Sunday, December 29, 2013

Showing Up: Santa and the Saints

TBM Topic #36: Feast Days and Holidays

Growing up, I remember Christmas Eves of past, staring out the window of my bedroom, waiting to see the silhouette of Santa and his reindeer cross over the moon. Then Christmas would happen, Santa would eat all the cookies, there would be family all around, and we'd keep the tree up for another couple weeks, until the approach of Lent shamed us into taking all the holly down.

The real fun, however, was in Advent. The grand preparations for the feast of Christ's birth as we set up the Nativity scene, lit the Advent candles, said our prayers and ate our meals. We celebrated the feast of St. Nick and read from the gospel of Luke. We fixed plates upon plates of white chocolate and festive M&Ms covered pretzels for our teachers.

After watching Bonnie's video, I realized that my holidays I had growing up were minimal on the liturgical living scale and perhaps more focused on Santa and his crew, but my parents taught me the importance of Christ's coming, the story of the Nativity, the unimportance of presents, the gift of gratitude, and a thankful heart.

Santa Does Not Take Away from Jesus

Santa Claus, whether he is in the form of St. Nick the Heresy Puncher or the Jolly Fat Man Who Delivers Gifts, is part of our culture. As Mary (our Lord's mother) is frequently a red herring for idolatry, so Santa is a red herring for a lack of reverence at Christmas. Is it Santa's fault that people sing "Here Comes Santa Claus" and not "Here Comes the Christ Child (right down Christ Child Lane)!"? Santa appeals to a wider audience because of his inherent goodness and generosity. He freely gives presents away to boys and girls of the world -- and it is us consumers who have made him an idol of the season.

As I've written before, I do not think there is a dichotomy between Santa and Jesus the Infant, because they are on two different levels of the season. Santa Claus is part of a child's imagination, the personification of goodness. Jesus Christ is love, and for those who do not know him, Santa Claus can be a gateway. Is Santa a substitute for Christ? Absolutely not. A harmless addition to a Christian feast day which has also become a cultural holiday? Yes. Let Santa be the gift-giver who keeps on giving, and share the message of Christ to help him better permeate the culture.

A Saint's Feast Day = Mini Fourth of July

Think of the holidays, as a country, we celebrate. There are three days of obligation between the start of Advent and the Epiphany: the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (December 25) and Mary, the Mother of God (January 1).

Other feast days:
December 3 - St. Francis Xavier
December 6 - St. Nicholas
December 9 - Blessed Juan Diego 
December 12 - Our Lady of Guadalupe 
December 13 - St. Lucy
December 14 - St. John of the Cross 
December 26 - St. Stephen 
December 27 - St. John the Evangelist
December 28 - The Holy Innocents 
December 30 - The Holy Family 
January 4 - St. Elizabeth Ann Seton 
January 6 - The Epiphany

First Sunday after the Epiphany - The Baptism of Our Lord (end of the Christmas season)

The saints of Advent are more brothers and sisters to invite to your holiday parties. They have awesome stories to tell, they give assistance in our times of need, and we can celebrate their lives just as we celebrate birthdays, the birth of our country, the birth of our Lord, and new years and beginnings.

The Importance of Showing Up

The shepherds came to see Jesus; the Magi came to see Jesus; the practicing and the lackadaisical go to Mass to see our Lord. And that's important. In Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, she tells the story of her daughter not wanting to swim in the heat her coach put her in; her daughter didn't think she could win, and everyone would be watching:
This was an opportunity to move the levers--to refine what's important to her. To make our family culture more influential that the swim meet, her friends, and the ultracompetitive sports culture that is rampant in our community. I looked at her and said, "You can scratch that event. I'd probably consider that option too. But what if that race isn't to win or even to get out of the water at the same time as the other girls? What if your goal is to show up and get wet? ... Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is show up."
I used to wonder at the end of Harry Potter, when J.K. Rowling wrote that Harry and Dudley sat with each other tersely every holiday, and it's beautiful. Hospitality and the opening of one's heart towards the welfare of others can only be fulfilled when another sees the good in that time spent together.

For many, when it comes to Mass and spending time with the Lord, it can be a struggle. Maybe it's boring. Maybe there's too much singing. But mostly, I suspect, the relationship is weak. We cannot expect to feel a strong connection with God if we do not show up and spend time with him; if we do not pray and talk to him; if we focus on negativity and not on the possibility of falling in love.

The opportunity to spend time with the Lord is here, and Christmas is when we celebrate his entrance into the world as a baby, completely vulnerable. Christmas is a time for us all to show up.

Gratitude and Thanks-giving

But let us not forget the presents in the midst of his Presence. Feast days and holidays are opportunities for food sharing and gift giving. There can be excess of both, and a belittlement of thoughtfulness. If we learn anything from the saints, it is the ability to accept the gifts God has given us. Be they spiritual, physical or cultivated virtues, the gifts one has should be regularly appreciated.

Nothing is guaranteed in this life, and the holidays seem to be prime ground for pettiness and poking our loved ones. Instead of reassuring one another of our love and building the walls of trust higher, we look for cracks and find reasons to grumble. Instead of replying back to a "funny joke" with a biting jab, think, "Is this the hill I wish to die on?"

One way to fight back against bitterness is to count your blessings - literally. Embrace your inner Pollyanna, smile to show your gratitude, say "thank you" often, have an accountability partner, and pray. When we start to consciously focus on the positives, the negatives fade faster and neatly away.

The reason for the season is renewal - the birth of the Lord, the bringing peace into the world. There will never be an end of conflict as sin continues to ravage this weary world, but we can love at home, as Blessed Mother Teresa said in her Nobel Peace prize acceptance speech:
"You too try to bring that presence of God in your family, for the family that prays together stays together. And I think that we in our family don't need bombs and guns, to destroy to bring peace - just get together, love one another, bring that peace, that joy, that strength of presence of each other in the home. And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world. 
There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty - how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving."
In perspective, whether we celebrate Santa or only discuss Christ; whether we make cookies or buy them from the store; whether we live liturgically or just try to live in imitation of Christ -- if we do not live in love, if we do not love our families, and if we do not forgive ourselves to failing to live up to our own standards, then we miss the opportunity to know Christ better, which is what every day alive is really about.

{See the FB page for more! Happy feast of the Holy Family!}

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