Tag Archives: Christmas

A Catholic Rants at Christmas Time…

I really need to lay off the UK news sites at this time of year.

As a Catholic, it is so dispiriting to read all the vitriol and mockery that is aimed at Christians in general and Catholics in particular at this time of year in particular. (It’s bad enough the rest of the year).

I understand that if you disagree with the traditional cultural beliefs as many people do, then you will feel annoyed by the way “Christmas” takes over at this time of year — mostly through the power of advertising, rather than anything to do with churches, if we’re honest.

But I have more trouble sympathising when people who don’t  understand my faith talk about it as if they did; pontificate on what I “believe”; and judge and condemn me on the basis of things that have little or nothing to do with what is actually important about my faith.I have never rammed my faith down anyone’s throat but rabid aetheists at Christmastime make me want to trade in my pacificist, tolerant, help-thy-neighbour vision of Christianity for the good old-fashioned medieval version they assume still exists. The one with spikes and bonfires.

First, let’s get this straight (even though it more an on-going than seasonal issue): faith and science are not incompatible. If you believe in an omnipotent God then any process that science identifies to explain how the universe works simply becomes another string to that omnipotent God’s bow.

“Oo, gravity. That’s clever. Nice one, God!”
“Ah, primordial soup? Dei-licious!”
“Evolution? Why not?”

(I know my case is not helped here by the very vocal Christians who can’t live with the fact that maybe human interpretation of God’s word has been a little flawed over the years and that perhaps we need to admit that, but the fact remains: science and reasonable faith are not incompatible!)

On to this week’s news.

In Aukland a church (yes, a church. Yay for in-fighting. That really makes us look good!) erected a billboard that showed a miserable-looking Mary and Joseph in bed together with the caption “Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow”. Ho ho. Fine.  Aside from the fact that people were a bit miffed at the sexual inuendo as they drove by with their kids in the car, fine, fine, very funny.

But a church spokesman said,

“What we’re trying to do is to get people to think more about what Christmas is all about…Is it about a spiritual male God sending down sperm so a child would be born, or is it about the power of love in our midst as seen in Jesus?

Easy. It’s about the power of love in our midst as seen in Jesus.

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Photo: alecea CC BY 2.0

Yeah, it’s a big part of the Catholic tradition to say that Jesus was conceived in a supernatural way, because that way you can say that he is partly divine. But it was never presented to me as the whole meaning of Christmas. And even if we’re wrong, it’s not something Catholics obsess about at Christmas. Honest. We mention it in passing our nativity plays (and fervently pray that the five year olds don’t ask what “virgin” really  means – not this year at least). We read it in the bible readings. But we also read about supernatural angels and astronomically-odd stars and wise men and shepherds and a stable and the massacre of the innocents and the flight in to Egypt and man’s inhumanity to man. But we choose, in the midst of that, to focus on a gift from God in the form of a baby. Babies are cute  and lovely and a blank slate: a symbol of hope.

And we have a big party to celebrate hope and love and joy and our awe at the marvel of creation and life and the fact that there is something in people that makes them give gifts and make room for the unfortunate, even if it is only a pile of clean hay in the corner of a stable. We call that something God Within Us. You might call it something else. But you’re still welcome to come to my party.

I admit that people of faith have a lot to apologise for, historically and today. I exhort other people of faith to focus a little more on the Christmas message of love and a little less on whining at people who write “Xmas” or say “Happy Holidays”.

But I also ask people who don’t like my holiday or what you think I believe, to stop raining on my parade at this time of year.  And I promise I won’t come down to your birthday party and start shouting about how you’re a fool for celebrating a meaningless and arbitrary fixed amount of time that merely denotes another trip around the sun? OK? OK.

  • Millennial Mom Monday – New Traditions

    Getting married and having children means blending the traditions of your own family with those of your spouse.  This really shows up around special occasions, like Christmas and birthdays.

    Our first Christmas together, I hadn’t thought to tell my husband that, in my family, Santa had begun to fill the stockings of the grown-ups as well as the children, some years ago. This meant there was some awkwardness on Christmas morning when only one of us had a sock full of loot. Easily remedied the next year and ever since, as you can imagine.

    On birthdays around here there is a choice: Mum’s sponge cake or Dad’s dense Biscuit Cake (the crumb-filled and delicious chocolate slab his mother made for him).

    But as well as adopting our parents’ traditions we have gradually been building our own.

    After lugging a real christmas tree home (the first year in a shopping cart, because we lived in the city, didn’t own a car, and had underestimated how much a real tree weighed. The next year hanging out of the back of our tiny Mitsubishi), Kevin never has the energy to do much but observe as I, kid at heart, drag out the tinsel and the baubles and decorate the tree. So now, every year, I decorate the tree while Kevin snaps pictures from the safety of his armchair, and tells me when I’ve left a bare spot.

    A few years ago, now that we had a couple of kids who were probably old enough not to eat the fallen pine needles, we thought it would be fun to go back to a real tree. We were seized with the urge to go and cut down our own Christmas tree; something we had heard other people talking about doing year after year. We thought it sounded kind of crazy but kind of nice, and that we’d give it a try.

