Saturday, December 17, 2011

Happy Holidays

The “Christmas wars” seem to have died down a bit in recent years, but there are still shots fired and plenty of smoke. The “Christmas wars” refer to the tug-of-war between those who want to keep Christ as the “reason for the season” and those who prefer to completely secularize it.

The “wars” have seen such things as law suits over manger scenes in public places, calling the Christmas tree a “Holiday tree”,  foregoing the word Christmas altogether for the likes of “Holiday Season” or “Yule”, and the battle over whether to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”.

I prefer to say the latter (Happy Holidays) for a very simple reason: I’m Catholic. The Catholic season of Christmas begins with Christmas, not ends with it. And one of the things I greatly enjoy is wishing people a Merry Christmas throughout the whole Christmas season which continues for many days after Christmas.

So prior to Christmas I wish people “Happy Holidays” because I want to save my “Christmas” greetings for the real Christmas season, not the shopping one. Actually, for Catholics, I prefer to greet people in the four weeks prior to Christmas with “A blessed Advent to you”.

Since 1970, the Catholic Christmas season or “Christmastide” runs from the Christmas Vigil Mass (December 24) to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is the first Sunday after the Epiphany. Prior to 1970, Christmastide would run through to Septuagesima Sunday which was the third Sunday before the first Sunday of Lent.

Traditionally, of course, there are the Twelve Days of Christmas or Yuletide, the period between Christmas and the Epiphany. One of my great ambitions in life is to restore this period as one continuous period of feasting and merrymaking as it was in the Middle Ages. Just think of it: twelve days of non-stop Christmas climaxing on the Feast of the Epiphany. Wow! They sure knew how to party back then.

And why not? Liturgically it’s the Catholic thing to do! Sadly, by buying into the “Thanksgiving to Christmas” version of the Christmas season and giving only nominal recognition to the penitential season of Advent, we cheat ourselves of the fullness of the true Christmas Season and join “the world” in ending Christmas on Christmas.

And then we wonder why so many of us experience post-Christmas depression. We’re depressed because the Holy Spirit wants to “party” (as per the liturgical calendar) and we have joined “the world” and disinvited ourselves to the feast.

As a kid, I used to feel sorry for the children of other families who threw their tree out with the other Christmas trash on December 26. I remember riding my bike through the neighborhood, seeing those poor, lonely trees, with but a few pieces of tinsel left on them, unceremoniously laying on their sides next to the trashcans on the curb, and giving thanks that I was a Catholic because we always kept our tree up, in its full celebratory glory, until January 6, a tradition that I have kept with my own family.

Certainly, the Christmas Season is kept in our Catholic churches as per the liturgical calendar. The propers of the Mass continue to reflect the Incarnation and our manger scenes remain in place until the first Sunday after the Epiphany, but most of us have mentally and spiritually just gone back to work and don’t think of saying Merry Christmas until next December.

It’s probably too late to do it this year, but perhaps next year we Catholics can help restore the true Christmas Season by scheduling our Christmas parties during the true Season of Christmas and not during Advent. Maybe Christmas wouldn’t be so “hectic”. Meanwhile, it’s not too late to wish others a Merry Christmas, or even a Happy, Holy Christmas, all the way to the first Sunday after the Epiphany. And keep your trees up too!

On a related note, we Catholics should start a campaign to keep the “Mass” in Christmas. Keeping “Christ” in Christmas is a popular theme among Christians of all stripes, but that’s only half the word. Christ is kept in Christmas uniquely and especially at Mass: Christ’s Mass. Just as there is no Christmas without Christ, there is no Christmas without Mass.

But of course non-Catholic Christians do not have a “Mass” to go to. They may go to church, but Mass is quite a different matter. The Mass is where we respond to Christ’s command to “do THIS in memory of me”. No one else does that.

Oh, and one more thing. While I say “Merry Christmas” I mean “Mary” Christmas, without whom there would have been no Christ’s Mass. Well, Mary Christmas.
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