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!}

Saturday, December 21, 2013

One Year Later

One year ago, I promised to love, be faithful and honor my dearest friend in this life...

We moved twice, celebrated one graduation, changed jobs, started school again, had a baby and embarked on interviews. We've laughed, I've cried, we've trusted and loved. 

It's been a wonderful year! Thankful for God's blessings and faithfulness. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jingle All The Way!

We've been traveling since Saturday, and we're finally at my parents' for the night before driving to my in-laws' tomorrow. Until then, we're watching Arnold Schwarzenegger trying to get a Turbo Man. 

Grace was very distracting. 

I enjoy our Christmas decorations! Here is our childhood Christmas tree:

Our tree room:

The latest addition - Grace's stocking!

It's good to be home. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

#7QT: Will, Fourth Wise Man

It's Friday, Friday... Hi to Jen and y'all!


Writing is more fun than packing. I wrote The ABCs of Gift Giving for The Imaginative Conservative and hey-o! You should check it out.

More Advent posts to come too so stay tuned... I really like this one.


I've been dressing Grace all wrong...

Will (to Grace): What are you wearing?! It looks like a kitten wearing an astronaut suit! You look ridiculous!
Julie: I think that is an owl...
Will (upon inspecting more closely): Ah yes, an owl. Still looks like a kitten in an astronaut suit.

Will: How do you like not wearing pants?
Will: I don't like your pants. They have a reindeer on the butt, and then people look at your butt.
Will: It's all about the precedent, Grace!

Grace is not amused.


Or have I??

Practicing kicks!

Sitting on the bed, helping me pack... or distracting me, either one


Okay, I know you've all been waiting with baited breath... our Christmas decorations:

O [first] Christmas tree!
Grace is getting her stocking for Christmas from Mimi!
Yes, Jesus is already out. 


If you're on FB, I'm sure you've seen the request to share your favorite ten books (not thinking too hard, just the ones that have really stood out to you); here are mine:

DRUM ROLL. {in alphabetical order}

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
Shizuko's Daughter by Kyoko Mori
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh


December TBM Topic #36: "Feast Days and Holidays" 

Christmas is the feast day of Jesus' birth, and it's also an occasion of Santa Claus. Where does liturgical living come in - celebrating feast days as well as national holidays! How they are both important to celebrate? People do parades for Fourth of July, start playing Christmas music after Halloween -- and what about Our Lady of Guadalupe? Or the anniversary of our Baptism? Celebrating our birthday and our Confirmation saint's day! How do you see it?

Join us!


Staring contest. Anddddd go!

Happy days, y'all!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two Month Check-Up: Four Vaccines

Today, Grace is two months and thirteen days old, and had her third doctor's visit. We practiced tummy time in the waiting room...

And in the patient room! Everyone agrees that Grace is beautiful and a tummy time rock star.

Look at that form!

Then, to show off to the attending, she attempted to roll over. That was impressive to the doctor and less thrilling for me. Stay still! No mobility yet, please!

Grace had one oral vaccine and three shots in her thighs. She turned very red, and cried a bit, and I cooed at her how brave she was. It wasn't hard for me to see her cry or get shots - I was there to comfort her, and I know they are for the best for the long term. 

Then, I nursed her, she passed out, and we went home. 

It's one of those days where it's grand being a mom. I feel so much responsibility: yes, this is my daughter; yes, that is her rash; yes, these are her achievements; yes, she is peeing all over the table (if you're wondering about the change of clothes).

{Please say a prayer for Grace's doctor too -- 30 weeks preggo, third pregnancy, first one to go past 8 weeks!}

Later, we picked up Will from the airport, and now we're settling in for a couple days of 50 degree weather before returning to the Land of Snow Days.

I'm also burning all the Advent candles down, down, down.

buuuuuurn baby buuurn!

Off to find batteries for Grace's swing so I can keep typing with two hands...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Do You Try Too?

From Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (Douglas' best friend has just moved away): 
"Tom," said Douglas, "just promise me one thing, okay?"
"It's a promise. What?"
"You may be my brother and maybe I hate you sometimes, but stick around, all right?"
"You mean you'll let me follow you and the older guys when you go on hikes?"
"Well... sure... even that. What I mean is, don't go away, huh? Don't let any cars run over you or fall off a cliff."
"I should say not! Whatta you think I am, anyway?"
"'Cause if worst comes to worst, and both of us are real old - say
forty or forty-five some day - we can own a gold mine out West and sit
there smoking corn silk and growing beards."
"Growing beards! Boy!"
"Like I say, you stick around and don't let nothing happen."
"You can depend on me," said Tom.
"It's not you I worry about," said Douglas. "It's the way God runs the world."
Tom thought about this for a moment.
"He's all right, Doug," said Tom. "He tries."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Grace Harriet's Baptism

Grace Harriet was baptized on November 30 at 11 a.m. in Our Lord Christ the King Catholic Church, the same church Will and I were married in, and by the same priest, Fr. Ed Smith. (It was so lovely having her baptized at home, surrounded by our large family!)

Almost everyone was there to celebrate! (Grace's godmother, my dear friend Heather, is currently studying art history in Scotland. My sister Marianne was her proxy.)

