Oh Christmas!

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

November 17, 2009


            Oh Christmas!

            That is what my 89 year old mother says sometimes when she is overwhelmed. It probably is an old fashioned “circumlocution” (literally “speaking around”). It’s a way of letting off steam without taking the Lord’s name in vain.

            But it expresses the way a lot of people feel about Christmas: overwhelmed.

            It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. We have done this to ourselves.

            Many Christians down through the ages didn’t even celebrate Christmas.

            The Puritan settlers forbid the celebration of Christmas. It was seen a Papist holyday, filled with useless frivolity. They saw no point in enjoying themselves. 

            It was 19th century England, by way of people like Charles Dickens, that gave Christmas it modern form. But the 19th century Christmas was far simpler than ours. For one thing it was only 12 days, not two months. Remember that Bob Cratchitt, in the “Christmas Carole only asked for Christmas day off the day before. And Scrooge did not think he should give it to him.

            Most of the stuff we identify as part of the Christmas celebration is very recent and not very Christian.

            The only essential is to celebrate is the Incarnation.

            We want to celebrate our faith that God entered into our time and our space and our human condition. He cares about us. By coming among us, He says we are valuable to Him.

            That is really is something to celebrate.

            We are not “lost in the cosmos” as Walker Percy said. We are remembered and wanted by no less a person than God himself, who took on our flesh.

            The only essential of Christmas is to celebrate that.  

            For Catholics the most important part of the Christmas celebration should be the liturgies of the season. If we plan our Christmas around anything, it should be the liturgy.

            Oddly, I find that more and more, the liturgy is an after thought in the planning of the season. Mass gets “sandwiched in” around the shopping and wrapping and entertaining.

            A symptom of this “sandwich in” phenomenon is the fact that the Christmas Eve masses are crowded but the Christmas morning masses are empty in many churches. People just don’t go to church much on Christmas day. They get mass “out of the way” on Christmas Eve so they can be free for celebrate Christmas. Odd.  

            After the liturgy, I think the most important about Christmas is remembering others. This is especially important for children and people who would be otherwise forgotten.  

            Like most parishes we have Christmas baskets and dinners for the poor. We also have a giving tree to remember children and disabled in our community who won’t get a gift. This year we are helping of a young widow with five children. Her husband died at age 30 of cancer.

            We are also remembering relatives and parishioners who are overseas in the military with a gift packages for their military units in Afganistan and Iraq. This year we also bought 130 sets of sweat suits to give to injured soldiers when they get off the plane from the war, to keep them warm while they wait to be transferred onward. We are also remembering some people who are in prison.

            Just because people are gone should not mean they are forgotten.  

            What about the rest of the stuff? It doesn’t really matter. If it stresses you out, forget it.

            Christian “feast days” are not meant to be a burden. They are supposed to be a joy.

            When we exclaim, “Christmas!” it is not exasperation but exultation.