The Christmas Cynic
I suppose for everyone, there is a different image that comes to mind of the perfect Christmas. After all, every country has their own version of Jolly Ol' St. Nicholas and how he brings Christmas presents to children. For my German mother, the picture perfect image of Christmas was that Bavarian Christmas Eve, once upon a time, when her very poor mother brought all seven children to midnight Mass, and when Mass was over, stepping outside, the ground was covered in feet of snow. All of us--fortunate ones--have some fond memory of that idyllic Christmas event.
For me, the perfect Christmas was when I was 14 years old. The whole extended family came over to our house for Christmas Eve, to eat little salami and rye bread sandwiches (very German), deviled eggs, little quiches, wine, etc, and later open a mountain of presents arranged under our real 10 foot tall Christmas tree (the kind they traditionally sell out in Bixby, just south of Tulsa).
Then we were off to Midnight Mass, my dad singing in the choir, and me serving. In front of the altar (novus ordo) was a large, beautiful manger, surrounded by Christmas trees lit with white lights. Father would process in holding a little statue of the Baby Jesus, which he would place in the crib, while all stood watching with candles in a dark church. Later, my future brother-in-law and I played my new Nintendo, and then slept in, to awaken to a new blanket of snow across the yard and woods. Before a Turkey dinner, we went sledding, and drank hot cocoa. The family were all on good terms, and joy and cheer were in the air.
Chesterton Loved Christmas
I was reading recently how Chesterton really loved Christmas as one of his most favorite times of the year, especially Christmas dinner with a Turkey. He loved how Christmas makes the serious demand on us to grow closer as family and friends, and to more sincerely love one another.
The Paradox of Secularized Christmas
But there is also the negative paradox or contradiction of the typical American, secularized Christmas, epitomized in the artwork of Norman Rockwell, who helped sell a lot of Christmas trees and sleds.
Whereas the very first Christmas emphasized the poverty of Our Lord and Savior, the secular Christmas emphasizes expensive presents, spending money, and impressing family with the perfect dinner and table placement. All inherently good things, but out of proportion to the true celebration of Christmas.
Whereas the very first Christmas was filled with supernatural joy
and hope for the salvation of mankind, today's secular Christmas emphasizes material success and an artificial comfort enabled by the latest techno-gadgets (by the way, I love my Google Mini).
Whereas the very first Christmas was the manifestation of Unconditional Love for all mankind, in the Incarnation, today's Christmas is conditional. Worldly conditions that mutilate a joyous, spiritual, family time into a consumeristic emotional pressure cooker, whose only relief is when Christmas is over Christmas night (whereas for us practicing Catholics, it has just begun).
A Norman Rockwell Christmas
Well, I still love the Christmas tree (we are trimming our tree Christmas eve this year) and the Christmas Turkey and Norman Rockwell, but this Christmas more than ever I am trying to focus my mental energies on the Nativity set that adorns our family altar. There in the center is an empty crib, awaiting the birth of the Christ Child.
My prayer is that all of you have a very Merry Christmas, and that you might taste the true Joy of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
(For Information about how to do Advent and Christmas in a traditional Catholic way, here is the Ideal resource, at Fish Eaters Website: Customs)