Monastic Strategies: Contemplative Christmas Eve

Monastic Strategies: Contemplative Christmas Eve December 13, 2022

Monastic Strategies: Contemplative Christmas Eve

Contemplative Christmas Eve

This uniquely challenging year gives many of us an opportunity to practice a contemplative Christmas Eve.

Some of us have learned how to spend time with ourselves this year. We may have begun to remember who we are in our deepest selves. Some of us have begun to find time for much needed rest and reflection.

This year of staying at home and stillness has shown some of us how to start slowing down and pay attention. Each moment has valuable lessons to teach us, deep truths to show us. We might look back on this year as when our lives were turned around.

For others of us, there is still time. We can still begin by practicing contemplative Christmas Eve.

Next week can be the first step in a new direction for us. We can allow traditions and expectations which weigh us down to drop away. It may be a perfect opportunity to start asking ourselves questions.

Why do we do the things we always do every year at Christmas? Where did these traditions come from, and what do they mean to us? What traditions could we develop which would put our own values into practice?

How can we celebrate Christmas in ways which do not become a long list of responsibilities?

A contemplative Christmas Eve begins with the question, What do we believe Christmas is all about?

The story of Christmas is vast and comprehensive. Each of us grows accustomed to seeing only a small part of the whole picture, hearing a few lines of the entire piece of music. We become comfortable with our own tiny piece of the puzzle.

Sometimes we need to clear away all the lights and ornaments and find the natural beauty of the tree underneath.

Contemplative Christmas Eve Practices

Christmas is a time when we can be overwhelmed by distractions. We get caught up in all the things we think we are supposed to be doing and forget what we most need to do.

Even this year fills up with parties and gatherings and our traditions. We can only appreciate so many concerts and services. After a certain point are they carrying us toward, or away from, a contemplative Christmas?

Several years ago my wife and I began following a contemplative Christmas Eve practice from Iceland. It is called Jolabokaflod, or Christmas book flood.

Books are traditional, popular gifts in Iceland. Most people there unwrap a book on the night before Christmas. Some people purchase a book for each member of their family. Others do an exchange where each person brings a book to give and gets to pick one in return. Everyone ends up with a new title to explore.

After they exchange gifts people settle in, often in bed, with their new book and some chocolate. Conversation at many Christmas parties centers on the new books everyone is reading.

We are now committed Jolabokaflod practitioners.

Part of our preparation is selecting books to read and the chocolate to accompany them. We shop together, researching which would be the best choices for our practice.

Should we choose books about Christmas, or about Iceland? Hot cocoa or chocolate which is nice and crunchy? Added flavors like mint or jalapeño?

We choose a time to start and protect our schedules from competing demands. It is surprising how many things we could be doing on the night before Christmas. When anyone invites us to do something else we explain where we will be.

The shortness of daylight hours on Christmas Eve means we can start earlier.

The Gentleness of Contemplative Christmas Eve

Contemplative Christmas Eve practices are gentler ways of spending our holidays. There are few rules to follow or expectations to meet. Much of our preparation is about letting go and escaping our own expectations.

A contemplative Christmas Eve is not about checking things off our list or earning spiritual points. Each moment of the season, including watching the lights on a tree or the fire in a fireplace, is a time of refection.

We do not need to try to force ourselves into the Christmas Spirit. It is all around us and within us.

We are not pushing ourselves to analyze or understand anything or catch up on our spiritual work. An evening of reading gives our hearts and minds an opportunity to allow a contemplative Christmas Eve to happen.

Our Christmas is not an effort to recapture feelings or a mindset we have lost. We are taking our time to be open to spiritual life. There is more to life than rushing and struggling from task to task, trying to accomplish everything.

As we practice a contemplative Christmas Eve spiritual life embraces us, wrapping its arms around us and keeping us safe.

Welcoming a Contemplative Christmas Eve

Practicing a contemplative Christmas does not mean we need any extra equipment. We do not need to buy lights or decorations, special clothes or new furnishings. There is no need for Christmas plates or candles, or particular things to eat or drink.

We might want to choose a new book and some chocolate.

Contemplative Christmas Eve practices are more about letting go than about acquiring more or doing more. We take time to reflect, time to rest, time to remember.

We are immersed in the healing waters of spiritual life and wash away everything which distracts us. There is no need for us to be afraid, to be insecure, to be anxious.

In the midst of the darkest days of the year, we discover new light and new life.

At the end of this uniquely challenging year we begin to understand the hope which will carry us forward. That hope is born in each of us and we bear witness to its power.

A contemplative Christmas Eve changes us. It reminds us Christmas is about more than playing a game.

How will we welcome a contemplative Christmas Eve into our lives today?

Will we allow a contemplative Christmas Eve to gently embrace us next week?

[Image by JasonDGreat]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is and his email address is

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