Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nicholas and why I don't say 'Merry Christmas.'

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas! Down with Arius!

This is just great: 19 days before Christmas my kids get to open presents and eat chocolate stuff. It's almost as good as being Jewish and opening presents for 8 nights in a row while all the Gentile kids are still doing their Advent penance (My best friend growing up was Jewish for Hanukkah, and I envied her.). We did it up in style this morning, thanks to a dear old friend who sent a play kitchen for the girls. We'll do it up again Thursday for the Immaculate Conception and then hunker down in the bleak midwinter until Christmas Eve.

Advent isn't very long and, punctuated by all these feasts, it becomes even shorter. It's like a pregnancy--a time of waiting and preparing--made brief by the birthdays, feast days, and celebrations of a bustling family life.

In years past, I felt inescapably annoyed for most of Advent. I bought into all those movements to "Keep Christ in Christmas," I felt righteous when we saw the insistent manger scene in the Town Square, I rolled my eyes when the White House ended the tradition of the Christmas Tree. "It's Christmas time!" Not "holiday time," no "holiday parties," no Kwanzikahmas for me.

And it's still that way sometimes. I've been less bothered this year by all the frantic, secular holiday decorations. The songs in the grocery store roll off a little more easily. Go ahead. Play "Rudolph" and "Winter Wonderland." If the world feels weird about saying "Christmas," that's fine.

Actually, it is more than fine. It is good. The words match the reality. Bill O'Reilly makes a yearly grump about "Christmas," but we shouldn't insist on saying "Christmas." There are two reasons.

First. It's not Christmas. For the apostolic churches--the Orthodox and Catholics--it isn't Christmas. The weeks before the great solemnity are a time of fasting and preparation. If the clerk in the grocery store doesn't wish you "Merry Christmas," he's doing you a favor. It's not Christmas yet. The "Holiday Tree" lighting in town is just fine. It's not Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving. Word matching reality.

Second. Our culture is not Christian. Observant Christians are a subculture. It is folly to expect the popular media and stores to celebrate Christmas. We were Christian long ago and in a different era, but those days are fading even from our oldest generation's memory. For our children, looking forward, the world is a different place. The more secular the "holiday season" becomes, the more obvious becomes the difference between what the Church celebrates and preserves and what the sitcom "holiday specials" promote. This could be a good thing. Words matching reality. Symbols finding their true meaning.

So, we're letting it go. I won't immerse our kids in the holiday culture--we stay at home more these days--but I won't avoid it either. Todd and I have chosen to propose an alternative to them: a liturgical year that follows the liturgical years of all the ages. And unto ages of ages. Amen.

And besides, we're too busy practicing to be St. Lucy.


Faith E. Hough said...

This is an interesting way to look at it. I always try to keep in mind that all the frenzy the world associates with "the holidays" is a sign that their hearts are longing--"restless" as St. Augustine would say, though they don't know what (or Who) they are restless for. So it can be annoying. But it's a sign that the world is still subconsciously aware of a lack that needs to be filled.

April said...

We're expecting our first child in March - and my husband and I have been talking a lot about how we will be raising our kids in an "ancient Rome" culture, not the "Judeo-Christian" culture our parents expected we would live in. And so, I'm inclined to think you're right. It doesn't really do us a service if the world celebrates "Christmas", if what they are celebrating is not really Christmas.