DEAR friends, mistletoe has become a very popular Christmas decoration. Here in Italy, for example, people give charming bunches of mistletoe twigs with a big red bow to family and friends to wish them a New Year full of peace, serenity and health.

There are many stories and legends related to this plant, but there is one rich in religious meaning that I have known since childhood because it was featured in a book that my parents gave me one Christmas long ago.

According to this tale, at the time of Jesus’ birth, a rich old merchant lived near Bethlehem. All his life he had only wanted to earn a lot of money from the goods he sold, and now he found himself alone, without friends or family, since he had never wanted to marry. The only source of his joy had been counting all the coins he could accumulate, but long ago even that satisfaction had deserted him.

One night, in the grip of long-standing insomnia, the merchant came out of his house and was greeted by the voices of a number of shepherds saying, “Brother, come with us!”

“How could anyone call him brother,” the old man wondered, “since he had always behaved greedily and dishonestly with his customers?” In any case, out of curiosity, he asked them where they were going. When he received the answer, he thought of following them. He, too, wanted to go to that grotto where, according to the shepherds, the Savior of the world lay in a manger.

Upon reaching their destination, all the shepherds knelt before the Baby Jesus praising God and presenting Mary and Joseph with their poor gifts. They were all happy except for the old merchant who, despite being the richest of all, found himself empty-handed.

Suddenly, seeing the little baby lying in that poor manger, the old man felt great remorse arise within him for having been so greedy and having made so many people suffer. When his turn came, he knelt before the Baby Jesus, asking for forgiveness, “I have nothing to offer you except all my repentance, and the promise that from now on I will do my best to help my neighbor. Please forgive me.” And he began to cry so sincerely that at dawn, when the dew shone under the first rays of the sun, his tears were still there, but around them little green leaves had sprouted – mistletoe had been born.

In a few days it will be Christmas again. The trees, decorations, and lights remind us that the festive season will soon be here despite the many difficulties facing us this December 2022. But I wonder, would be the festival God likes? What Christmas would He want? What gifts and surprises?

The first Christmas was indeed full of surprises: a virgin becoming a mother; a man becoming the father of a child he did not beget, God, the Divine Word, creator of the whole universe becoming a baby capable only of babbling and wailing. What gift, then, should we give God if we really wanted to experience Christmas the way He likes it?

I think the most welcome surprise for the Lord would be to open our hearts to Him so that He can freely enter and accomplish what He has planned for us. This is pretty much what happened to the old merchant in our story, who let the Baby Jesus enter his heart to change him from a greedy and dishonest merchant to a generous and caring man.

Dear friends, Christmas means preferring the silent voice of God to the din of consumerism, and if we can pause in silence in front of the Nativity scene, Christmas will be a surprise for us too. I wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2023!

Updated on November 30 2022