Let me be the first to wish you a Happy Easter! Oh, and Happy Mother's Day, Happy Father's Day, Happy Valentine's Day, Happy Independence Day, Happy Mardi Gras, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Halloween, Happy New Year, and Merry Christmas! Um, oh yes...while we are at it, Happy Birthday! None of that in any particular order, mind you.....just Happy Holidays!
No, I haven't lost it. It's just that I am learning from our culture. Since I saw my first Christmas display in early September and my first New Year's ad two weeks ago, I finally figured it out. We need to be “materially correct,” or is it "commercially correct?" ... "Consumerly correct?"... Oh heck! The point is that we are with it if we are way ahead of the game and decorate or buy all the stuff we need to prepare for any holiday really early. It does not even matter what order we do it in, just make sure to be ready and do not delay. Therefore we should shop for Christmas not just now, but on Thanksgiving Day, too. After all, the good stuff might be gone by ...gasp... Black Friday. And get that computer cranked up so that cyber Monday does not get away from you. Be at the ready and do not miss a second of buying and wishing all your friends whatever holiday you desire to wish them, all the while having that ubiquitous Christmas – (or is it Holiday?) – music cranked up in the background. And maybe you should also think about getting those Valentine cards while you are at it, just to be safe. Why? I have no clue, but that is the message I am getting loud and clear.
Really? I have not lost my grip, I assure you. But the rest of the world sure has, or so it seems. Please do not get me wrong: I am not a scrooge, and I truly love holidays. But that's just it. I want to savor each one at its proper time. I love the anticipation, but I also love the actual day itself. It just is so irritating to be thinking of the next holiday while celebrating the one at hand, such as stores announcing they will be open on Thanksgiving to give us a leg up (oh no, not the drumstick!) on Christmas shopping. How can anyone's mind be on what they are celebrating, how can anyone appreciate a holiday, if we are already thinking of the next one? Simply put, we can't.
Holidays are meant for celebration, which means to revel in, to feast, to dedicate time to whatever it is for which we are in gratitude. Each holiday has great meaning, but especially the ones which are religious, such as Christmas. The fun of Christmas is in the build-up to it, but not if it is so hectic and fraught with anxiety that we are not even sure why we are doing it. However, the deep meaning of Christmas is to celebrate with gratitude the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, into our world in order to offer us eternal life with God forever. Angels came and reveled with the shepherds in the announcement, and Magi came and reverently celebrated Love. But in order to make sure we are ready for the celebration of Christ's birth in our hearts, the Church in all Her wisdom made sure we had an appropriate time to build up to it. That time is called Advent, which is important not just for build-up, but because there is much to learn from the process of waiting and preparing one’s heart.
Of course, not all holidays are religious. For example, Thanksgiving is coming soon. It is not really a religious holiday, but in essence it is the heart of all holidays for all people. The essence of that day is not turkey, it is gratitude: it is not turkey day, it is Thanksgiving Day. This is not to say we should stomp all the fun out of it by getting overly serious and sanctimonious. Rather, we should put it in perspective. No matter what our circumstances, we always have something to be thankful for, no matter how much or how little we may have materially. What we all have is a loving God who is always at our side and who is with us through it all. We all know many suffering people, and we are aware of so much pain, maybe our own. But we never cease to have the love of God, the greatest treasure of them all, and that alone is something for which we can give thanks.
Celebration is important to us as human beings. Celebrations give us hope because we recognize that no matter what the ordinary days in our lives are like, we can stop and take stock of that for which we are grateful and that for which we can strive, whether individually or as a society. We can enjoy that which others worked for and won for us, or we can enjoy honoring people or ideals. And it is important to share these days with family and friends, especially since our lives are so busy. We can stop and celebrate, savoring life and love. It is the holidays in our lives that we often remember fondly when reminiscing. Holidays have a very important function. Therefore we should not trivialize them or commercialize them.
There is no reason we shouldn’t enjoy the hoopla before a particular holiday, but we need to keep perspective. There is much to learn on that journey: the anticipation can teach us much about ourselves and the event for which we are readying. But the only day we really have is the day we are living. Therefore it is important to celebrate our today even as we "gear up" for the holiday at hand. When we do this, the preparation is more meaningful and less frantic, and we can stay attuned to the inner preparations we make.
Given that it is November, are you praying about that for which you are thankful, such as the celebration of our Veterans? Are you thinking of the upcoming season of Advent as the liturgical year winds down? As we hear the readings for the end of the liturgical year these next few weeks at Mass it is the appropriate time to meditate on what they mean. Then when Advent begins, we can allow those days to prepare us interiorly for the celebration of Christmas without putting the cart before the horse; that is, we can celebrate things in their proper order. This way the anticipation is less about what the culture is calling us to, that is, things that really do not last, and it is more about our future in relationship with God and everlasting life with Him. It is more about what our faith is calling us to recognize, which is the true meaning of the gifts God gives us. And in doing so we celebrate life and the people we share it with.
Being religious does not mean we are to stop having fun. Even Jesus ate and drank with His friends quite often. He seemed to be having a good time at the wedding in Cana, for example. If you comb the Gospels for times He was eating and drinking with friends, you would come up with quite a list. We are supposed to have fun and we are supposed to enjoy shared times with friends and family, and yes, we are supposed to “Deck the Halls,” invite the guests, and prepare the meal...with music playing and joy in our hearts. So go ahead: break out the secret family recipe, whether it is tamales, "turducken", wassail, a veggie casserole, seafood, pumpkin pie, or that extra special stuffing. But while we are at it, we also need to remember what is behind all of those tasks.
I know I began this with what I meant to be some lighthearted sarcasm and silliness. But it is important that we think about the purpose of holidays. If we start getting carried away in November by the car buying ads for the New Year and by Christmas decorations in September, the holidays get cheapened and they lose their meaning. Holidays, even the ones we do not especially like for whatever reason, do serve a purpose and do have meaning. However, they only have real lasting meaning if we put them in proper context, which is gratitude and sharing. Oh yes, and reverence. God has given us so, so much, even His life by dying on a Cross. Giving gratitude by giving to others as well as giving our attention to Him is an act of reverence. It is to Him that we bend our knees and give thanks. The rest is gravy.
May we have hearts that are filled with joy in our thoughts of upcoming holidays! May we reach out to those who find holidays difficult, sharing our love and care, even opening our homes to them! May we have hearts for sharing, filled with gratitude, and reverence for God who gives us everything! And may we enjoy each and every day as a time for the celebration of the day at hand! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of our Savior, celebrating all that He gives! Peace!
-The two photos are mine. The icon is Mother of God Waiting in Adoration by Rev. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at his website at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/154-mother-of-god-waiting-in-adoration
© Michele L. Catanese
Heart Speaks to Heart