Faith and family: Celebrate the true essence of Christmas

Marco Carvalho

“Christmas is togetherness, Christmas is family. Christmas is the pursuit of a better, happier path for all of us. Fundamentally, that’s what we all want”. The words belong to Anabela Ritchie, but they echo the hope and feelings of millions of people all over the world, for whom Christmas is, undoubtedly, the greatest family celebration of them all.

But, for the former president of Macau’s Legislative Assembly, Christmas time is also memory time. A time to reminisce the Midnight Masses of yesteryears, to recall the family prayers in front of the Nativity scene and the genuine joy that the announcement of the birth of the son of God used to evoke among men of goodwill.

“Christmas is, first and foremost, family. But in my family, there was always a very strong spiritual component. We always kept in mind that Christmas is, primarily, the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, who became a man, to live among men and, thereby, bequeath us his teachings,” Ritchie says.

“I am always reminiscing about Christmases of the yesteryears. Back then, the whole family used to go to the Midnight Mass. We’d come back from the Mass, have a supper, and then open the presents. My father used to take great pleasure in seeing the crib grow every year.  He would expand it with lights, buy new figures. I have very fond memories of those days. We used to kneel before the Manger and pray together,” the former legislator told O Clarim on the sidelines of the small Christmas bazaar that the Catholic Diocese of Macau organized, this past weekend, at the Cathedral Square.

Christmas is introspection

Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang invited the Coro Dóci Papiaçám di Macau to perform during the Christmas fair and the choral ensemble, under the musical leadership of José Basto da Silva, gladly accepted the invitation and interpreted, in Macanese patois, some of the most popular Nativity themes with the monumental manger that is set up in the Cathedral Square every year as the backdrop.

An IT specialist and employee of the Municipal Affairs Bureau, Mr. Basto da Silva says that, if on the one hand, Christmas is the joy of announcing to the others the birth of the son of God, on the other, it is also an invitation to introspection, inner reflection and personal transformation.

“It is a special season, which brings to mind the importance of family. It is a precept that, for me, is fundamental, that of family values. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to reunite my entire family, so, therefore, it is a time prone to nostalgia too,” says the musical director of the Dóci Papiaçám choir.

“But it is a season that I try to celebrate with a lot of spirituality as well. During this time of the year, we are all invited to make a self-assessment, to do some soul-searching. It is quite fundamental that we look to the Christ Child as a sign of hope. It is a brand-new opportunity to rectify our day-to-day life, to try to improve and be better,” José Basto da Silva says.

Christmas is conversion

The aptitude to learn from our own mistakes and to enhance what one can improve and enhance, claims Adriano Agostinho, is one of the aspects that should guide a truly Christian experience of Christmas. The young seminarian, who last February was installed as Lector by Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang, argues that Catholics should accept and announce Christmas joy for what it truly is, the moment when God became a man. “We are living a period of preparation. We are getting ready for Christmas and what is Christmas if not the birth of Jesus? But we know that Jesus is not an ordinary person. He’s not just another one of us. Celebrating the birth of Jesus is not like celebrating the birth of a simple historical figure. We are recalling the moment when God became a man and dwelt among us. The preparation I was talking about is not merely about remembering a historical event. It should be seen, first and foremost, as an opportunity, so that we can open our hearts, through conversion,” Adriano Agostinho, a candidate for priesthood born and raised in Macau, told O Clarim.

The Nativity of the son of God made Man, the young Seminarian claims, only acquires its full relevance if the mystery of the birth of Jesus Christ is understood as an occasion to reinvent ourselves, both morally and spiritually.

“It is important to reflect on the things we can improve, morally speaking. It is important to be aware of the flaws and imperfections that we can correct and ameliorate. It is important to pray more intensively, to participate more consciously in the Mass. This is fundamental, so that we can prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus into our hearts. We, Catholics, want our heart to be a place where He can be born within us,” Agostinho surmises.

Christmas is revelation

The heart, Antonio K. Wong claims, is the key to fully experience the mystery of the Nativity. Musical director of the Diocesan Choir and the Cathedral Schola of Macau choral ensemble – the two groups that carry out the liturgical services of the Chinese Catholic community at the Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady –  Wong argues that the only way to fully experience Christmas is to embrace, with our heart completely open, the mystery of the birth of Jesus Christ.

“One thing we always need to remember is that, when we say Adventus Christus, it is God who comes to us, and We are the ones who receive Him. The key here is to embrace this mystery with an open heart. A heart that seeks out from oneself to God’s reach. It is therefore, in my opinion a lacking perspective to consider ourselves active pursuers getting to know about God. A more comprehensive way of putting this is to acknowledge ourselves as recipients who are to be informed of His way with a full, active and conscious mind,” the young conductor considers.

Music and singing, Mr. Wong claims, are but one of the many ways that God uses to reveal Himself to us and to speak to our hearts.

“The gift of singing, then shall we say, is just one of the myriads of ways through which God touches and teaches us. After all, we all believe in a God who always surprises us, don’t we?” the music director of Cathedral Schola and the Diocesan Choir told O Clarim.

(Image: The Nativity scene at the Cathedral Square in Macau. Photo: Oswald Pio Vas)