Saturday, December 26, 2009

My favorite things

This morning I watched a morning show segment about taking down all the Christmas decorations in the house. The advice guru, standing with his display of Rubbermaid tote boxes, said, "The day after Christmas, I tell my family, 'It is time to move on. Let's get this stuff packed up.'"

This is not the way of thinking in our house at all, which brings me to the ten-jillionth reasons I'm glad to be Catholic: When you're Catholic, "Christmas" isn't just one day to which we're built up over a number of increasingly early weeks; Christmas is a season. It lasts from Christmas Day until Epiphany, which falls on January 6.

All during those twelve days of Christmas, we sing carols and Mass, we feast here at home and enjoy our vacation from school, we keep the Christmas music fa-la-la-ing, we enjoy our decorations. In short, we live this short season for all get-out.

We take down our Christmas tree and pack away all the ornaments and decorations on January 7 every year, leaving all the nativity sets standing until Candlemas, February 2, which is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, the fortieth day after his birth, the time at which he was taken to the Temple and presented to the priests with the sacrifical offering of a pair of turtledoves. This is also when a baby's mother underwent the ritual purification after childbirth.

I can barely think of the author of the universe being taken to the Temple as a tiny, vulnerable infant with two doves -- animals of his own creation -- without tears welling up in my eyes, and I am so grateful for the Church, which gives us the opportunity to recognize this day every year and think about what it means to us.

The Church offers many such days and seasons throughout the year, Christmas naturally being one of the highest celebrations. Contrary to what so many people think, these seasons with their attendent rituals and/or small duties aren't meant to weight us down with "man-made" obligations: some people take verses such as Romans 8: 1-11 in a literal sense which they would never consider applying to verses such as, say, John 6: 53-59, which makes me view their motives with suspicion. No, the seasons in the liturgical year of the Church are meant for the sole purpose of guiding us into a closer relationship with Jesus. Besides, you can talk to me about freedom all you want to (which always seems to translate into "freedom from going to church and worshiping God on the golf course" or "freedom from the Law of Moses," which, I'm all like "Huh? Well, duh,") but all I'm going to do is talk to you about duty to the one who gave you the great and unearnable gift of salvation and what you ought to be doing to express your gratitude.

As humans, our very lives are guided by the turning of the seasonal wheel: winter warms into spring, spring blooms into summer, summer burns into fall and fall withers back into winter again. We can count on this process. In the same way, day follows night, which follows day. The sun never surprises us by rising in the south. Likewise, the liturgical seasons lead us through the life of Christ, always urging us to acknowledge his presence in our lives and our relationship with him.

This makes so much good sense. Advent, the season of preparation for the coming of Christ (both in the past and in the future) is followed by the Christ-Mass, the season of celebration. After a few weeks of Ordinary Time, we move into Lent, when we focus for those six weeks on the his passion and death that bought our salvation. After Lent comes Easter, fifty days of celebrating the fact that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of God the Almighty Father, et cetera. Every detail of every scriptural reading through weekday and Sunday Masses, every hymn we sing, every rosary we pray -- all these things are designed to bring us to Jesus. And cultivate a spirit of humility and love and appreciation in us, a group of people who are largely inclined to take the many blessings he has given us for granted, all while hankering for more.

So here's to the season of Christmas, which has, like, just begun. The tree lights are glowing, the house is full of the good smells of cooking, and all will be merry and bright for the next eleven days. It is a blessing to be Catholic.

1 comment:

Kayte said...

We are the same way here, nothing gets taken down until Jan. 6. The neighbors don't like the outdoor lights up past Jan. 1, so we don't light those as it doesn't seem to be promoting "Good Will toward men" with all the hassle of dealing with that. We take down two of the trees, but leave the religious tree with all it's religious themed ornaments up and the Nativity beneath it.