Celebrating God’s grace a little early

My six year-old, Simone, is in the Church Christmas pageant for the first time this year. She chose a role befitting her personality. “I chose the choir, Mom, because the kids who have roles don’t get to talk, but the choir sings all the time.”

Simone belts out the pageant carols with gusto. We did eventually have to intervene, though, and inform her that she will need to sing the carols with the original rhythm and tune. She much prefers her versions -- very dramatic, but unrecognizable as “Silent Night” or “Away in a Manger.”

All this pageant activity has put our house in the spirit of Christmas celebration early this year. I find that fitting for two reasons. First, because this feels like a time when we all could stand to start celebrating God’s grace a little early. Second, because we’re trying to do that very thing, much more deliberately at Catholic Charities this year.

I mean no disrespect to Thanksgiving. Indeed, people who start talking about Christmas before the pumpkin pie has been served usually annoy me. Thanksgiving is an important time, and since I’ve been at Charities, I’ve come to see it as marking the beginning of the season of giving to which Christ’s birth calls us.

We will distribute nearly 4,000 turkeys and fixings to needy families at Charities this year, and give out several hundred more grocery gift cards to help families buy Thanksgiving meals. All of the volunteers and donors involved in the turkey distribution, while making Thanksgiving possible, really are reflecting the spirit of Christmas. It is giving, and sacrifice, and the promise of a miracle at a time of great need.

That’s one reason the early Christmas spirit at home has felt so fitting. We are a people in crisis. Our neighbors are suffering, and our futures feel unsure. At Charities, though, we are finding that people are responding to that anxiety by giving what little they have. They are writing checks. They are bringing bags of food into their offices for “brown bag parties” as part of our Friends Feeding Families campaign. They are showing up on cold weekend mornings to hand out turkeys to people in need.

The other reason the early spirit feels so fitting is that, once Thanksgiving is over, Catholic Charities focuses on Christmas very deliberately. Each year, our Greater Boston region holds a Christmas Gala. It’s an important fundraiser, and a great time for our supporters to be together. Often, though, it is just another “holiday gala” that happens in December.

Not this year, and not ever again. We need Christmas. So, on December 19th, we are taking our gala back to basics. We will be doing an unabashed celebration of Jesus’ birth and the miracle he brought with him. We hope to become the annual light in the holiday season morass for our friends and supporters -- the public celebration of Christmas before we celebrate it privately, at home with our families. People who would like to join us at the gala can call Brenda McLean at 617-506-6600 or go to www.ccab.org for tickets.

Kathy Mattea, a country singer, has a song about the Nativity that opens with, “Just another homeless family, hoping for a stranger’s charity.” That is Christmas. That is our call to action as Catholics, and that is our work at Charities. During these difficult times, it can’t be too soon to get into that spirit.

Maybe I can get Simone to sing it for us.

Tiziana C. Dearing is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.