My brother John is her godfather.

"Grace Harriet Baldwin, the Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross. I now trace the cross on your forehead, and invite your parents and godparents to do the same."
(The Rite of Baptism)

"God calls each one by name. Everyone's name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person." (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2158)

"Receive the light of Christ! Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. She is to walk always as a child of the light. May she keep the flame of faith alive in her heart. When the Lord comes, may she go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom."
(The Rite of Baptism)

"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is."
(1 John 3:1-2)

"When words are inadequate, people speak in gestures and signs: a hug, a touch, a gift.The language of ritual enables people to share events words cannot express. 
God's action is no more limited to sacramental actions than the whole of married love is lived out in the marriage bed. But the sacraments, like lovemaking, are moments of intensified encounter. 
In any such exchange, the more expressive the gestures and symbols, the more eloquent the communication. The More meaning you intend a gift to convey, the more carefully you choose or make it. 
Baptism speaks with water and light, oil and white garment, song, and sometimes even welcoming applause. The ride can speak as expressively as a tender embrace or as perfunctiorialy as a routine good-bye peck. Routine and tender moments both nourish love, but not the same way. One speaks of minimums, the other of possibilities. The options offered in the Rite of Baptism let you express the meanings you have discovered in the sacraments in a very personal way."  -- Carol Luebering, Handing on the Faith
Welcome, Grace Harriet!

Friday, December 6, 2013

#7QT: Just Jogging in Sperry's, Y'all!

It's between 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. and I have a Grace Harriet on my chest, bobbing her head... so let's get our link-up groove on with Jen & co.!


The most important thing: I woke up to this face yesterday morning.

I know. She's fabulous.


The second most important piece of business is the Liturgical Living: Advent link-up I am doing. Why? Because you should join in! I'm dying for insights into the holy season and how to make it more festive. Like, feast days: talk to me. Which ones do y'all celebrate? How do you celebrate? What about caritas in this giving season? And decorating. Please. In the mean time, it's raining/ misting down here in New Orleans. I thought hurricane season was over? Maybe this is what winter looks like.

So join in! You know you want to participate.  Will and I watched Christmas Vacation tonight; now that movie is full of good cheer! We love the neighbors.


On Tuesday, I had Will do Xtend Barre with me. Since it's pilates + ballet, I think he thought it would be "easy"... and he was wrong. Feel the burn, darling. For me, however, what hurt more was what we did Wednesday.

I put our mail on hold three weeks ago, before I went home with my Dad and Grace, since Will would be gone most of the week on interviews. I asked Will to meet me downtown so we could get the mail together (I can't carry a box of mail and push Grace in the stroller). First post office gave us a package but says our mail is at the other downtown location.

Well. My car was getting an oil change, but Will's car only had a half hour on the meter. So he pushed Grace and walked so fast that I had to jog to keep up. Jogging in Sperry's on the unforgiving pavement of downtown New Orleans - 10+ minutes there, and another 10ish minutes back - is the best way to bring your shin splint pains back. In case you have plans to mimic my exercise style(s).

And no, we didn't get our mail, since you are wondering. Yes, I filled out the yellow slip. (The man at the other post office remembers!) Thank you, post lady, for giving us two names and phone numbers and telling us not to mention you by name. Another day then? Retrieving one's mail is top secret business down here... Aaaaand we're jogging again.


It feels really good to be home, and by home, I mean our townhouse in New Orleans. It's a mess right now, as I get to sort through a large stack of papers I left for "later", writing more thank you notes (a wonderful blessing!!), my organization binder is in chaos, and there is always more laundry and cleaning to be done. Still - it's my work, it's my home, and it's my responsibility. That feels really good.

I feel a steep learning curve in decorating my own home. I'm glad Grace won't remember this Christmas, and a little disappointed she doesn't see how cute her binky looks sitting in her tiny shoe for St. Nick's feast day! We head back up north in less than two weeks... hard to believe! Will took an exam today, and has more, plus a couple of interviews before we drive north for another one and Christmas break. It's exhausting seeing people and sharing Grace, and so thrilling at the same time.


Most surreal part of my week? A recommendation which lead to a phone interview that resulted in a job offer. I'm going to teach AP and regular US history, y'all! For a classical school online! More on that later.


I like this article by Mary:
Pioneer and medieval women spent a lot of time sewing and cooking, sure, but that can't have been so much more boring than the plowing and animal-feeding the men were doing. Those same women spent a lot of time pregnant (earlier marriages, no modern means to postpone/avoid pregnancy, etc.), which was probably about as risky as fixing the roof or going to war, and probably seen as a good thing if for no other reason than that more kids meant more hands to help run the farm. 
This division of labor seems more sensible than sexist: if you're breastfeeding, you should be where the babies are, and if you're pregnant, you should do less heavy lifting. So it makes sense that the never-pregnant men would do the heavier work and the frequently-pregnant women would do the lighter -- but equally demanding and equally important -- work. In the days before Hot Pockets and Ann Taylor, someone had to cook and sew or the family wouldn't be fed and clothed. 
(Mary C. Tillotson, "Redeeming 'Women's Studies'", The Mirror Magazine)


Thursday Thrills: Will is re-reading Mockingjay. Grace is less enthusiastic.

