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Slowing Down

How a minister’s career shift made Christmas magical again.

For 20 years, I hated Christmas. Or perhaps hate is too strong a word. It’s more accurate to say that Christmas was exhausting, and always I dreaded its arrival. As a pastor with four children I worked hard to have gifts bought and wrapped by the first Sunday in Advent because the month of December was filled with church potlucks, extra worship services and a Christmas pageant. Then there were children’s school and music concerts, my husband’s work events and a host of traditional at-home activities. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without gingerbread houses, advent calendars and homemade shortbread for the kids, right? Every year I spent weeks running on too many cookies and not enough sleep.

In 2018, everything changed when I left the parish life for a new role at a retreat centre, which coincided with two children living on their own and a change to my husband’s work. And I discovered that when you have a little bit of breathing room, Advent and Christmas aren’t so terrible.

It felt strange at first – no parties, no pageant, no frantic rushing from one thing to another. There was time to linger over Advent candles and a glass of wine on Sunday evenings. Our family cut our own Christmas tree on a snowy December afternoon, laughing all the way. I went to bed at a reasonable hour every single day and by the time Christmas arrived, I was relaxed and ready to enjoy the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

In this year of COVID-19, we may all find that Advent and Christmas are quieter than usual. Before 2020, none of us could have imagined a holiday season without church services packed to the rafters and big family dinners with turkey and all the trimmings. If you are lamenting that the holidays just won’t be the same this year, take heart. There are gifts to be found in a slower celebration. May you and yours find them all.


  • Kristine O’Brien

    Kristine is executive director at Crieff Hills Retreat Centre in Puslinch, Ont. Visit them at crieffhills.com. Crieff acknowledges the traditional territory inhabited by the Chonnonton people, and other First Nations neighbours including the Haudenosaunee, the Anishnaabe and The Métis nation.

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