Sunday, December 11, 2005

What Is Christmas, Anyway?

By Mitchell

I'm not sure if this a criticism or a curiosity, although I suspect it'll become clearer to me as I go on.

The most recent issue of the New Oxford Review (I like to think that I can digest a number of different viewpoints, whether I agree with them or not) has an article about the continuing secularization of Christmas and the date's subsequent loss of identity. Yours truly, along with many others, has been fighting for some time to reclaim Christmas as a date of religious significance - even if only by acknowledging the date by name.

NOR has another idea though - abandon the day altogether. Give it to the secularists and let them continue it as the pagan holiday it has become. After all, Christmas "isn't anywhere near the pinnacle of the liturgical year." The author (and I'm sorry for not linking, but they don't have a link to this article available on their website, not even for their print subscribers, unless you buy an additional web subscription) quotes #1171 of the CCC that Christmas is just one of the "various aspects of the one Paschal mystery," part of "a cycle of feasts surrounding the incarnation" that includes the Annunciation and Epiphany. NOR continues that for Catholics, it's all about Easter, the "Feast of feasts" (true) - after all, "isn't 'our future resurrection' what it's all about?"

Well, yes - but Bishop Sheen used to say that you couldn't get to Easter Sunday without going through Good Friday, and the same holds true for Christmas. Without the Incarnation, which culminates in the Nativity, you can't have Easter, either. And I might point out that Christmas is a Holy Day of Obligation, unlike the Annunciation, (Epiphany, by virtue of being celebrated on Sunday, is a de facto HDO), so obviously the Church must put some stock in it. And it's also true that it was the Puritans who put the kibosh on celebrating Christmas - the Church deserves a teeny bit of credit for restoring the lustre to the day, don't you think?

Now, this isn't to downgrade the Annunciation, Ephipany, or any other day on the liturgical calendar, for that matter. Yes, we should (and many of us do) recognize the supreme importance of Easter, but you shouldn't have to do it by taking a pound of flesh out of Christmas. This isn't a zero-sum game (although NOR seems to think most things are). And for the life of me, I don't see anything wrong with celebrating Christmas. I'm not about to take take NOR's advice and leave Christmas to the heathens - which, the author adds, "given its proper place, [is] not such a devastating loss." I wonder, does he really mean that? Does he? We might as well get rid of worship to the Child Jesus then, since the Nativity isn't such a big deal. (But were I to seriously suggest that, I'd be guilty of the same disjointed logic that NOR applies.)

NOR doesn't usually give up so easily, which makes me wonder if they're not being deliberately provocative. If so, it's one more reason to discredit the publication, since they're obviously not interested in serious dialogue, but only in being contrarian. As anyone who's read this blog must know, we take Christmas - the religious part of it - very seriously. While we engage in celebration of the entire month, we never lose sight of what it's all about. And yes, we could all stand to remove ourselves a bit (more that a bit, in truth) from the commercialism, the excess materialism, and the banal substitution of "Happy Holidays" in order to avoid the shame of mentioning the word "Christmas." But we must remember that the fall of Satan occurred, many believe, because of his refusal to follow a God Who would humble Himself by becoming man. That humility, which lead to our salvation, began with the Annunciation, manifested itself in the Nativity, and came to its fruition in the Passion and Resurrection. Why not just keep all these days holy, including Christmas? And if you don't want to do that, I hope you don't object that some of us would like to try. (Perhaps the editors of NOR would rather follow this model instead.)

Elsewhere in this issue, there's an ad promoting "Christmas Gift Rates" for NOR. "Give a gift that lasts," the text says. What a great idea. But just why is it that we're giving gifts, again? I forget. Is this "Christmas" some kind of a big deal or something? Perhaps the editors of NOR could write something explaining it to us - after they sharpen their crayon, that is.

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