From Secular to Sacred: How to Enjoy Christmas and Not Lose Your Mind

This is a guest post by Jim Martin, SJ.

Christmas is coming, and I’ll bet you’re starting to get a little nervous.

Are you already stressed about the endless gift list (not to mention the prices of those gifts), the lengthening Christmas card list, the overheated stores, the crowded airports, train stations, and bus terminals, and the car getting stuck in the snow?

Sometimes, with all the pressures of our consumerist culture, Christmas seems more like an ordeal than a religious feast.

So how can you move your Christmas from a secular pain-in-the-neck to a time of spiritual consolation? Here are three tips:

1.) Try not to be a perfectionist.
You don’t have to send every single friend or family member a card or buy them a gift. Resist the temptation to overburden yourself with a list of “shoulds.”  Don’t “should” all over yourself this Christmas.

2.) Take time for yourself.
No one’s life will be ruined if you miss a party or two, or even a family gathering, in order to have some downtime. Instead, stay home and do something relaxing like listening to a Christmas CD. Pray a little bit. Read a story that reminds you of why you enjoy Christmas, such as Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Or how about John Greenleaf Whittier’s lovely poem, “Snowbound”? Or, forget reading or thinking—just relax!

3.) Enjoy Advent.
Ever read the daily Advent readings? They’re amazing, filled with beautiful imagery that will revive your drooping spirits. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom” reads one passage from the Book of Isaiah. You could spend all of Advent thinking about that! Where are the deserts in your life that have bloomed? Which ones need to be watered by prayer and worship?

So Christmas is coming. As the angels said to the shepherds, “Fear not!”

James Martin is a Jesuit priest and author of the bestselling My Life with the Saints.

How do you celebrate the sacred in your Christmas preparations?


  1. says

    It has added so much depth and richness of Spiritual experience for me to pay closer attention to the whole of the Christmas season, from Advent through to the Epiphany.

    One tool I use actually comes from the Church of England. You can sign up for daily emails, which lead you to a video, a reading, and a prayer. The site is aptly named

    Much peace and bliss to you all this Season!

  2. Paula says

    i have found an Advent calender and i made up a wreath with purple plates and candles and 1pink…I think this year i will put up a tree and have my teen agers help make decorations for a Jesse tree..that way we read a little Bible and we get into the season of Advent..Thank you Paula

  3. says

    I can sometimes get caught up in trying to do too many reflections. There are so many good resources, authors, books, websites that provide inspiration and encouragement for our Advent preparing and waiting…and I want to access them all! I recognize that I can get too overwhelmed in trying to be more meditative that I forget to really let go and just enjoy the season. So this year, I’m turning off the TV and computer at 8:30pm each evening, lighting some candles, and then just sitting and relaxing. If I feel like journaling, I will write some thoughts of how God has been with me through the day. If I feel like reading, I’ll read. If I fall asleep, that’s okay too. My goal is to enjoy the candlelight and experience God’s quiet presence with me.

