We look at artistic renditions of Christmas with Christmas carolers singing with gusto, on a still winter night, as snow falls gently; families joyfully gathered together and saying Grace for the food with hearts brimming with thanksgiving and love; the Holy Family painted serenely beaming as they welcome the shepherds, the magi, and according to the carols, yes even the boy who decides that the best gift for post-partum and likely exhausted Mary, was to play a very loud drum solo for her, and we compare these depictions of calm and serenity, quietude, and peace, to the reality of these festive celebrations, and realise that many people actually do not have access to the tranquility and composure that are often aestheticised and depicted in art such as found on Christmas cookie tins and cards.

The Christmas season is often plyed with the undercurrents of highly-strung emotions – there are people who are stressed out as they worry how they can stretch their last dollar, while still paying the bills, managing family expectations, and at the same time, being able to gift their children with some semblance of joy with gifts and cheer. For some, it is an emotionally draining time, as they meet with sarcastic and unloving comments from relatives and friends, these all coming from their own special place of woundedness and insecurity – “Why are you so fat now?”; “Oh why are you in that useless job still?”; “You are exactly like your father, good-for-nothing.”; “You mean after so long you still don’t have a job…”, and these are usually followed by well-meaning advice that is unwarranted – “Oh you should do x, y , z…”; “If I were you, I would…” – these comments are thrown about carelessly, without any actual empathy or active listening, and in fact do more harm than good, for we are not someone else, and would never understand what battles another person were fighting, even if we walked a mile in their shoes. If people could drink a draught of their words, they would realise how bitter in reality their souls are.  This bitterness is poison, as they seek to bring others down, while in a sad attempt to deflect from their own insecurities.

There are yet others this season, who are literally fighting for their lives as they confront and contend with loneliness, depression, desolation, or mental disorder, or who are stuck between borders and the frontlines of warring nations and factions, where songs like Silent Night, become an ironic plea and cry for help, a prayer on the lips of refugees seeking asylum.

Amidst this relentless tumult and chaos, it can be easy to feel helpless. What we can do is to meditate and centre ourselves on the Holy Family during this time which may be potentially trying.  For the Holy Family, the time of Jesus’ birth was a time that was greatly distressing. The magi had mistakenly, or maybe not so coincidentally (as we consider how there really never is a coincidence with the Grace of God) brought the news of the Messiah’s birth into the royal court, which spurred in a jealous ruler, Herod, the desire to obliterate the competition – “… he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all the region who were two years old or under.” (Matthew 2:16). This action, while tragic, is nonetheless an affirmation of the royal identity of Jesus – the news of a royal’s birth is shared with other rulers of the nations, and Jesus is someone important enough that an existing ruler may desire to kill off such a contestant to the throne.

To have an infant Jesus, and his mother who has just recently recovered from childbirth be on a run from a despotic tyrant as he went on a killing massacre must have not been easy at all. How could the Holy Family find a place to safely hide and to wait out the sounds and the destruction of the war around them? How could they find food to feed themselves while on the run? Who would take them in on fear of being an accomplice? When they finally arrived in Egypt, Joseph had to start from scratch to settle his family in, and to seek out a job so that he could provide for his household. Tradition says that he uses the gold that was gifted by the Magi during this time to aid the poor about him, as he himself was struggling to provide for the family under his care. The Holy Family were refugees in the aftermath of a war that was not wrought out of their own making.

Theologically, the return to Egypt is a sign of God’s redeeming hand. While the Jewish people previously fled out of Egypt, the presence of the Holy Family is redemptive. As Moses freed the people from the oppression of slavery, Jesus frees his people from the oppression of sin, and leads them from darkness into light (CCC. 333, 530) –  In John chapter 1, we are introduced to Jesus as the light – “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:9-11). This was to fulfil the words prophesied by Isaiah: “The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone.” (Isaiah 9: 1).

Pope Francis (2015) reminds us,

“He alone, he alone can save us. Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst. The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.

Where God is born, hope is born. He brings hope. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war. Yet precisely where the incarnate Son of God came into the world, tensions and violence persist, and peace remains a gift to be implored and built.” (Para. 4, 5)

In this year’s Urbi et Orbi Message, Pope Francis exhorts us to remember:

“From the manger, the Child Jesus asks us to be the voice of those who have no voice. The voice of the innocent children who have died for lack of bread and water; the voice of those who cannot find work or who have lost their jobs; the voice of those forced to flee their lands in search of a better future, risking their lives in grueling journeys and prey to unscrupulous traffickers.” (2023, Para. 13).

The Holy Family is not merely a model of holiness that we can emulate and follow, but our lives need to be moulded into and on how the Holy Family met life circumstances with an unwavering trust in God’s providence and hand to provide for them and to rescue them in their time of need. Our response to these spanners that are thrown to us, must be the response of the Holy Family who countered everything with joy and thanksgiving, and did everything with the Will of God in mind.

We can be the gift, as the Holy Family was and is, to the people whom we meet who are embroiled in their battles. We can be the gift of hope and peace. We can break the cycle of negativity to be heralds of Christ light this season.


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan



Cathechism of the Catholic Church. (1997). Cathechism of the Catholic Church. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from https://www.usccb.org/sites/default/files/flipbooks/catechism/II/


Pope Francis. (2015, December 25). “Urbi et Orbi” Message of his Holiness Pope Francis Christmas 2015. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from  https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/urbi/documents/papa-francesco_20151225_urbi-et-orbi-natale.html


Pope Francis. (2023, December 25). “Urbi et Orbi” Message of his Holiness Pope Francis Christmas 2023. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from  https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/urbi/documents/20231225-urbi-et-orbi-natale.html