Christmas Past and Present

In my childhood all of December was a festive month and, with any luck, there was snow on the ground to go with the lights on the trees and houses. But one never put up decorations before Thanksgiving. That is strictly a post-modern heresy. Although Americans don’t really have a tradition of observing Advent as a time of preparation, I always make sure to celebrate Christmas until Epiphany (the famous “Twelfth Night”).

The Yuletide ritual in our home involves a small party for the Feast of St. Nicholas  (Dec. 6) followed by many days of decorating accompanied by music – from the classics to the crooners. Then there are the wonderful shows of Christmas past, featuring the Grinch, Rudolph, and various renditions of Dickens’ Scrooge. The best is the 1951 movie starring Alastair Sim. A very different, but charming, version is the Mister Magoo cartoon. Finally there is the overtly Christian themed Charlie Brown Christmas (the first of the Charles Schulz specials). I have to add that in both the adult and juvenile realm, recent attempts at holiday entertainment lack the visual charm and musical delight of most older productions.

But while taking pleasure in the trimmings, festivity and good cheer, I’m reminded that a vague “holiday” feeling falls flat when we forget the origin and purpose of the season. As a priest friend in Rome recently wrote to me: “If someone asks, ‘What is the anthropology of the Christian faith?’ show him Jesus in the manger.” And in the words of Linus Van Pelt: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

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