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The ever-increasing clash between the sacred and the secular is slowly pulling European society apart, one of the continent’s leading thinkers tells Tom Heneghan
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As part of our series of articles by people for whom this Christmas will be notably different, a new parent describes how the familiar festivities take on new meaning.
This is technically my first Christmas as a mother, but by Christmas 2012 our son was already a presence in our lives. Eight months pregnant, and a month into maternity leave, I had plenty of time to reflect. The anticipation of Christmas had a particular resonance for me; with our baby kicking and hiccupping inside me, I contemplated the awesome miracle of Christ’s birth with more intensity than before.
This year, with an active 11 month-old requiring constant supervision, Christmas has a less contemplative and a more practical dimension. Thankfully my mother and mother-in-law are looking after us for Christmas, but I still have to contend with the usual logistics of what Francis will eat, at what time, what will he wear, will he be warm enough, whether we packed three spares of everything and so on.
Introducing Christmas traditions (with a degree of flexibility) to Francis has been a great joy. The regular bedtime routine was relaxed earlier in the week when my husband came home early from work and we decorated the tree with Francis strapped in the baby sling, the safest option for a determined crawler who grabs everything and then puts it in his mouth. Francis was none the worse for his late night, and it reminded me of my mother’s favourite phrase when we were small: “Christmas is a time for trying”, which she would employ to encourage us to eat a particularly rustic pâté or, as we preferred, to have a sip of sherry. Later in the week, having been lulled into complacency by our usual family Mass, Francis had to be swiftly removed, shrieking, from my husband’s work carol service.
An annual breakfast with my best friends used to be held in the week of Christmas at 7am, the diary slot that was sure to be free. Babies for two of us and a promotion for the third mean that 7am is now crunch time and we have rescheduled for the New Year.
I am sure Francis will enjoy Christmas Day itself. After Mass, I expect he will take great delight in unwrapping his presents and I know he will love sitting at the lunch table with his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and joining in the conversation, if not intelligibly.
While Francis is still too young to understand the significance of Christ’s birth we hope his first Christmas will lay the foundations for many happy Christmases to come. He is at the stage where he loves recognising other babies, in real life and in pictures. When he sees images of the Nativity he becomes very animated and says, “Baby, baby!” It reminds me of the text outside the children’s baths in Lourdes: “Jésus était un enfant comme vous!”