By John-Henry Westen

For our family, these are the golden years of Christmas celebrations. Our seven children range in age from nine to newborn and so the holidays are filled with wonder and joy, excitement and singing. At some times there is a lack of quiet, but with grace, peace can always reign in our hearts. Five boys make for much of the action in the house, with a count down to Christmas having begun the first day of Advent.

The anticipation of the coming of the Christ Child and the celebrations which ensue have grown exponentially these last few days as the children secretly prepare gifts for one another and parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents. Creative home schooling art assignments have furnished all the wrapping paper required, garlands of popcorn string the tree successfully save for one pricked finger, the bottom boughs of the tree were heavily weighted with the vast majority of the ornaments before my good wife made slight (well not so slight) revisions, the children cleaned off their play-dough toys so they could cut out real Christmas cookies.

Advent songs are sung and Christmas carols practiced in the weeks leading up to the big day. My daughter Hannah-Marie, the eldest, now after a couple of years of painstaking practice, can accompany the carols on piano.

With one set of grandparents we celebrate on Christmas Eve then we drive a few hours to visit the other set on Christmas Day. The beautifully prepared meals, the decorations in the homes, the reading of the Christmas story by grandfathers from old family Bibles, the excitement and joy of giving and receiving gifts, the deep snow, the tobogganing with Dad, the building of snowmen and snow forts, the prayers before the crèche, these are the memories I cherish and am happy to leave to my children.

Two other short memories I’ll share with you all. Prior to my marriage, I was working in Italy for a short stint as a researcher at the University of Florence as part of my M.A., after the work was complete I delayed a week in Rome before leaving for Canada. It was just before Christmas, 1993. That summer I had assisted with youth travelling to Denver for World Youth Day and had a spiritual awakening of my own. In Rome, I came in literal touch with the historical artefacts which evidenced the life of Christ and his Apostles. I also had a meetingÂwith Pope John Paul II (well sort of).

During a general audience the Pope came around to shake hands with some of the attendees. As he shook my hand I said, “thank you for Denver,” with heartfelt thanks for the boost the event had given my own faith. He stopped, turned toward me and said, in his characteristic accent, “Ah, Denver, good people,” – a Christmas experience I will never forget.

And speaking of unforgettable Christmases, one last memory I must share is when my wife and I were hosting Christmas at our place some eight years ago. Grandparents, uncles and aunts arrived late Christmas Eve, and we were up very late visiting. Early in the morning, when all through the house not a creature should have been stirring, not even a mouse, our second child stirred. Wishing my in-laws a Merry Christmas, we left for the hospital, where our first-born son was born – December 25, 1997. We weren’t Spanish enough to call him Jesus, so we went for the Hebrew version – Joshua.

Have a happy and holy Christmas!


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