How to Survive the ‘Secular Christmas’
The tinsel in the shops and colourful catalogues in newspapers have alerted us for the past few weeks already that the “Christmas season” is upon us.
But in what we might term the “secular Christmas season”, the presence of Christ is not always evident. Indeed, often Christ is excluded from the feast that takes his name. As Catholics, we must beware that this does not happen in our lives. In any case, for Catholics the real Christmas season begins with the feast of the Nativity on December 25 and lasts until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on the Sunday following the Epiphany.
In any case, for Catholics the real Christmas season begins with the feast of the Nativity on December 25 and lasts until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on the Sunday following the Epiphany.
But Christians cannot easily divorce themselves from the social and commercial elements of the secular Christmas season. Like most people, we will shop for gifts, plan the Christmas lunch menu, celebrate workplace Christmas parties, dig out the decorations and dress the Christmas tree, and participate in other pastimes that fill our calendars in the weeks before Christmas.
It is a time for good cheer and also huge stress, especially when tighter purses diminish our spending options for the season in which we have been conditioned to overspend.
Provided that we Christians take part in the secular Christmas season responsibly and with due moderation, there is nothing wrong in spending it with Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman. We are, after all, in this world.
At the same time, for all the stress and obligations and diversions of the pre-Christmas season — or, maybe, the distance from daily life while on holiday — we Christians must not lose sight of the penitential season of Advent, which covers the four weeks before Christmas as we await the birth of the Saviour. It is often forgotten that Advent is a season of penance which, much like Lent, calls us to practise prayer, fasting and charity as the means by which we renew our faith.
It is often forgotten that Advent is a season of penance which, much like Lent, calls us to practise prayer, fasting and charity as the means by which we renew our faith.
It is a season of reflection, which should provide us with a welcome refuge from the relentless bustle of the secular Christmas season.
Especially at a time when everything becomes a little frenzied, some reflective silence, perhaps in the glowing light of the candles on the Advent wreath, can serve as a sanctuary of peace in which we receive spiritual nourishment.
If the silence must be broken, let it be so by reflective music, not by songs about reindeer or seasonal meteorological phenomena.
There is no curriculum by which families and individuals accomplish the Advent requirements of prayer, fasting and charity. Pastoral advice tends to invite families to creativity in shaping these precepts, though it should also involve the sacrament of reconciliation in preparation for meeting Jesus on Christmas Day, which in itself is preparation for our encounter with him on the last day.
In Advent, we ought to keep in mind the observation of St Bernard of Clairvaux that during this season we anticipate the arrival of Jesus in not one but three forms: his birth in Bethlehem, his entering into our lives in the present, and his final coming in glory on the last day. In families, Advent may have a catechetical element. For example, the feast of St Nicholas on December 6 can teach children about the saint who was the prototype for Santa Claus.
In families, Advent may have a catechetical element. For example, the feast of St Nicholas on December 6 can teach children about the saint who was the prototype for Santa Claus.
Indeed, there are many great feast days in the season of Advent, including those of St Andrew (November 30) the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), St Lucy (December 13) and St John of the Cross (December 14).
Of course, we must not forget the need for sacrifice and charitable giving during Advent. Commit random acts of kindness: for example, by letting the taxi cut in before you in the traffic; taking time to speak to the car guard or a homeless person; visiting the lonely; forgiving somebody who has wronged you; delivering gifts for those who don’t receive gifts for Christmas; and so on.
And if our best intentions fail us and we don’t get around to observing Advent well, we still have plenty of time to reconnect with a faith-filled time when the secular season is over and the real Christmas season begins.
May your Advent season be filled with peace, love and graces.