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Celebrate Christmas well and long

Posted By January 10, 2013 | 1:14 pm | Lead Story #3
Creche 2011_1758WEB

Children visit the creche at St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge made by John Seugin, at right.


By Father Michael N. Lavallee
Special to The CFP

It is amazing how in recent years Christmas decorations have appeared in retail stores in late September. We hear Christmas music on the radio in November, even before Thanksgiving weekend. The commercial celebration of Christmas, spurred on by the profit motive and heralded by heavy multimedia advertising, pushes into our calendar annoyingly too soon.
Many Americans’ understanding of Christmas is limited to this commercial concept of it. Christmas is synonymous with exorbitant financial expense for gifts without any reflection upon why gifts are even given. Decorations are purchased, parties are planned, food is prepared without any idea why the “holidays” exist. Often as early as Dec. 26 Christmas trees are discarded and decorations are put away because people feel that Christmas is “over.”
Yet, the Christian celebration of Christ’s birth only begins on Dec. 24, at the evening vigil Masses of Christmas which are held on this day. This same celebration, culminating on Dec. 25, continues on through the rest of December and into the new year, not formally ending until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord in mid-January (this Sunday). During the Christmas season the Church observes other significant solemnities, feasts and memorials such as  Epiphany; the solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God; the feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and various feasts of martyrs and saints.
It seems appropriate then, as the Baptism of the Lord approaches, to reflect upon how we can celebrate Christmas fully and in an extended way, enjoying the entirety of the season.
Christmas celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation, God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ incarnation makes holy our human condition, redeeming it through his Paschal Mystery. Thus, our celebration of Christmas should be lived in light of this incarnational theology.
If, indeed, Christmas only begins on Dec. 25  then our festive gatherings with others after this date are as much a celebration of Christmas as they would be if they had been held on Christmas proper. We celebrate Christmas best when we gather with those in whom we find Christ enfleshed, or incarnate, for us. In these loved ones and friends we enjoy, radically, the full theological reality of Christmas before us. Christ is alive within them and in their charity toward us we are enveloped with Christmas experience.
The Christmas name of Jesus, “Emmanuel,” means “God-With-Us.” This name reminds us of how the Incarnation is the full realization of this. In the Holy Eucharist Jesus is with us as Emmanuel, giving us himself under the humble appearance of bread and wine. His Body and Blood give us strength, purpose and the gifts of refreshment and peace. Thus, every time we receive Eucharist, Christmas comes again to us. This fact should make our reception of Holy Communion during the Christmas season even more meaningful.
The circumstances of Jesus’ birth in the Bethlehem stable reflect the difficult realities of human existence. The Holy Family experienced these realities as Jesus came into the world. Jesus’ birth in a dwelling built for farm animals, amidst the messiness and unpreparedness of these circumstances, speaks to the brokenness of the human condition. Using these facts as a guide to our reflection, then, we can find Christmas even in the disappointing aspects of the season. As we lament the Christmas celebrations that were much less than ideal we can remember that on the first Christmas, at least for the Holy Family, things were far from ideal too.
Christmas, then, should be celebrated well and long.
It is too profound a mystery to be quickly put aside. The Christmas experience integrates all aspects of the human person as that person responds to the wonder of God made man. Let us then live Christmas long after the world tells us it is “over.”

– Father Lavallee is pastor of St. Thomas-A-Becket Parish, Barre. He writes a weekly column on Scripture readings in The Catholic Free Press.