The liturgical season can often seem out of sync with the rest of popular society. With insane hurricanes and contentious political theater unraveling across the world, it is hard to believe time right now is merely just “ordinary.” Current events aside, pretty much any time after Columbus Day, as the hours grow darker and the air has a certain nip in it — becomes “extended Advent.” This preparation for the “the coming” or “arrival” of Christmas is heralded by radio stations, marketers and commerce across the country with pomp, fanfare, coupons, propaganda, jingles, jangles, and seasonally appropriate beer and ice cream — Christmas is near, and we just have to leap the hurdles of Halloween and Thanksgiving to get there.
This is when you might think such an article will meander down the often observed blog rant of why we shouldn’t be listening to Christmas songs until after Thanksgiving and that the commercialism of the holiday turns a holy day into a two-month buying blitz to pad the pockets of clever companies. While this argument certainly has its merit, today I “present” (yes, a pun) the counterargument. I do so without any financial considerations from Macy’s, Sears, or Mr. Kris Kringle.
Grateful for reminders
Whether the Christmas season, Valentine’s Day or the 4th of July, a free market economy will always do its best to exploit the consumer. It is our job to rationally give in, dutifully resist, and, most importantly, be grateful for these ubiquitous reminders. When I hear Bing Crosby belting out Christmas tunes in October, I think not of the manipulation of our buying habits that presumably prompt pondering of what Kindle device I should buy my father — but, rather, of listening to Mr. Crosby with my dad as we hunt for kindling in a basement of wood scraps, excited to learn how to build a fire. I think of love, time with my family, and how we always make sure to place baby Jesus in the manger before anyone even sees a present. In fact, most Christmas songs remind me of sing-alongs en route to church; opening that last, biggest door on the Advent calendar; and gathering around a small TV plugged into a Beta tape machine so our family of five can watch a very old tape of “Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” — per tradition to this day.
When I see Christmas lights go up on a house in early November, I don’t think of overly ambitious homeowners and their disregard for giving Thanksgiving some love. Rather, any Christmas lights remind me of the beautiful Our Lady of La Salette Shrine in Eastern Massachusetts — a pilgrimage our family makes almost every year to see more than 300,000 lights illuminate the beautiful grounds, mangers and Stations of the Cross — all centered around a shrine to Mary. I also think of the great honor it was in my family to get to light the Advent wreath and that when it came to Christmas lights, I was equally moved by just one flame as I was by 300,000 bright lights.
Catholics are suckers for symbolism, relish ritual, and are proponents of a powerful parable. We find meaning, joy and despair in reflection, yet often a prompt is needed to begin this process — so, these cacophonous reminders of Christmas really aren’t all that bad.
Perhaps this post will anger my seventh grade religion teacher who was a firm believer in not even singing Christmas songs until the Christmas season formally began. Perhaps the “People for Post-Thanksgiving Christmas Illumination” (the “Illuminati?”) lobbying group will attempt to silence me, or I may end up with coal in my stocking for not being more strict in my observance of the liturgical season. But, heck, I’m just a guy who sees so much goodness packed into a day, that it needs a little extra time to stretch out — not to pad earnings reports for Apple and Amazon, but rather to allow for more of these Ignatian reminders of the sacred in the secular — to feel the love and warmth of one’s father by a hearth just by hearing a song; to have the smell of eggnog harken back to grandparents lost, but not forgotten — and to be aware that during any time of the year, subtle and not so subtle reminders of family, faith and the birth of Jesus cannot simply be (as my co-worker describes) “greedy, overeager capitalistic manipulation.” But even if they are, I’m still grateful… Oh, and Merry Christmas!