"What's in this for me?"
Happy Friday, all!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Liturgical Living: Advent 2013 Link-Up

This is my first Baldwin family Advent and Christmas... and a few days in, I realized I wasn't remotely aware of it. Back in New Orleans, I'm back in short sleeves and shorts. Christmas time usually means I am bundled up and craving hot chocolate. There are palm trees outside, and there was a slight rain earlier. Yesterday's first reading was Isaiah 11:1-10; the last verse reads:

On that day,
The root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
The Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.

Okay God, I get it. Jesus is coming! And a Jesse tree or a Christmas tree is in order in our dwelling. (We have neither right now.) This got me thinking about the family I worked for who celebrated Christmas. They were not religious and their home was devoid of any kind of religious symbols, but they still had rituals: putting up the Christmas tree, decorating the house, cookie decorating with the cousins.

And now, in my own home with my husband and child, I am faced with the decisions of how we are going to celebrate and live our lives gloriously in preparation of the coming of the Christ child. It'll be an evolving process, a steep learning curve (I need to let myself get more creative), and I hope you'll share your own Advent adventures below!

Advent wreath

I bought four little votive candles tonight - we'll only be here for another two weeks, but we can at least light the purple ones! No wreath yet... on the to-buy list. Any suggestions?


The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder is my favorite, hands down. It tells the story of a little girl who chases a little lamb back before the birth of Christ, and then makes an amazing journey with the wise men, shepherds and angels to Jesus - as told to a little boy reading a homemade Advent calendar.

The Word Made Flesh: The Meaning of the Christmas Season by Pope John Paul II (as Karol Wojtyla) is a collection of homilies from between 1959 and 1978. Just lovely.


I currently have... nothing. But!!!! I've been dreaming of garland and I spotted a cute and affordable Christmas tree at Wal-Mart across the way, and we're going to buy it this week and then decorate it. {Perk of being married a few days before Christmas... ornaments were a popular gift!!} Then, after the tree is up, and I light the holiday scented candle and pour the wine, I might just be content... but garland. We need garland. And maybe a strand of twinkle lights. [Pictures to come, promises!]

Christmas at home, circa 2009
We also have the stockings my parents gave us last Christmas... and I just realized Grace now needs one too! We'll hang them by the staircase with care, with hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there!

Oh, and forget Pintrest: Katie did a link-up of Christmas decorations last year!

Favorite Movies and Music

The Muppets' Christmas Carol
It's A Wonderful Life
A Charlie Brown Christmas
A Year Without a Santa Claus
Miracle on 34th Street (ft. Natalie Wood!)
The Holiday (mostly the Arthur-Kate Winslet-Jack Black story line)

Christmas Carols station on Pandora
A Laurie Berkner Christmas album
The Muppets' 12 Days of Christmas

Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You"
Barenaked Ladies' "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/ We Three Kings"

Favorite Advent song: O Come, O Come Emmanuel! (Leah's too!)

Feast Days

There are a lot of feast days during Advent... we never celebrated any growing up, but we may start with Our Lady of Guadalupe. We're new to intentionally living liturgically!

Giving Back

One of the best parts of the season is the active giving unto others in society. Will and I have felt really called to help the homeless in New Orleans, and I am currently reading up on the best kind of care packages to make for them.

There's also this!!!!!

The Nativity

We have a little Holy Family Fontanini collection given to us as a wedding gift - I am excited to set it out, and watch the collection grow over the years! Maybe we'll have a manager soon! And a couple animals!

St. Nick and Santa Claus

My family mostly did St. Nick growing up (if my mom remembered!), and I'd love to teach the kids more about the man, the saint, the heretic face puncher. (Tis the season to be jolly!)

Will and I are split on perpetuating Santa... I'm on Team Virginia, and Will looks forward to surprising the kids when they're naughty by saying "Santa Claus isn't real!" I like (okay, lovelovelove) this approach - reasonable, fair, fun! Just spreading the Christmas cheer, y'all.

Spiritual Preparations

Meg of Held by His Pierced Hands put together an Advent Boot Camp... check it out. I'm doing it, plus a rosary a day. May try for more daily mass too.


Lighting the candles each night before dinner while reading the daily reflection...
Fulfilling presents from the Giving Tree at church...
Volunteering to help at a local charity...
Decorating the house and tree...
The Luminaria...


Hot chocolate and marshmallows, white chocolate covered pretzels, green and red M&Ms? These are a few of my favorite things! Not to mention the sugar cookies... Yum. I believe rum cake will be entered into the season this year too!


New Orleans is quite balmy, but we'll be heading back to the Midwest for half of December and half of January.  Brrrrrrr.

For those looking to unplug this Advent season, Haley writes on what she is doing to focus better on the season. And if you're looking for a Christmas present... her e-book looks rad!

As we enter into this season, I think it is important to prepare our homes as well as our hearts, as a means to more intimately know God and show his love for us. Let us gloriously prepare his coming!

Sunday, December 1, 2013