This time of year always brings me back to my childhood. With fond nostalgia, I remember the pine cone turkeys we made in Girl Scouts, the pilgrim costumes my mother painstakingly sewed and the necklaces made of painted pasta that my sisters and I managed to pull apart, scattering raw macaroni all over the back seat of the car on our way to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving.
Once the holiday arrived, we would spend all morning watching the Thanksgiving Day parades. After dinner, we’d gather around the television again to enjoy one of our favorite Christmas specials. With Black Friday just hours away, we knew that Thanksgiving meant that even better things were to come!
Oh, to be a child again, especially as we journey toward Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas! But, we can return to the simplicity of childhood – at least spiritually.
Caryll Houselander, a popular twentieth-century spiritual author and poet wrote that “to become a child is a challenge to our courage. It demands, first of all, that we dare to grow up, to give ourselves to life, to accept life as it is – and above all, to accept ourselves as we are.”
Houselander suggested that going back to childhood means rediscovering “true values, instead of those that are based on materialism, public opinion and snobbery; that we must regain simplicity and humility . . . and, above all, we must regain the courage that is partly a boundless zest for living and partly an unquestioning trust in an all-powerful love.”
Although these words were penned in 1949, they could have been written today. So much in our lives is driven by materialism and public opinion. Our attention is fragmented by constant multi-tasking and the incessant flow of information, which prevent us from fully experiencing the activities in which we are engaged at any give moment. This is especially true in the holiday season that begins with Thanksgiving.
According to a national survey provided by New Dream, an organization that promotes simplicity, more than 75% of Americans wish the holidays were less materialistic. Nearly nine in ten believe that holidays should be more about family and caring for others than exchanging gifts.
Recent studies in social neuroscience have found that loneliness causes serious health risks. Yet more than a third of U.S. senior citizens experience frequent or intense loneliness, and 94% of people with disabilities feel that they lack meaningful community participation.
New Dream suggests that we create holiday traditions “that instill more meaning into the season and encourage more sharing, laughter, creativity, and personal renewal,” rather than the accumulation of material goods and credit card debt.
For adults like you and me, our childhood holidays are often our most precious memories. Yet many of us get caught up in the frenzy of materialism, rushing around so much that we are never really able to appreciate the heart and soul of Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas.
While we still have time, let’s resolve to become children again. Let’s rediscover the true values of faith and family, the love of humble things and simple pleasures, gratitude and a commitment to nurturing relationships — especially with those who are at risk of being marginalized or who are in need of special attention.
Let’s ask for the grace to recover the ability to live in the present moment and to fully experience whatever we are doing, a boundless zest for living and an unquestioning trust in the power of our loving God to provide for all our needs.
In this journey back to childhood, we can count on the assistance of the saints, especially those who particularly exemplified simplicity and spiritual childhood. Among these are St. Francis of Assisi, St. Théresè of Lisieux and the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, St. Jeanne Jugan, who frequently counseled her spiritual daughters to “be very little before God.”
We can also count on two of the church’s newest saints, Jacinta and Francisco of Fatima, who were just young children when God called them to a vocation of historic proportions for the church and the modern world.
Finally, in our journey back to childhood, we are always accompanied by Mary, whose littleness drew down the gift of God, and who constantly sang of her gratitude and her sense of wonder at the marvels God was accomplishing in her. She is eager to help us to become, anew, children of a loving God.
Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.