Nativity scene from Gaza

December 6, 2014

It is three weeks before Christmas. It is a time of anticipation and wondering: will my family appreciate the gifts I have chosen? How will the meal turn out? Will this be a Christmas that our family will remember?

We have been hearing about all of the sales since way before Halloween and yet there never seems to be enough time to do everything we want to do to make this the most perfect Christmas ever.

As we finish this first week of Advent I think back to a Christmas spent in the Holy city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

Christmas today in Bethlehem is so different than it is here. We couldn’t help but think that those direct descendants of Jesus, Mary and Joseph have got it right and it is us who are so sadly off track. I feel we have lost the true meaning of Christmas.

Our host family invited us to spend Christmas with them. It was such a special experience. Everything is centered on family. Saint Nicholas delivers presents to children on Christmas Eve. Every toy store has a Santa who delivers the one present that each child receives. I have never seen so many Santa’s in my life as they hustled around Bethlehem with their sacks of toys for their deliveries.

My wife helped to make the traditional Christmas cookies that are taken to family members on Christmas Day. At midnight we went to church at the Church of the Holy Nativity, built on the sacred site of Jesus’ birth, not in a manger but in a humble cave. Very early Christmas morning the visiting begins. There is a strict order to the visits, beginning with the oldest members of the family. More than 30 family members were there in a procession. We shared liqueur, coffee, cookies, chocolates and nuts. We spent 25 or 30 minutes at each home. We made about 15 visits.

When the visits were finished we went back to our host family’s home to gather for a festive Christmas dinner. We were thankful not for material gifts, but the gift of love of family.

What will Christmas be like for you?

The Rev. Charles Cloughen Jr. is the director of development, stewardship and planned giving for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Listen to the audio meditation