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Recapturing the Wonder of Christmas
By Susan Hines-Brigger


Experiencing 'The Look'
Embracing the Big Picture
Family Time: A Scavenger Hunt With a Twist

This past summer my family went on vacation to Disney World in Florida. It was our fourth trip there since our 11-year-old daughter, Maddie, and seven-year-old son, Alex, were born, and our third trip in as many years.

But if I’d had my way originally, none of those trips would have happened.

“Too crowded, too hot, too expensive,” I told my husband, Mark, the first time he brought up the idea of taking the kids to Disney.

“But the kids would love it,” he replied. “And it’s the most magical place on earth,” he added with a smile.

After much discussion, I eventually conceded and we packed up and went. By the morning of day one, I was forever converted. Here’s why.


Experiencing 'The Look'

On the first day of our first visit—still not feeling “the magic”—I hopped on the crowded monorail, scanned our park tickets and prepared for a day of long lines and oppressive heat. As we stepped onto Main Street USA in Magic Kingdom, Maddie and Alex stopped in their tracks right in the middle of the street. I attempted to usher them along, aware that we were in imminent danger of being run over by the sea of people rushing into the park. But they wouldn’t budge.

I looked down to see what had them so fascinated and saw them gazing up at Cinderella’s castle, their eyes wide with amazement and wonder. It is a look that will be forever etched in my heart. And it is a look I saw once more this summer on the face of my three-year-old daughter, Riley, when she entered the park.

I had seen that look before in countless moments throughout my life. That look that says, “This is big. I’m not sure exactly what it means, or how it’s going to play out, but I can tell it’s big.”

In that moment, in those looks, I suddenly understood why Walt Disney’s original vision has been able to continually capture people for years. Suddenly it wasn’t about all the reasons I didn’t want to go on that first trip. It was about stepping away from all those things and allowing myself to look just a little bit deeper.

Disney aside, it’s the look I imagine the shepherds, Magi and all those other people in the Christmas story must have had when they happened upon the manger or saw the angels announcing Jesus’ birth, the moment when I imagine they must have thought, This is something big.

Embracing the Big Picture

Let’s face it, these days there are plenty of things that might keep us from seeing that big picture, such as work, a hurting economy, family obligations and other day-to-day stresses. But please don’t let all those things keep you from seeing that some things are bigger than what we see on the surface. Every once in a while we need to dig below the surface to rediscover those hidden treasures.

The Christmas season is like that. Underneath all the wrapping paper and gifts is the real gift—Christ’s birth. But how often do we allow ourselves to get there?

For most of us, Christmas means shopping for that perfect present, baking, planning get-togethers, Christmas cards—need I continue the list? But Christmas is about so much more. It’s about the hope given to us by a baby, born in a manger.

In the book Holy Bells and Wonderful Smells: Year-Round Activities for Classrooms and Families, author Jeanne Hunt summed it up well when she wrote, “As we look back on our own Christmas memories, it is not the gifts we received that we remember, but rather, the good times, the funny moments, the poignant events that stay with us. We retain little memory of how clean the house was or the menu of the day. What remains are the moments of love and joy....These moments become the treasures of Christmas past.”

Take some time to think about what those moments have been in your life. Perhaps it was the birth of your child, a death, an illness, a simple conversation with a friend. It doesn’t matter where we find that message or get that reminder, just that we find it.

So for this month’s column, I offer only one suggestion for a holiday project. If you have time for it, great. If not, I completely understand. There are presents to buy and wrap, food to prepare and parties to attend. All I’m suggesting is that this holiday season we all try to slow down a little bit and look a little deeper.

Focus on the real message of the season, which is so much bigger than all the lights and wrappings. Reclaim the joy and wonder of this season that has become so big, but began with a tiny baby in a manger in Bethlehem.


When I was in high school and college, my friends and I used to love going on scavenger hunts. We would come up with a list of items to retrieve or places to visit and then head off in teams. The first team back with all the items on their list checked off was the winner.

It was always a lot of fun. But wouldn’t it be even more fun if the stuff on the list really mattered or had a point? This holiday season, gather your family or get together a couple families or a group of your friends and embark on a scavenger hunt with purpose. It can be a one-day event, a weekend adventure or even take the entire Christmas season.

First of all, develop a list of items that should be included in the hunt. Try to think bigger than just material items. You can take pictures or bring back items that prove you completed the task such as a receipt, brochure, etc.

For instance, one of the items on the list could be to drop off a donation at a local charity, or to buy and wrap a gift for someone off the giving tree at your parish. Some other suggestions:

• Visit a local manger scene. While you’re there, stop and say a prayer.

• In the spirit of the Magi, who followed a star to find Jesus, locate the North Star. Take a picture of the star or visit a local planetarium, if you have one in your area, for information on the Christmas Star.

• Go to the zoo and take a picture of the animals historically said to have been in the manger on Christmas Eve.

Whatever you decide to put on your list, be creative with your ideas. But try to find ones that go a bit deeper to the heart of the Christmas message.

If you don’t have time for a scavenger hunt, take a ride and revisit some of the places that have provided special moments throughout your life, if possible. I know my kids love driving past the house where their grandparents grew up. It gives them a physical connection with all the stories they have heard. Take time to share some of those places that hold special meaning for you.


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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