The sharing of Christmas traditions is something rich in importance for every family, and surely for most every member of CatholicMatch. When a couple marries, the challenge of melding traditions to create new ones can be a challenge.
Sue Haggerty recently wrote about her own experiences in this regard for the CatholicMatch Institute. Today, we take a look at three couples who met on CatholicMatch and how they're celebrating Christmas today.
It was one year ago at Christmas that Jim and Joanne were still in the courtship phase. He was visiting her in Florida, and surprised her with a marriage proposal on the beach. Today, they celebrate their first Christmas together.
The climate this December has been a little colder for Joanneshe relocated to Michigan, where Jim lives, but she braved the elements and went out with her new husband to cut their Christmas tree. Both sides of their families will be a big part of their celebration.
"Jim and I are going to his mom's home for Christmas Eve," Joanne said, adding that Jim will play the trombone at their parish church. "Then Christmas afternoon we'll be driving to Delray Beach to spend a few days with my Mom who is ill."
One other thing that Jim and Joanne that isn't Christmas-related, but is a testimony to their faith. They received a complementary copy of the Fulton Sheen book Three To Get Married from CatholicMatch, as do all couples who share their stories. As it turned out, not only did they already have one, but the book had special meaning.
"Jim gave me the copy his dad had given his mom 60 years ago," Joanne said. "With the message 'may this book be as meaningful to you as it has been to me.'" With a faith heritage like that, Jim and Joanne's first Christmas together will be meaningful indeed.
Harry and Bev married in the summer of 2006, and spent their first three Christmases in Portland. Then Harry, who serves in the U.S. Army, was activated and sent to Germany. They've been overseas for Christmas ever since and have taken full advantage of the opportunity.
They were in Germany for Christmas of 2009, and one year later had the chance to celebrate in England. 2011 they were blessed with the opportunity to be in Rome and attend Christmas Day Mass at St. Peter's Basilica.
As Harry and Bev travel, certain traditions remain constant. "Our tradition has always been to have Christmas Eve dinner," she said. And it's not just any dinner, but one steeped in Italian custom. "I always make seven different types of fish," Bev said, as she carries on the tradition she was raised with. They shop the outdoor markets of Europe for the fish and then sit down to a holiday dinner.
There have been profound spiritual experiences with their travels as well. On their 2010 visit to England they attended Mass at the Oxford Oratory, for a deeply reverent Mass that was packed wall-to-wall. In 2012, they were in Germany and were at a combo German/English Mass. "We've been nomads," Harry said. "We've taken advantage of wherever we've been."
Europe has a reputation for growing secularization, but at least at Christmas that's not true. "Church-State is not an issue," Bev said. "The town puts out the Christmas tree and no one says anything." Other, more welcome aspects of the American Christmas experience are present though.
"America is an amalgam of all European traditions," Bev said. "This is Christendom. And it's Christian at Christmas."
Even if Harry and Bev have been nomads, family and friends remain a part of their Christmas celebration. Bev's son is in school in England and is able to come and be with them. They connect with their other children and parents via Skype. And there's the new friends that they've made.
"A priest from India will be over (this year)," Bev said. It's not customary in Germany for parishioners to invite their priests to dinner, and the pastor was pleasantly surprised to get a Christmas Eve invitation from Harry.
By taking advantage of the opportunities that life has presented them, Harry and Bev's Christmas celebration have become a testimonial to the universality of the Christian faith and tradition.
Tony and Nancy married in February 2010, and Tony relocated from Illinois to California. He's become a part of the Christmas traditions of Nancy's family, and they have passed them down to their 2 1/2 year old daughter Anna.
"My family was large by today's standards," Nancy recalled, "me being the girl with five older brothers." Her father served his country in the Navy and her mom stayed home to raise the kids. Even though money was tight, "my parents always made Christmas magical."
Christmas was filled with searching for the tree with her dad, mom's baking and decorating the tree: "my mom was a tree decorating genius and still is. We had a magnificent Christmas Eve feast and Christmas Day gift-opening extravaganza. Santa never failed us," Nancy recalled.
One thing she and her brothers were always taught though, was that Santa was really St. Nick. It's that faith tradition that Nancy and Tony have passed on to their daughter, and most important, they have imparted the authentic meaning behind the Christmas traditions. "We were taught that the act of giving is itself, the greatest gift and that a child is the most beautiful gift one can ever receive," she said.
Tony and Nancy teach Anna to understand why we celebrate Christmas and why the traditions are important. They've found new traditions as a family that they have incorporated into the old. This year, Nancy and Anna made a new Advent wreath together, a moment that provided an opportunity to teach their daughter about how the entire season is a preparation for Jesus.
The message has reached fertile ground in the heart of a child. She recently heard their gardener arrive to cut the lawn and rushed out to give him a candy cane, wish him a Merry Christmas and tell him she loved him.
It's those gestures of love that are the greatest tradition of all.