We all do it. We put our Christmas lights up weeks before December 25. We buy the tree and decorate our homes well in advance of the big day.

A Catholic writer I admire suggested he enjoyed the penitential aspect of the pre-Christmas “holiday” season with all its crushing busyness. Good point for sure, but since Advent is a time for preparation, I think we can be forgiven for starting to celebrate Christ’s birth a little early. 

Just as important is celebrating Christmas “late.”

We had volunteered to decorate our church for Christmas on the Friday before the last Sunday of Advent. It is quite an ordeal as the stable for the crèche seems almost as old as the original, and putting it together requires the engineering prowess of Archimedes with the patience of Job.

There was also a lot of work to be done at home, with my wife, my son — back for Christmas from his overseas job — and my 5-year-old grandson ready to help. Now one may have a certain level of trepidation relying on the work ethic and skill-set of a 5-year-old, and I may be bragging here, but my little guy was amazing. His face was the model of determination as he hauled box after box of decorations from a storage room via a little dolly that seemed to be designed just for him.

If someone was distracted in this process, it was me. I could not keep my eyes off my little grandson. I know it would be inviting bitter disappointment to allow myself to believe he will always have this vigor when it comes to honoring the Lord. On the other hand, I also know that I tried in my own way to baste him in traditional means of worship that have already led to him asking questions about Jesus that warm my heart.

Whether he pursues his curiosity about the mystery of the Trinity, embraces the Church and her sacraments, and lives a good and holy life is something out of my control so I must do the best I can while I’m still here, and leave the heavy lifting to the Lord. That’s a bargain I can live with.

My official Christmas began with midnight Mass, followed by Christmas morning with specific Christmas music, our traditional breakfast made by our oldest son (replete with the “good” hot chocolate), and opening of presents. We hosted Christmas dinner for a mere fragment of my extended family — only about 23 people — but it filled my house with enough decibels and busyness to make my heart sing.

When the night was all said and done, and my grandson had gotten too many presents, ate too much sugar, and tornadoed around his loved ones, he collapsed in a heap. I was exhausted too, but my head had barely hit the pillow before I heard my grandson crying. My first thought was a tummy ache based on what I had seen him eat that day. But it became clear he was just frazzled — I believe that’s a medical term — from over-stimulation and too much exposure to the externals of Christmas.

He could not be consoled, and my daughter came into our room and told us that he wanted me. I went into his room and he was still crying, “I want Appa.” That’s me. 

He didn’t want to get up or a drink of water, but just wanted me to lie down next to him. As I did, I said a prayer to the Blessed Mother to wrap her cloak over my little guy and soothe his troubled mind. Seconds later he became becalmed. In short order, he was fast asleep.

Nobody says, “I can’t believe it’s the Feast of the Epiphany already,” but it is here. When the book for Christmas 2023 actually closes in 2024, the gifts, the smells, the sounds, and all those sweet external traditions of the season will drift away to be rekindled next year. 

But I will have the memory of my precious grandson and his wonder at the birth of Jesus to keep me going for another 11 months.