(Repost from December 6, 2007)
From Advent Customs by Sr. Mary Laetitia, R.S.M.
Nihil Obstat: J. Gerald Kealy, D.D.
Imprimatur: Samuel Cardinal Stritch
Chicago, November 22, 1955
If we want to "Put Christ Back Into Christmas" we must return to the traditional ideas of the Church. Christmas, if it is to be primarily a holy day, and not a commercial holiday, must be essentially a religious feast. All the festivities of the season accent it spiritually and our Advent celebration must not smother its spiritual flavor.
Early in Advent on December 6th, the Church rejoices on the feast of St. Nicholas. This day is always a favorite with children. Gifts are in place, and their giving offers parents an opportunity to tell the little ones about the charity of the saint. Such small gifts as candy, nuts, or a bright toy, will remind them of the Gift Christ gives us each Christmas.
"I can't disagree with what she said, but awwww, geeeee..."
I think it's an automatic reaction for some to see those words "must be essentially a religious feast" and start to feel like they're being smothered. Don't those words "religious feast" mean we must be serious and formal and prim? We feel deprived. Like a kid whose pea shooter's been taken away at recess time. Everyone else gets to play! It's not fair! Not letting us have any fun...
But, is it really not supposed to be fun?
Don't let the devil and the saecular world put their mud-colored haze over the truth. The wisdom of the Church always provides. God knows we're a bunch of kids at heart! Didn't He tell us He wanted us to become as little children? Now, of course that doesn't mean we're supposed to be irresponsible whining little brats. But, we should have a spirit of joy, and be carefree in His love and care for us! Isn't that what hope is? What faith is? What charity is?
The Church doesn't expect us to behave in Advent as if it's Lent. I like to explain it to my children this way:
When you are pregnant with a child (and, boy, do I know about this!), you are filled with anticipation of the joy of bringing a new child into the world. Anticipation of the joy. Which is a very, very close relative to the joy itself.
But, mostly, you are just getting ready. These last four weeks before the birth of The Baby, our dear Blessed Mother was preparing the best she could. She was anticipating. She was so looking forward to meeting her very, very special little Son. But, she was not opening the champaigne yet (so to speak).
When the baby is here safely, THEN you party.
I don't know if you know this, but in the Jewish culture, it was the custom (to this day even in orthodox Jewish families) to not speak the child's name, or even really speak of the child, until after it was born! I wonder if it was so with the Mother of God? She knew His name, but may never have spoken it until it was officially given to Him on the Circumcision! (Oh, what a blessed day in the universe, the day His Name was first spoken!)
So, we're not sad during Advent. We're spending our time preparing our homes and hearts and holding on to our best JOY for the big day. The day of His birth
When a great feast comes along, like the Feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, of course we celebrate! But, we celebrate with an understanding of who St. Nicholas was, and how his example can help us find our way to Heaven, too! We put candy and presents in the children's shoes, have special cakes and cookies, sing songs, and decorate for the day, all the while keeping in mind that it is "essentially a religious feast."
Tomorrow morning the kids 'll have their goodies in their shoes to commemorate the generosity of St. Nicholas, and I will personally be having some rum of Christian generosity in my eggnog tomorrow night. How about you?
(For everything in the world about St. Nicholas, from history to recipes and coloring pages, go here.)
* Note From 2010: Thanks to a late-night run to W-mart tonight, St. Nicholas was able to make his appointed rounds at our house. The children were warned at bedtime that they might as well not bother about putting out their shoes -- beause
Mommy St. Nick has been pretty distracted lately with this and that and the other and may not be able to be by with goodies.... So they'll be in for a big surprise in the morning! :) (It's so much fun messing with them!)