30 Nov 2014
“You were angry, and we sinned. You hid yourself, and we transgressed. … There is no one who calls on your name or attempts to take hold of you for you have hidden your face from us.” (Isaiah 64:5, 7) In the name …
We’re at the tail end of the Thanksgiving Day Weekend this morning. Today is one of the busiest travel days of the year. 40 million Americans have been on the move this weekend and many of them are heading back to their homes today. I’m hoping not too many of them live up in Vermont and New Hampshire because we’re driving Amanda back to college this afternoon and I have to be back in time for catechism or else the kids will cry. A lot of that holiday travel had to do with getting together with family and friends over the dinner table, and on those tables sat some 51 million turkeys. Americans spent about $2.3 billion on Thanksgiving meals because turkey was only one part of the feast. And on top of all that, Thanksgiving Day is now when Black Friday sales start. That throws another $60 billion into the pot. This is all quite a difference from the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving when they were grateful to God for the barest of necessities, for a harvest that they hoped would carry them through their second winter in the New World. It was about survival. A day of giving thanks to God for basic necessities has been transformed into a weekend of excess with barely a mention of God.
And since we’re talking about Pilgrims and since today is also the first day of the church’s preparation for Christmas, I hope we remember from our school days that the Pilgrims didn’t celebrate Christmas. They thought it was a pagan tradition. That practice held all the way through the Civil War years in states like Massachusetts that were founded by those old English Puritans. But on December 22nd the descendents of the Pilgrims did celebrate Forefather’s Day, the anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing in America. It’s still observed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and up until the Civil War it was a big deal. National politicians would converge and celebrate the Puritans and what they stood for, but except for Plymouth that Forefather’s Day holiday has disappeared from our calendars.
The celebration of Thanksgiving has been transformed and Forefather’s Day has disappeared. These things can happen. These things have happened. And as we begin to prepare for Christmas, we should be aware that the same sort of thing is happening with Christmas. Christmas as a religious holiday is fading as more and more people celebrate it stripped of the Jesus story. We’ve got snow. We’ve still got tomorrow’s Cyber Monday sales. And for a lot of people that’s enough for Christmas. They’re much happier watching a new big screen television than they would be coming to Mass. We’ve even got politicians and pundits crying about the demise of Christmas as phrases like Happy Holidays become more prevalent, but this is for their own benefit. This sort of thing isn’t some organized anti-Christian propaganda. It’s the real life fact that Christmas is less and less about Christ’s -Mass of the Nativity because more and more people are observing Christmas without the Christ Child, including Christians.
We can moan about this unfortunate slide away from a religious Christmas, but I don’t know how much that will change things. Or we can offer a more appealing alternative to what the Happy Holidays represent. This past week I was talking to a young father of a six year old child with one on the way. He was already anxious about how much Christmas presents were going to cost as they were trying to save up for the additional expenses of the newborn. And I said to him, “Then why spend so much?” Christmas spending has become an unnecessary burden and it has so little to do with the real spirit of Christmas giving. It’s become commercial not charitable. It’s about profits not the prophecy of a child born in poverty. Christmas blankets for the shut-ins. SOCL and Souper Bowl of Caring. VA Hospital on the 14th.
Christmas is also too hectic. A few weeks back there was a Family Circus cartoon in the Sunday paper. The adults were fretting over the fact that Christmas is only about a month away and there’s so much to do, while the children in the other room were complaining that Christmas is still about a month away. Happy Holidays can be exhausting, and this has nothing to do with the real Christmas message of peace on earth and goodwill among neighbours. Christmas is ideally about gathering in the dark of a quiet and cold night to announce Jesus’ birth. Christmas isn’t supposed to drain us; it’s supposed to renew us.
And the worst offense of all perpetrated by the Happy Holidays crew is how insincere it can all be. They can advertise all they want with words about family, home, community or love, but when it comes right down to it they will say what needs to be said to sell us more stuff. They don’t care that many families won’t pay off Christmas until the following summer. They want the money. Then think about the Christmas we’re getting ready for. The Christmas language of joy, celebration and community all spring from the Christ Child. Forget Him and these loose their motivation. God gave up everything to be born as an ordinary human being. He accepted poverty and anonymity to be one with all people. He was born in a defeated nation to be at one with the powerless. Stories of angels and stars heralding Jesus’ birth are nice, but the greatest message of Christmas is how extraordinarily ordinary it all is. Isaiah today tells us that the ancient Jewish people felt God was angry with them and distant, and this caused the people to turn away. They saw no purpose in turning to God. Christmas is God’s reply. He gave up everything to be with us. If sincerity is measured by commitment, then the Jesus of Christmas is off the scale.
We need to stand up to Happy Holidays with the real meaning of Christmas. That’s what Advent and church give us the chance to do. It reminds us that there is another way to prepare. I hope you will share this message with a tired world that needs to hear again the message of a religious Christmas because what it’s changing into is not at all appealing. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo