What’s Behind all the Hustle and Bustle?

Christmas Shopping

What do you really want for Christmas?

Many times during my life I’ve heard people say, “Well, it just won’t be Christmas without…”   You can fill in the blank.  Snow? A Vacation? The Christmas Bonus? Presents? The, “Elf on the Shelf?”  Christmas lights? The holiday bread that Grandma makes?  “It’s a Wonderful Life?” Christmas carols?  A live Christmas tree? Gaudy Christmas sweaters? The list goes on and on.

In truth, there should only be one word that realistically completes this sentence…

… Jesus.

Christmas, like love, isn’t a feeling – it is a choice.  It is a choice to celebrate the birth of our Divine Savior and all that the Incarnation has meant for us and our loved ones.  The peace, joy and security which the birth of our Savior brings to this world should be reflected in all these little externals mentioned above.  Unfortunately, sometimes we get that a little backwards!  We become focused more upon what is in our stockings, rather than Who is in the manger!

I cringe when people start pontificating about the demise of Christmas – saying that this great celebration has become a materialistic sham and thus a time for the holiday blues brought on by the stress of so many THINGS in our life.  Some complain it’s a time for grandiose expectations which lead to increased personal debts and family fighting.  Suffice it to say, it seems like there are more complaints about the Christmas season than there are words of joy and peace these days.

The comments about a materialistic Christmas and people losing the “true meaning of Christmas” have almost become cliché. Christmas is often even mocked and degraded in the media.  If Christ is not at the center of Christmas, well it deserves to be mocked.  If Christ is not at the center of Christmas, maybe it is a good thing to pull the cheap plastic, public nativity sets and start greeting each other with, “Happy Holidays!” rather than the blessing of “Merry Christmas.”  If Christ is no longer at the center of Christmas – then, indeed, it is a sham.

However, at the risk of being a bit “Pollyanna-ish,” I often wonder if we are missing something amid all of the criticisms against Christmas and this holy season.  I often ask myself, “Why do people start advertising for Christmas in October?  Well, they want money.  But why is it that people find Christmas advertising attractive even before Halloween? Why not some other holiday?”  I also wonder why the ever-popular Hallmark Christmas movies, played over and over and over and over and over (etc., etc.) begin catching our interest even before Thanksgiving?  Why are people putting out their Christmas lights in the beginning of November?

Most of my religious friends gripe when they see things like this.  I agree it is irritating.  However, in a dark quiet place inside me, my inner child is jumping up and down on the bed yelling, “Christmas is coming! Yeah, Christmas is coming!”  I dare not let it show.  It would be akin to heresy.  So, I nod with concern and make a pious statement about how we are losing the true meaning of Advent.  But inside, I wonder…

Are people “jumping the gun” on celebrating Christmas because of money alone?  Or could it be because we live in a culture in which many are bereft of the peace, security and joy of faith and family life?  For some, this is the only time of the year where they feel as if they are allowed to contemplate the transcendent.  For others this may be one of the few times of the year they can hope for quality family time.  Some may even go so far as to creep into the back pew at Church for that “once-a-year Mass experience!”

Think about it.  If you have come from a family life filled with strife or have had little catechesis to even know why Christmas is celebrated or what the word, “Advent” even means – how would you understand this great holiday?  You would see beautiful lights.  You would know that families get together to celebrate. You would know that things are given to show love and appreciation.  You would know that it should be a time when you are happy because you belong to others. Somewhere in your heart a desire may be evoked that you don’t even understand.  This desire is a spark of hope towards attaining Something you don’t even recognize.  You would like to be a part of whatever this celebration is that causes people joy.

Unfortunately, I think many people in our society are at this place.  So, starting Christmas in October might not be a heresy, but a hope.  Might.  What drives the crazy desire for “stuff,” the partying, the spending, the drinking, and all the insanities of the holiday…?  Maybe what really drives it all is an underlying desire for happiness, belonging and even something transcendent that cannot be named.

So, instead of criticizing people for their materialistic drives this year, maybe we can point out their desire for happiness, joy, peace and belonging which is their real hope.  Maybe we can actually applaud those desires and show them how they can truly be fulfilled. Maybe we can challenge them, and ourselves, to reach deeper beyond the “stuff” we seek in order to find out what it is we truly want for Christmas – JESUS.

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About the Author

Sister Marie Morgan, OSF is a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, Indiana (www.ssfpa.org). She has taught for nine years; two of these in elementary school and seven in high school. After receiving a B.A. in General Studies with an emphasis in secondary education at Indiana University, Sister Marie attended the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the “Angelicum”) in Rome, Italy where she received a B.A. in Theology and an M.A. in Spiritual Theology. She currently resides in Mishawaka, Indiana where she teaches Theology and serves as part-time pastoral counselor at Marian High School.

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