One of the Henry family traditions is the reading on Christmas eve of Dr. Seuss's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Young and old delight in this classic especially the passage:
"The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask the reason. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small".
This is not only a great reminder for the those who are older but a teachable moment for all. What a great biblical insight - "Maybe his heart was two sizes too small."
Beginning earlier and earlier each year, a Christmas mood begins to appear everywhere. Decorations of artificial snow, candles, and red and green wreaths cover street lights and are evident in every public display area. The outsides of houses and trees in the yard are also decorated with bright lights. Music and song tell of Christmas cheer mixed with the Bethlehem story and carton characters. Stores are filled with shoppers. Little children write letters to Santa Claus and dream of presents under the tree.
This saturation of cheer and good will seems at first to contradict the Christian mystery that is still unfolding in churches. Parish advent liturgies continue to develop a prophetic theme of preparation: a waiting for the final coming of the Lord at the end of time and a call to conversion. While these themes unfold, most families are involved in the hectic pace of Christmas preparations, often centred around decorating and making or purchasing gifts for family and friends.
Christmas, therefore, is no longer just a Christian liturgical feast. Over the centuries it has become a seasonal mood, not limited to believers who prepare for and rejoice over the birth of Jesus. Almost every aspect of society celebrates the season in some way. Non-believers participate fully in secular expressions of cheer and good will. The commercial world promotes the season for financial profit in such a persuasive way that Christian movements counter with organized efforts to "put Christ back into Christmas."
Despite the secular overtones of the season, the word "Christmas" (Mass of Christ) underscores its profound Christian and spiritual significance. Over the centuries it has become a comprehensive word. It includes religious traditions that celebrate the history-shaking mystery of God coming to live among human creatures: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory. The glory of an only Son coming form the Father, filled with enduring love" (John 1:14). It also includes all the secular traditions associated with the season.
Clustered around the centre is a sleighful of traditions, the cultural heritage of Christmas. We do not have to see these as rivals and strive to eliminate them until only the simple birth of Jesus Christ remains. They can be viewed as refractions of the Light at the centre.
The purpose of the customs, colours, and legends of Christmas is to make available its essential Spirit. A Christmas Spirit that walks around naked will never be noticed. It needs a sprig of holly for allure. In the search for Spirit there may be a time to squint expectantly into the invisible air, but Christmas is not that time. Christmas is a time to plunge into the visible pudding. The mini-traditions of Christmas are at the service of its magnanimous and unbounded Spirit.
The Christmas tree is an example. On the top of most trees there is an angel or a star. The tree itself is strung with lights and ornaments. There are frequently two special sets of ornaments: heirlooms handed down from generation to generation and handmade pieces bearing the personal care of the maker. Underneath the tree might be a village or brightly wrapped gifts or the crib. If we take in the tree in its entirety, we see that it is connecting the angel and star with village, gifts, and crib. In other words, through the tree heaven and earth are united. In the middle of the night while Santa Claus is struggling down the chimney, the Son of God is climbing down this brightly lit tree and entering into the village of the human race.
"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." With the Father's gift of Jesus as a model, Christmas also celebrates the mystery of giving and receiving - both with and without Christian faith.
Please be big hearted this Christmas and Merry Christmas to all!
☩ Frederick Henry