St. Joseph. He must have felt torn between the pressure of getting to Bethlehem in time to fulfill his legal duty and concern about his very pregnant wife and the baby. Finding parking for the donkey. Finding a place to stay. Leading the family out of mortal danger. Hoping that Mary would understand about the whole “because an angel told me in a dream” thing.

What helped Mary and Joseph, in addition to their faith in God, was the strength of their marriage. They trusted, respected and loved each other. This helped them weather all the hassles, discomforts, dangers and unexpected turns of events surrounding the Nativity. As a married couple, they remained closely united through the stress. They didn’t complain, bicker, criticize one another or accuse each other of “ruining Christmas.”

The result? Together, they were able to marvel in awe at the incredible gift God brought them and the whole world, in that time and place — which turned out to be exactly the perfect time, and the perfect place. (see Galatians 4:4, Matthew 2:6)

Married couples can find great inspiration from the marriage of Mary and Joseph during Christmas preparations. The stress of this time can be hard on marriages. Here are some tips for keeping close and nurturing your marriage during Advent and Christmas.

Make extra time for each other daily in December. Can you arise earlier and sit down for coffee or breakfast together before rushing off to work? Create space for some extra moments together in the evening? Aim for an additional 20-minute period of uninterrupted time when you can talk and be present to one another. (This has to be time for making eye contact, not looking at your phones.) We know St. Joseph must have been a good listener. How much do you really listen to your spouse?

Give thanks and praise. Criticism kills romance and strains marriage. Affirmation draws us close. Look for at least one thing to thank or praise your husband or wife for every day.

Pray together. There is a lot to do to get ready for Christmas! Bring it all to God, together. He really does care about the details of your life. (see 1 Peter 5:7) Mary and Joseph surely must have prayed together as well.

Do not wait until the night before Christmas — plan ahead for a sane season. By the first week of December, sit down and talk with each other about ways you can limit your family’s holiday stress and keep the focus on Christ. What expectations get priority? What events can be skipped? Maybe you can limit decorations or simplify gift-giving.

Deck the halls together. Use the extra tasks of the season as opportunities to draw closer, rather than letting them pull you in separate directions. Does your husband usually get the “Advent lights” up on your home? Maybe you can offer to get the ladder, or at least watch and admire his work, ready with a hot drink. Does your wife usually shop for everyone’s Christmas gifts? Offer to sit down and brainstorm ideas with her, and accompany her shopping. Tell her how creative and thoughtful she is.

Make a list. Write a letter telling your husband or wife how much you love them and why. List happy memories, or what you appreciate about him or her. This would make a beautiful gift for the feast of the Holy Family on Dec. 28.

Include the single. While holiday stress can affect marriages, this is also an especially difficult time of year for those who are widowed, divorced or wistfully single. Couples, consider how you can reach out to a single friend, relative or parishioner. And singles, know that you are all treasured members of our church family!

However events unfold for you this Christmas season, may you remain closely united with Christ and enjoy the peaceful presence of the Holy Family.

Northwest Catholic - Dec. 2014


Sarah Bartel

Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is