Henri Nouwen on Celebrating the Holidays — and Every Day

“Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home in An Age of Anxiety” and late author Rev. Henri J. M. Nouwen. Nouwen photo by Kelly Wise

Excerpted from “Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home in An Age of Anxiety,” drawn from talks given by the Catholic priest and theologian while he was teaching at Harvard Divinity School and edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw. Published by Convergent Books. Copyright © 2019 by The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust. Used by permission. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1.


Celebration is what we are called to. We are called to practice joy by celebrating.

What we have to learn is how to celebrate life.

Celebrating life is not a party but an ongoing awareness that every moment is special and asks to be lifted up and recognized as a blessing from on high. When I was with Jean Vanier, who ministered to people with intellectual disabilities, that is what I saw them doing all the time. The church invites us to celebrate. Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Lent, Pentecost — we celebrate the holy year. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, we celebrate Thanksgiving, we celebrate memorial days. We celebrate.

But that is only part of celebrating. We have to go further. To celebrate means to lift up the moment and say, “This is God’s moment.” To celebrate is to lift up today and say, “This is the day the Lord has made!”

And not just on Thanksgiving but also on Monday morning! Let us be glad and joyful. Let us celebrate! If we are able to celebrate life, and not only on special occasions, we realize that we have many occasions to be glad. We realize that something is happening, that something is coming through, and we have to rejoice.

When I was in Peru, the people I was staying with were very poor. They didn’t have anything. I slept on the roof because they didn’t have a room for me. They just put a bed up there. After several months of living there, I said to them, “I am going to leave next week.” They couldn’t have cared less, because since I was still there I wasn’t leaving! It didn’t register.

But finally on Saturday morning, I said, “I am leaving in an hour.” I had my suitcase and they saw that I was leaving. Because they loved me and I loved them, Sophia, the mother, gave little Johnny some money and he ran out to the store. It was noon, and my bus was leaving in 30 minutes, and I started to get nervous.

But little Johnny came back, and he had a big bottle of Coke and two cookies. He said, “We’ll have a party.” He filled the family’s one glass and took the glass to each person for a little sip. Then he broke the cookies into little pieces and shared them with everyone. Pablito, a boy of thirteen, said, “Let’s have a bit of music.” There was this old, cranky record player, I don’t know where it came from, but he made it go. He said, “Let’s dance!”

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Source: Religion News Service