Mystic Nativity, Just Beginning
Mystic Nativity, by Sandro Botticelli, 1500

Are You Sure It’s Just Beginning? 

Just beginning? Does it seem like it’s just beginning . . . ?

Some images never fade. I have a vivid memory of a Christmas years ago, shortly after my return to the Faith. The Christmas tree was literally hurled through the front door on the afternoon of Christmas Day (this at the home of relatives who shall remain unnamed).

I was struck by how switched-around things had become, how the commercial “holiday season” had so thoroughly subverted the traditional liturgical “Christmas Season.” I started noticing that the so-called “Christmas songs” blaring through PA systems in retail stores in December were not really about Christmas at all (more on this below). Since that time my Lovely Bride and I have always looked for ways to preserve and honor Advent as a season of penitence and preparation, and Christmas (all of it) in its proper place, as “Christ’s Mass.”

The Image of the Invisible God 

Liturgical Cycle, just beginning

      We have found this endeavor to be more difficult than it sounds. It’s hard to be penitential when everyone around you is celebrating.  Likewise, it’s difficult to celebrate when everyone else is worn out from revelry. The good news is, the Church has an answer to this problem.

Bear in mind that the Church is the visible manifestation of Christ in our world.  We ourselves are both soul and body, and we usually need physical means to apprehend spiritual realities.  That’s one reason why Christ became Man.  He is, St. Paul tells, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 2:9).  For the same reason he has given us tangible sacraments as pathways of grace, and the Church itself.  The Church in turn has given us the liturgical calendar, so that we can live out Salvation History through our daily experience.

A Different Calendar

Most people, sadly, follow a different calendar.  It takes its cues not from Salvation History, but from the priorities of the retailers. They want to get “seasonal” merchandise on the shelves before the actual season begins, and try to get it there before their competitors. As a result, over the past century the commercial “Christmas season” (now more often called the holiday season) has started earlier and earlier.

As a result, we are putting Christmas merchandise on the shelves in September. At the same time, the Christmas-themed music (about celebrating Christmas, or maybe just the “wonderful time of year,” rather than about the Nativity of Jesus itself) begins blaring out of the stores’ PA systems.  The stores stop receiving Christmas items in mid-December and begin selling down their supplies, because once “the holiday” is over (i.e., December 25th . . . what’s that holiday called again?) they don’t want to be stuck with a lot of overstock (which means financial losses). In our post-Christian culture, the commercial Christmas season and its advertising sets the tone for society as a whole. Consequently, for most people Christmas is now over.

 The Real Christmas Season 

But not for those of us who are followers of the Babe lying in the manger.  Today is the seventh of eight days in the Octave of Christmas, all of which days are solemnities. Beyond that, the customary “Twelve Days of Christmas” extend until January 5th, the day before the traditional date of the Feast of Epiphany.  The formal Christmas Season itself extends until the Baptism of the Lord, this year on January 9th.  

JP II, just beginning

Some Catholics observe Christmas informally until the Feast of the Presentation on February 2nd. Saint John Paul II did so even as Pope, as did my lovely bride’s Polish forebears. In other words, Christmas is not yet even half-way through.

Granted, keeping Christmas when it ought to be kept can be hard, especially when we have all been living and working in an environment reveling in the “holiday spirit” during what was supposed to be the preparatory Season of Advent. Most of our world is now wearily going back about its business just when the real celebration is just starting.  

That’s where the Liturgical Calendar comes to our rescue.  There we find, as in, for instance, the Feast of St. John the Apostle, that while the Incarnation points to the Crucifixion, it is only through the suffering and death of Christ that we come to the Triumph of the Resurrection. Our Celebration of Christmas, then, is not mere revelry in defiance of the cruelty of reality.  

True Celebration 

Nor is it a vain attempt to deny that tragedy. It is true celebration because we know that, precisely because of that cruel reality, the Child born in Bethlehem has come to take us through the brokenness of this world and beyond. He has come to share with us something “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Yes, the Christmas Season is just beginning, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. When I began my first blog almost a decade ago, I set out to keep myself focused on the True Season by posting something related to that particular day for every one of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  I’ve kept that tradition up to the present day, even during years when I’ve posted almost nothing else.  Please feel free to join me for the rest of the Season, and have a very Merry Christmas!

May God Bless Us, every one!

Music for Christmas

Today’s Christmas song is “The Wexford Carol,” featuring an all-star cast headed by Alison Kraus and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, along with Natalie MacMaster, Shane Shanahan, and Christina Pato. I have posted the notes from the video and the lyrics below.

The Wexford Carol (Carúl Loch Garman, Carúl Inis Córthaidh) is a traditional religious Irish Christmas carol originating from County Wexford, and specifically, Enniscorthy (whence its other name), and dating to the 12th century.

Good people all, this Christmas-time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His beloved Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day:
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God’s angels did appear,
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
“Prepare and go,” the angels said,
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you’ll find this happy morn
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born.”

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went this Babe to find,
And as God’s angel had foretold,
They did our Saviour Christ behold.
Within a manger He was laid,
And by his side the Virgin Maid,
Attending on the Lord of life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.

Good people all, this Christmas-time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His beloved Son.

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