With the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Sunday, January 11th, the Christmas season officially came to an end. The multi-colored lights of the festive Christmas trees have been turned off and all the decorations have been taken down. The holly and the ivy have disappeared and have become but a colorful memory. All the Christmas music from our CDs and radio stations have given way to the usual musical fare and the wonderfully caloric food we’ve eaten will need to be dieted off. All those Christmas cards the mailman delivered have been sorted and catalogued, so when Christmastime comes around once again, our card list will reflect those who’s “been naughty” and who’s been “nice.” And all those antlers and red noses that have decorated many a car for over a month in an attempt to approximate a certain member of Santa’s reindeer fleet have been removed and probably put in the garage somewhere among the tools and gardening equipment. By now, in early January, Christmas will be dismantled and our “ordinary” lives resumes again, leaving us to deal with snow and cold and freezing weather, trying to search frantically for those winter boots we thought we’d never use again.
For some, it will not be without a little melancholy to witness the end of the Christmas season while others (for whatever reasons) will be more than happy to see it go. In some quarters, the dismantling of Christmas occurred long before now; in a certain drug store chain, it began on the very night of Christmas Eve itself—the clock hadn’t even ticked toward closing time when clerks began shelving those very large Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts in another display of over-the-top jaded holiday commercialism, leaving poor Frosty and Rudolph looking rather forlorn, imprisoned in their snow globes on adjacent shelves, leaving kid Cupid sitting triumphantly atop romantic displays and perfumed shelves. I have absolutely nothing against Valentine’s Day—or chocolate, for that matter—but please, why every year the immodest haste to the next holiday? Can’t we savor the joy of the moment that is Christmas? We prepare for it so much and for so long, why not let it linger awhile, even when it is “over”? When you think about it, holidays—even liturgical ones—move on, just like life itself. But still…
But still. It is understandable that the Christmas season can be a difficult—even painful—period for some people. The loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or whatever “loss” it is a person can suffer from can make Christmas a trial to be endured, not something to be enjoyed or cherished. What I could never understand is how people who have no obviously serious problem to contend with (a situation that they should be ever grateful for) are the first ones to discard anything and everything having to do with Christmas along with the tree as soon as the day itself passes. It seems as if such people toss out the Christmas spirit along with the Christmas tree onto the sidewalk, like some refuse to be picked up the next day by the sanitation man, only to be carted off to the nearest landfill. It shouldn’t be that way, yet that always seems to happen.
Maybe, because we are human (and the whole point of Christmas is that Jesus came to be one of us while helping us to learn to be divine like Him), we often find it hard to completely grasp the import of Christmas—and sadly, while we sometimes may not be able to completely understand it, and what is even worse, an awful lot of us simply do not wish to. It is literally mind-blowing to think that He who is the Creator actually wanted to be one with the created and did it in such a way that is equally incomprehensible, not to mention in the meanest and most modest of circumstances. Every Christmastime He comes; yet, when it is over, He gets wrapped away along with all the other Christmas decorations and doesn’t reappear until it’s His time of the year again.
What is really perplexing is how fast the “Christmas spirit” evaporates once we change the page on our desk calendars as if it was something to be “checked off” from our “bucket” list. When December comes, we all seem to become all “merry and bright,” full of good cheer and bonhomie toward our fellow human beings, reveling in all things Christmas. Jaded New Yorkers (or whomever) pass by, smile and wave, and actually have manners they usually don’t have the rest of the year. We actually become polite,considerate, and understanding—even happy. Everything is inviting and everybody we meet—from complete strangers to even some of our own family members—are cast in that holiday glow and the world assumes a magical quality. But as soon as the last of the Christmas hymns are sung and those brilliantly wrapped presents are put in the drawers never to be seen again, we soon revert back to the messiness that is our world.
Our world is indeed messy and the news from that world is far from cheery these days: suffering and death, hatred and violence, fear and apprehension—there’s more than enough ill will to go around. It’s enough to make that Christmas carol about “good will toward men” a vapid—and seemingly impossible—sentiment, making Christmas something very distant and unreachable. How often we forget that Jesus Himself came into a messy—and not particularly peaceful—world either. Yet, He came and “pitched His tent” among us just the same, promising never to abandon us.
When Christmastime comes around, I remember a certain Christmas song from a movie I saw years ago that made quite an impression on me. The movie was called "Say One For Me," and it starred Bing Crosby, Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner and Ray Walston. It was probably one of the last movies der Bingle probably made in which he portrayed a priest. (It seems that whenever movie Bing played a priest, it almost always evolved around Christmas and Christmas songs.) Without giving the story line away (that is, if you have never seen it, even if it is from 1959), it is safe to say that it is about reconciliation. There is an affecting scene where Bing’s Father Conroy is setting up the Manger scene and a certain song he had sung plays in the soundtrack of his mind. It is called "The Secret of Christmas." It isn’t much as Christmas songs go; it was probably written and thrown into the movie for Bing to sing in a Christmas setting, yet those few verses say so much:
It's not the glow you feel, when snow appears
It's not the Christmas card, you've sent for years
Not the joyful sound, when sleigh bells ring
Or the merry songs, children sing.
That little gift you send, on Christmas day
Will not bring back the friend, you turned away
So may I suggest, the secret of Christmas?
It's not the things you do, at Christmas time
But the Christmas things you do all year through
If I had to suggest a New Year’s wish for all of us, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to remember those last two lines from "The Secret of Christmas": “It’s not the things you do, at Christmas time, but the Christmas things you do all year through.” If only we could carry that “Christmas spirit” all through the days of our New Year (even when it’s humid and hot), our world would be a better place. Our world will still be messy, but our own world would be better. May God help us not to discard that spirit of Christmas and toss it out on the sidewalk, like a spent Christmas tree, or leave it to be wrapped and put away, only to be opened once a year. It is a gift we will always need—and should always give.