  4. Rose says

    My husband and I have had some real tough times of late fincially. With our two boys grown and out on their own, we have stopped putting a Christmas tree up. The cost for a live tree is just too much and I can not accept an artificial one. The only decorations we have is the Advent wreath with it’s candles of purple and ROSE. That was stressed this past Sunday at Mass. The fourth candle is colored Rose. Not pink.
    We receive a few Christmas cards, but we haven’t sent any out in some time now, so people have stopped sending cards to us. As a Lectur at our church, I do spend a good bit of time reading the reading for the Masses. My husband is also very busy with the church. We don’t have very many young boys and girls, so he is an alter server. We do many things with the church and we do a lot of reading at this time of the year.
    We are trying to help our 3 1/2 year old grand daughter to understand what Christmas is about. The first and one of the most important things I am teaching her is, This time of the year is called CHRISTMAS! Not X-mas or Holiday Season. It is Christmas. The word Christmas tells you what is important about this time of the year. CHRIST. What ever you do, please do not take Christ out of Christmas. With out Christ, there is no Christmas. No stories of the wandering wise men and the shepards keeping watch over their flocks at night. No Star of Bethlehem. No birth of our savior, Christ.
    I have a very nice and sentimental cross with Jesus on it. When Payton first noticed it she asked me who was the man on the cross. I just told her Jesus. Then the mind of a three year old came to light. She wanted to know what He did. The only thing I could think to tell a three year old was, “He forgives us.” She accepted that and said that she liked Him too.
    I have taken her to Mass with us once, and I am hoping to be able to have her this weekend so she can go to mass with us again. The first time I took her to mass, all she could do was look all around the church. Then she said to me, in her 3 year old voice with a three year old mind, “They have a lot of pictures of Jesus here. They must really like Him here.” Then she asked the cutiest question. “Do all these people need to have Jesus forgive them too?” The sharp mind of a three and a half year old.
    We have gotten her bible stories and her mother reads them to her all the time. But getting back to the Advant season. We look at the young and sharp mind of our grand daughter and how she accepts Jesus with no fear or reservation. She just likes Him. When she was told the Christmas story of the little drummer boy, she said that she wanted to give the baby Jesus a gift too. She worked very hard one day and made the messiest mud cake for His birthday. She didn’t have anyone tell her what to do, she just did it out of the love of a three and a half year old. During this time of year you hear people say that Christmas is too commercialize and the true reason for Christmas is forgotten. But when people say that Christmas is for the children, you had better believe it. It is a young child that helps us adults see what this time of advant is all about, Christ’s Birthday. It take someone very innocent to bring the Older mature people back to earth and renew their reason for the season. Payton is getting ready for Jesus’s birthday and has her own Advant calendar set up at home. When we adults have to explain things about the church, we have to look at the question and answer with the mind of a child. All accepting, with no reservations. Waiting and counting the days down to His birthday. That is how we should look for the meaning of Advant befor Christmas. Open and accepting and waiting, very happy that it is His time to come.
    Now I may have gone off the subject of the question, but I think you can see how we look at Advant and Christmas now. With the loving eyes of a child. Waiting for His coming.

  5. Rita says

    It is not easy to let go of doing so much during Advent. Age, with all the ways it limits activities can be embraced for helping me to remember what is important. Shopping? Not really, yet the experience of shopping with a daughter or son, having lunch together and time to talk is a lovely gift for both of us.
    Parties with a group you enjoy? Can let them know how much you enjoy and value them
    Christmas cards? A little note in each may make the day (even the season) for recipients.
    The Advent wreath with candles on the table throughout the season is a simple yet powerful reminder of the season. I rarely can find the purple and pink candles to fit my little wreath; this year I have white and green ones which stir up prayerful thoughts.
    Being faithful to praying the Liturgy of the Hours , above all, keeps me close to the wonderful Scriptures.

  6. Louise Sandberg says

    A friend of mine is very fond of suggesting that we go into Mary’s womb when we need to feel safe and loved. He says this is the safest place to be. One of my favorite Advent reflections was when a priest asked how we are going to give birth to Jesus this year. I have never given birth to my own child, so that question has continued to touch me every year. This year I am opening myself to giving birth to more love, to being more of a channel of God’s love. I celebrate the Posada — The Inn– with my Mexican and Latin American friends, going from house to house carrying a nativity scene with children dressed as Mary and Joseph, knocking on the door and asking to be let in. Those inside tell us to go away, that we are probably scoundrels and theives.”If this is the Queen of Heaven, where is her court?” Finally they recognize Mary and Joseph and welcome us singing “Enter holy pilgrims.” the holy family spends the night in the house offering hospitality. We return the next day, gather the holy family and move to the next house, repeating the ritual. A truly meaningful enactment of Christmas, especially for immigrants who are not always welcomed. And the women I work with live in basement apartments, crowded houses, a room with shared kitchen, and in multiple family dwellings. I told them yesterday that I love this tradition and the effort they make day after day for at least 9 days before Christmas to really welcome Jesus into their homes. I thought of Most of the Americans I know with luxurious and beautifully appointed single family homes who have no such beautiful tradition.

  7. louisa are says

    THANK YOU for sharing this. I agree with it very much. How often the “should” dominates our lives and I sometimes is not an exception but Deep inside of me as well is the need to do things with the motivation of “love” . Thank you for this.

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