    From that first ‘timber’, it has been something our boys look forward to, and take for granted now. Their excitement over this new tradition is the thing that drags us out of the house on the first weekend in December that doesn’t include high winds or sub-zero temperatures, and gets Kevin face down in the mud with a hacksaw.


    So what new traditions have you formed in your family?

    Leave your comments here

    Frugal Friday – Gift Bags

    The Finished ArticleMy kids have a lot of classmates. 41. Plus three teachers. I’d like to give them all a little something, but I don’t want to buy more plastic cr*p, litter the world with wrapping paper, or spend a fortune. Or shop. So I decided to make packets containing the dry ingredients for shortbread that they can make with their parents (only a stick of butter required), and wrap them in drawstring bags made from cheap’n’cheerful quilting cotton, that the kids can use as treasure-keepers.

    With my (very) rudimentary sewing skills, making 30 bags took me about 2 hours all in.  Filling up sandwich bags with dry ingredients probably took another hour and a half, although I did it in several sessions (and found it quite relaxing: a cup of this, quarter of a cup of that, two spoons of the other).
    My costs were about 50 cents per package and could have been cheaper if I’d had a fabric stash and used yarn for the drawstrings. Even more importantly, I spent no time in toy stores, dollar stores or any place I didn’t want to be.


    • Ziplock sandwich bags (you can get biodegradable ones or hope they get reused). Roughly 6″x5″
    • Cotton or muslin or flannel or some other cheap fabric (I bought Christmas-themed cotton which was already on sale the day before Thanksgiving). I was making 44 bags roughly 6″ x 7″ (before seaming) so I bought 3 yards of a 45″ wide fabric.
    • Thread to match.
    • Sewing machine and rudimentary knowledge of how to use it (believe me, that’s all you need. This could be done by hand. It would just take a whole lot longer).
    • Ribbon (about a foot for every bag you’re going to make). I used grosgrain, but ran short and ended up using yarn for a few bags.
    • Dry ingredients for your favourite cookie recipe.
    • Paper for the instructions.


    1.5" Hem along long edge-Iron the fabric and cut, lengthwise into three equal strips (15″ tall each)...

    -Iron a hem into the long edge of each strip as follows.


    Place the fabric pattern-side down on your ironing table..

    Fold over a 1.5″ hem and iron it.



    Fold hem in half to hide raw edge

    -Open up what you just ironed, and fold the raw edge down to the crease..

    Iron the new edge.

    . – Fold over the original crease again for a nice raw-edge-free hem.

    Repeat on all long edges.


    Fold right sides together and iron in place

    -Fold in half, right sides together, and iron along the bottom to hold it in place


    (No pins! No basting!)

    (Somewhere my Primary school sewing teacher is sobbing gently!)



    Mark every six inches

    – Mark the fabric every six inches.

    This is where you will sew the bags’ side seams.




    Sew the top hems

    – Sew along the long edges. Be careful to sew close to the folded edge, so that you create a large enough ‘pocket’ for the drawstring to go through.

    Do both long edges on all your strips of fabric.





    Sewing the Side seams I

    – Sew the side seams.

    .Place the needle a little to one side of the 6″ mark you made,and a little below the long seam you just sewed — a few millimetres will do. (I know, I’m mixing measuring systems, but those tiny parts of an inch annoy me. Millimetres are good. Look ’em up.)

    Reverse up and sew just a little over the long seam, then sew down to the bottom of the bag. You can stop a little before the bottom crease, and reverse a bit for a secure end, or you can just run off the bottom of the bag. (These are quick and dirty gifts for kids who will lose them in three weeks anyway!).



    Sewing the side seams II

    – For the side seam of the next bag, place the needle a few millimetres to the left of the seam you just made.

    (this picture shows that I was using a zig-zag stitch at first, but I abandoned that for straight seams.I think they worked better).

    Repeat the same method, backing up a bit over the long seam and sewing to the bottom.

    – Repeat this all the way along the strip until you have a series of little almost-6″ pockets in the fabric.




    Cut between the seams

    – Cut carefully between the close side seams.

    (The little bit of reversing-over-the-long-seam you did will hold the drawstring pocket’s seam in place when you cut through it).

    – Trim as many of the long threads as you can bear, but don’t be too fussy

    (see point above about these being for kids).



    A Bag!

    – Turn right-side out.

    Thread 12″ or grosgrain ribbon onto a large-eyed tapestry needle and push through the drawstring pocket, ending up where you started.




    Fill the bags– I recommend setting up a production line, with all your dry ingredients in separate, large bowls on the counter top.

    (Reaching into the flour bag over and over is just too foutery).





    Squeezed and folded

    – Scoop your ingredients into ziplock bags, carefully squeeze excess air out and fold the bags over.

    – Stuff the bags into the drawstring bags and pull closed.




    Don’t forget to add baking instructions, including: any other ingredients they’ll need, size of baking tin (if necessary), temperature and time, best method/shape, and any special requirements (for example, my shortbread needs to be pricked with a fork all over before being baked).
    You can type and print the instructions and stick them in the bag, or you can get creative. You could hand-write one, scan it and print copies. Cut it out with fancy scissors, paste it to a square of your fabric that you’ve cut with pinking shears, and then tie it onto the drawstring. Go wild!