The real meaning of Christmas

Special to The Message

Our faith helps us understand the real meaning of Christmas. The season starts with Advent—a season of hope—a time of active waiting for the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas day.

My fondest memories of Advent are from the time I was in the seminary at St. Meinrad. The monks would sing in beautiful Gregorian chant, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.’’ Each Sunday of Advent, a candle was lit on the Advent wreath in anticipation of Christmas day.

When Christmas Eve finally arrives, Midnight Mass portrays the real meaning of our celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Our whole family would attend Midnight Mass together. As lector for the mass, I would walk down the aisle in the entrance procession with the priest and the altar boys.

The lights in the Church were turned off; only the candles beautifully illuminated the altar. One of the altar boys carried the Christ child to be placed in the crib scene to the right of the altar. As we headed down the aisle, the choir would sing “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Then, at the end, they would sing “O Holy Night.”

Christmas dinner has always been a tradition at our house. Our family now numbers 37, with the addition of Cody, Will, Kaitlyn, and our great-granddaughter, Charlotte. Over the years, several friends have been added to the guest list, making the list now over 40 at the dinner table. On Christmas morning, the aroma of roasting turkey permeates the house. I always look forward to Tina’s dumplings and Anne’s dressing.

Not long after the big meal, the dishes get washed; and it is onto opening gifts. We started a new tradition of playing the game “Dirty Santa” with all 37 members of the family. At the beginning of the game, each person draws a number, 1 to 37. Number 1 starts the game, and they can pick any of the 37 gifts. We go in numerical order. Person No. 2 can either steal the gift from person No. 1 or grab a new gift. This continues until all 37 number-holders have gone. Each gift can only be stolen three times before it is out of the game. One can imagine that the over-21 gifts get stolen quite frequently in this game!

Many laughs have been enjoyed through our new tradition, but it is important to remember that the real meaning of Christmas is your faith, family, and friends. I wish you all a blessed holiday season full of God’s grace!

Bernie Niehaus is chairman of the board of Niehaus Companies, Inc., of Vincennes. This feature originally appeared in Splinters, the company newsletter.